Venturing From Silicon Valley
As 2016 was winding down, many of my friends and co-workers in Silicon Valley asked me what organizations they should donate to or volunteer with. I have realized that there is a genuine desire to support groups and people who could find themselves even more marginalized in the coming months and years. However, I believe we need to do much more to find ways to engage with people, communities, and organizations that are firmly outside our respective bubbles.
Silicon Valley is the center for disruption. However, we have to develop an understanding of how the tools, platforms, and services we create impact communities outside our own. We have to engage with people and organizations that are firmly outside our respective bubbles. As a wise person once said. “If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life.” And Slack is giving me the opportunity to do exactly that.
At the beginning of the year, I left my role as director of engineering at Slack to focus on an incredibly unique opportunity. For the next 12 months, I will be working with Venture for America (VFA) to launch the Executive in Residence program. This program is designed to accelerate the growth of start-ups in cities across America. This program will work with leading tech companies by facilitating the placement of experienced tech leaders in VFA cities across America.
I can never thank EricaJoy enough for her courage and inspiration. To say that we all draw strength from Black Women is an understatement. And to be clear, the movement is stronger with people like Stewart Butterfield who understand and support the community.
Over the course of the past 18 months, I had the opportunity to speak with students and faculty at Historically Black Colleges and Universities about the opportunities and challenges of being a person of color in Tech. I witnessed first-hand the drive and passion communities such as Detroit, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Miami have when it comes to building their nascent tech ecosystems. I listened to the frustrations of countless founders of all races and genders on how hard it is to raise funds, to find and retain good talent, and grow their companies in their communities due to the scarcity of what we take for granted in Silicon Valley.
It is painfully obvious that this very talent is being systematically drained from most of America’s hardest hit cities. A large percentage of this entrepreneurial talent ends up in New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Boston, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Denying these communities the talent and resources they need to create and grow their start-up communities.
By encouraging and enabling a population of non-diverse entrepreneurs to relocate to Silicon Valley, and disrupt and innovate in the technology space with little thought to the scope or impact of their platforms, we have successfully created the means to disrupt not only industries but also communities, and countries. And we do this With little, if any, empathy when it comes to the impact on the well being of people, particularly women and people of color.
Silicon Valley has and will continue to be instrumental in accelerating the automation and disintermediation of jobs that used to be the gateway to the middle class for millions of people. All in the name of disruption. And yet disruption can be used to develop models for job creation in many of the same cities that people have left. Models that create jobs, build communities, and in the process helps mitigate the withdrawal of businesses and the government.
A disruptive model to emulate is how PayPal opened an office in Omaha NE and is fostering a small but vibrant tech ecosystem.
Another model would be to invest in tech ecosystems in Cincinnati, where companies like Lisnr and their CEO Rodney Williams are truly innovating using ultrasonic technology to transmit information. Or in Miami where Kairos led by their CEO Brian Brackeen, are making face recognition easy and accessible. Innovative and disruptive tech companies, being led by brilliant entrepreneurs of color exist and thrive outside of Silicon Valley. We just need to be there to see it.
Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley have an unparalleled support a structure that invests, enables, and encourages risk taking. And because entrepreneurs create jobs, Silicon Valley enjoys one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country at 2.8%
Encouraging tech investment in communities with lower costs of living and the same entrepreneurial spirit seen in Silicon Valley, should not be constrained to Seattle, Austin or Boston but should also include cities like Denver, Detroit, New Orleans, and St. Louis.
This is why the Executive in Residence (EIR) program will run alongside VFA’s existing program of College Grad Fellows, operating out of Atlanta, Baltimore, Birmingham, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, Miami, Nashville, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Providence, San Antonio and St. Louis. Our goal is to encourage tech investment in people as well as capital, in communities with lower costs of living with the same entrepreneurial spirit seen in Silicon Valley
The EIRs will live and work full-time in an innovation hub in their host city for one year. They will work with local entrepreneurs and startups, serve as a mentor and advisor, and activate resources and networks on behalf of local companies.
The political and societal backlash that has played out in our social media bubbles the past few years is a call to action. Whether you’re a founder, a recruiter, an investor, manager, or executive, you have the potential to contribute to a solution. This is a call to engage locally with public institutions, a call to invest in communities that have been struggling with diversifying their economies. Why don’t you join me in answering the call to be disruptive for the benefit of America.