The first day of the TechConneXt Summit was awe-inspiring and illuminating. President and CEO of Black Enterprise Earl Graves Jr. put it best in his opening remarks, “We continue to raise the bar since our inaugural event three years ago.”
Black Enterprise’s Silicon Valley technology editor Sequoia Blodgett kicked off the event with a riveting interview with Troy Carter, the savvy media mogul who helped launch the career of Lady Gaga and other music talents. Carter spoke about transitioning his experience in the music industry to technology—he has an uncanny knack for seeing the “next big thing” in tech. Carter was an early investor in tech companies including Uber, Lyft, and Dropbox.
Next, CNBC’s host of Squawk Alley, Jon Fortt, held an insightful one-on-one interview with Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel. Krzanich spoke about Intel’s dedication to diversity; why he left President Donald Trump’s Manufacturing Council; and how artificial intelligence (AI) will be pervasive in every facet of our lives in the very near future. Krzanich also discussed just how valuable data has become, stating, “Data is the new oil.”
Tech Companies “Absolutely” Have a Social Responsibility
Other heavyweight interviews from tech luminaries included a fireside chat with Salesforce’s Chief Equality Officer Tony Prophet, who proclaimed that businesses “absolutely” have a social responsibility to promote diversity and inclusion. After Prophet’s interview, a trio of millennial tech influencers (Roy Broderick Jr., Mariah Lichtenstern, and Tiffany Price) weighed in. They praised Salesforce’s commitment to diversity, but highlighted what still needs to be done to truly diversify tech. Also on stage and adding to the discussion was Leroy Jackson, a managing director at Accenture, the technology company that sponsored this important roundtable discussion.
Another panel, “TCX Cares—Turning Lives Around with Tech,” featured formerly incarcerated individuals who found success as entrepreneurs. Marcus Bullock, CEO and founder of Flikshop, and a former inmate himself, moderated the session. The panelists included rapper Victor “Divine” Lombard, CEO and founder of BLAK Fintech; Shaka Senghor, senior fellow with The Dream Corps and president/creative director of Mind Blown Media; and Teresa Y. Hodge, founder and managing director of R3 Score.
“Girls just want to have funds” was the rallying cry of another session, “SheTechs: Women Techpreneurs Share Their Funding and Launching Secrets.” Venture capitalist Monique Woodard and entrepreneur Hahna Alexander not only provided tips for women entrepreneurs to fundraise, they also critiqued on-the-fly pitches from entrepreneurs in the audience.
Microsoft Chairman of the Board Lets Loose
Final sessions for the day were from two Silicon Valley executives. Nick Caldwell, VP of engineering at Reddit, gave a talk on his journey from engineer to executive. And John Thompson, chairman of the board at Microsoft and one of the most powerful people in the tech industry, provided a fiery account of his days as an IBM salesman, and the time he was called “nigger” by a sales prospect.
The first day of the Summit also featured the selection of the first three finalists of the BE Smart Hackathon and awards. Karen Civil received Social Influencer of the Year. Entertainer Spectacular “Blue” Smith was Innovator of the Year. Bozoma Saint John was recognized as Executive of the Year. And John Thompson received the Trailblazer award.
Adding to the magnificence were showcases from the Summit’s sponsors including Toyota, Accenture, and AT&T. A grand reception was hosted by Oculus featuring beverages from MillerCoors and Longevity Wines, a black-owned winery based in Livermore, California. The hackathon students also were treated to tours at Google and Intel.
TechConneXt’s second day opened by fueling the dreams of a black tech entrepreneur with the TCX Pitch competition, which was sponsored by Prudential. Several startups founded by people of color vied for a cash prize to help them further their business. The winner was Jasmine Crowe, whose mission is to mobilize charity efforts to those in need, especially in wake of the recent hurricanes.
Next were audience giveaways including a Dell Inspiron laptop and Snapchat Spectacles. Following the giveaways was a discussion with tech entrepreneurs Mitch Kapor (founder of the Kapor Center for Social Impact) and Freada Kapor Klein. The couple underscored their commitment to diversity; before their organization will invest in a startup, that startup’s founders must sign a commitment-to-diversity agreement.
Closing Gaps to Access
“We want to invest in businesses that close gaps to access,” said Mitch Kapor. He is well known not only for his work in diversifying the tech space, but for creating the first spreadsheet and founding Lotus—one of the earliest tech companies to create business software.
A tech-meets-style session featured Diishan Imira, CEO and founder of Mayvenn; Madison Maxey, founder of Loomia; and was moderated by Jason C. Madsen, CEO and co-founder of Super Heroic.
Filmmaker Alton Glass, who won an unprecedented number of awards at this year’s American Black Film Festival for his virtual reality movie, CRU, was awarded the Breakout Star of the Year in tech.
Tara Reed, founder of Apps Without Code, led an informative discussion on how non-techie entrepreneurs can create apps with a variety of logic-based tools. Jotaka Eaddy and Jessica O. Matthews were other powerful, black women tech founders who provided crucial advice and insight onstage.
“Tech has the power to create change for all of us who are underserved, overlooked, and pushed to the margins,” declared Eaddy during her session.
A panel of virtual reality entertainment heavyweights including Guy Primus, co-founder and CEO of The Virtual Reality Company and Julius Tennon, president of development and production at JuVee Productions, was led by Clifton Dawson, founder and CEO of Greenlight Insights.
Oakland, California, native James Andres (who helped forge the careers of musical talent that includes Nas, The Fugees, and Destiny’s Child) informed entrepreneurs about how to hone their storytelling ability.
“Your story matters,” said Andrews definitively to the audience.
The day ended with a panel moderated by co-founder of Raytroniks, Billy Jones, and Forbes writer Julian Mitchell. Jones gave away his company’s popular tech product, a Scoot-E-Bike, to an audience member who could correctly identify what exactly a Scoot-E-Bike is: an electric mode of transportation with a speed of up to 20 mph.
Check out the full photostream: http://beta.blackenterprise.com/techconnext/2017-photostream/