Austin Needs More Black People in Every Area of the Technology Industry

By LAURA LOREK,
Publisher of Silicon Hills News


The median net worth of a black family in the United States is projected to reach zero by 2053.

Today, the net worth of a black family is about $17,000, said Rodney Sampson, co-founder, and CEO of Opportunity Hub. While white wealth will continue to grow, black families’ wealth is on the decline, he said. The data comes from a Federal Reserve report released in September of 2017.

That’s why it’s critical to provide opportunities for black people in the technology industry, Sampson said.

Automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, quantum computing, gig economy and what’s being called the fourth industrial revolution will shake up the workforce and leave a lot of people out of jobs, Sampson said. That’s why black people must obtain software development, technical sales, analytical and critical thinking skills for the new economy, he said.

“We’re not talking about grit,” Sampson said. “We’ve had grit for 400 years. Don’t assess black grit, please. It’s an insult. Poor people got grit, immigrants got grit. That’s not a challenge. But that is a skill set of the future that should be commoditized as our unfair advantage in the tech ecosystem.”

Sampson kicked off the Black in Tech Summit at Capital Factory in Austin on Wednesday.

Sampson’s organization, Opportunity Hub, based in Atlanta, focuses on reducing poverty and the racial wealth gap by ensuring people of color and people from socially disadvantaged communities are equitably included.

“Equity is the key word,” Sampson said. “Equity ensures that we are all equitably positioned from the cap tables to the conference rooms – all the way across at every level.”

The startup ecosystem, particularly in tech, is still having surface level discussions about inclusion and representation, Sampson said.

“I’m seeing the wealth on our cap tables continuing to escape our communities,” he said. “We’ve got to do something about it.”

Top priority is to get the word out about the fourth industrial revolution and the future of work, and the disruption technology is going to have on today’s workforce, Sampson said.

Imagine bus and truck drivers who make a good salary today. In the future, autonomous vehicles will do those jobs. Think about the fast food industry or retail industry, robots will replace cooks in the kitchen and at the counter or checkout. This is already happening in communities worldwide.

To deal with the changes, every year, Austin’s institutions must create 100 black engineers, Sampson said. There must be a density of talent here, he said.

“I don’t see in any city nationwide the density of diverse talent,” he said.

Next, Austin needs people of color who are focused on solving problems, Sampson said.

“Entrepreneurs solve hard problems that people are willing to pay for,” he said.

Also, train parents in technical skills, Sampson said. If the parent is going to learn to code, the children are going to learn to code, he said.

Austin needs to build out every part of the ecosystem from the pre-accelerator to the investment fund, Sampson said. It’s not about creating one or two positions but having a huge number of diverse talent involved in the technology industry. That creates synergy, he said. Also, it’s important to have allies in the white community to advance in the mainstream, Sampson said.

“We can’t drive people away,” he said. “We have to have the hard conversations.”

That was part of the focus of Austin’s inaugural Black in Tech Summit. It provided a lay of the land of the land of what is possible and what needs to be done, said Preston James, co-founder and CEO of DivInc.

 “It’s possible, and we’re making it happen,” James said.

DivInc, an early stage accelerator for women and people of color, has accelerated 36 companies of which 75 percent are still active and they have collectively raised more than $4 million, James said. DivInc provides resources to forge a pathway for underrepresented entrepreneurs, he said..

“We want to create a mindset shift within the startup ecosystem,” James said.

If young people see entrepreneurs, investors and mentors that look like them, they know what is possible, James said.

The day-long Black in Tech Summit at Capital Factory featured panels, workshops and keynote speeches on a variety of topics including fundraising, building a business, legal issues, and best practices for hiring. Capital Factory and DivInc put on the event. More than 500 people registered for the event.