The Genesis of Graveti
Today I’m going to tell you about the origins of Graveti. Before we talk about the first days of operation, it’s worth explaining the how the idea for the project developed.
I broke into the tech and startup space my freshman year of college (2013) and was going to as many tech events as I could. Over time I noticed that I was, usually, the only person of color at these events. At first I didn’t think much of it but I began to ask myself why more people of color weren’t in the local tech and startup scene . When I did see someone that looked like me, it was magical. We connected almost instantly and shared good conversation but we made the same upsetting observations related to people of color in technology startups. One of the most frustrating parts about the low number of people of color at these events was that I knew there were a ton of talented Black and Latino/as, people who would thrive in the tech community.
These thoughts lead to me having coffee and conversations with entrepreneurs and friends in the community pertaining to people of color. We shared our stories of how we entered the tech world, what we enjoy about it, and what we could do to get more involved. Our stories had a few common elements but each of us had a unique story. Most of us were very convinced that technology and startups was the game to be playing.
While this was going on, I was also having various conversations with close friends and family (who weren’t into the tech scene) about the work I wanted to do in the community. In short, I wanted to help people of color look at tech as an option to succeed in life. I felt like s people of color were doing one of three things:
- Pursuing a career they weren’t passionate about
- Coming from a family of little or no generational wealth
- Going down the wrong path (gangs, drugs, etc…)
I observed these things happening for about a year before I was compelled to take action. I wanted to make sure there was no local organization solving this problem before putting the energy and time into launching a project to resolve it.
I partnered with two close confidants as a response (a great friend and my big brother). We each had different passions but we agreed that there was a need for more projects dedicated to overcoming the three phenomena I mentioned before… One of us wanted to help youth get more involved with community-building (ie: organizing community gatherings), another wanted to boost middle school and high school students’ involvement in the music industry (ie: using instruments as a way to bring community together and avoid the negative temptations in life), and I, of course, wanted to help people of color (and those from underrepresented backgrounds) enter the tech and entrepreneurial scene. We were connected by our desire to help those in our community thrive.
After weeks of brainstorming names (literally!) we, initially, decided to call it ‘T.U.P.’ — the underrepresented project . Our slogan was “Empowering people to succeed” and we planned to create an organization tied all of our interests together. The project was supposed to include the following:
- A mentorship program for youth with various interests
- Community-building projects
- Events and programs to help people enter entrepreneurship (especially entrepreneurship in the technology sector)
- A curriculum for youth to learn to play instruments and participate in community engagement through music
We, obviously, were planning to do a lot for three people. We were stoked and felt that we could each focus heavily on our own interests but find ways to loop them all together. But the honeymoon stage only lasted for so long and things started going awry…
Long story short, not everyone was able to commit the time needed to execute on the work and communication was poor. I’ll write a blog post on the specific shortcomings on a different day but there’s a reason they say you should avoid doing business with family and friends (time has healed the wounds but it wasn’t pretty). I ultimately made the decision to take what I was doing and start a separate organization.
And Graveti was born… Kinda. When I decided to create an independent project, I spent time thinking of what kind of organization I wanted to build and the impact and goals I was looking to accomplish; some of those objectives are listed below:
- I wanted to build a long lasting organization (100 yrs+)
- I wanted to build it on my terms
- I wanted to, truly, change the face of tech and entrepreneurship in the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota
- I wanted to build a great team that loves the work we do
- I wanted to help founders and professionals build generational wealth and community
- I wanted to make Minnesota one of the best places for people of color to live and work (and those from other marginalized groups)
- Contribute to our growing tech ecosystem, locally
I was thinking what it would take to accomplish all of this and a few things came to mind:
- Events to build relationships and safe spaces to learn
- Events and programs that provide high quality content
- ‘Wins’ — startup founders (including myself) need to just win
- Mentorship and exposure — we need people to guide us and we need to be exposed to tech as early as possible (more entrepreneurs to tell the “I was coding at 9” story)
- Funding — checks going towards startups to grow
The objective of Graveti is to progressively address all of these but we had to start small. So we started with events (monthly meetup) and we’ve recently began to add more programs (startup mentorship, workshops, etc). Those who are heavily involved in our activity know that we do some private events (ie: invite only Happy hours and workshops) and some hands-on help for startups.
Even before officially launching Graveti, I continued to do some off-site (private/invite only) gatherings of professionals and founders of color to see what worked and what didn’t. It was clear that a meetup was the easiest (and quickest way) to get started. So we officially launched our first public meetup and have been going hard ever since.
As we grow, we will continue to provide our community with more resources and better events and programs. We will continue to push to be our own seed fund in the future (put our money where our mouth is) and invest in our community to see more wins.
…So there you have it; the OG story of what was before Graveti and how we came to be. We had a great year (we are almost a year old) and we are excited about what’s to come next.
Thanks to Dionne Griffin (The TC Kiddo) for reviewing drafts of this post.