This post is written by, and posted with permission from Gerald Harris, Principle of the Quantum Planning Group, Inc. Email your thoughts to Gerald Harris at email@example.com, and find him on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=32841606&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile.
In the spring of 2009, I met Diishan Imira, a unique, 27-year-old, biracial African-American man with a deep entrepreneurial spirit. Diishan had just returned from two years in China, where he taught English to grade school children and picked up their language. He had already started and closed two businesses importing goods from China into the United States, one for running shoes and the other for furniture. Now the CEO of Mayvenn, Inc., one of the fastest-growing businesses funded by 500 startups in Silicon Valley, Diishan has become one of my closest friends. I had the honor of coaching and supporting him as he formed Mayvenn, and I am an investor in the company. Mayvenn is still in its early growth phases, but I am confident that over the next few years, it will emerge as one of the biggest African-American success stories in Silicon Valley (For more about Mayvenn, visit http://www.mayvenn.com.).
While working with Diishan, I also served for four years on the National Advisory Board of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), whose 31,000-plus members include some of the best and brightest young minds in Black America. These young men and women were being trained at some of the top universities in the United States and were being hired by some of the nation’s top companies. From the perspective of this experience, my background as a futurist and scenario planner, and my residence in San Francisco, where I see and feel the tech community in action, I have come to the view that Silicon Valley needs more African-American minds and hearts, as it evolves, and that the black community needs more of what Silicon Valley has to offer. Here are my key thoughts.
Five Reasons Why Silicon Valley Needs African Americans
- Lucrative Market
African-American consumers spend more than $1 trillion annually. This is a staggering sum of money that is largely ignored by Valley entrepreneurs. Some of this spending is, of course, being picked up, as African Americans consume just like other Americans, using Uber, buying from iTunes, listening to Pandora and buying iPads and iPhones. But targeting the African-American consumer can prove to be lucrative, as Hollywood, the fast food industry and others have figured out (Popeye’s Chicken anyone?).
- Product Promotion
African-American consumers are style-setters and pacesetters in many industries. Imagine the music or fashion industry without black people: no hip hop, no blues, , no fancy braided hair styles (being adapted by Iggy Azalea), no jazz (I could go on.). Black athletes and other black celebrities are prominent promoters of a wide range of products aimed at young people of all races — clothing, including athletic shoes; energy drinks; nutritional supplements and more — and could fill the same roles in the marketing of tech products and services.
- Product Improvement
African Americans (and other “minorities”) provide unique perspectives and approaches that can augment products and services so they best serve the needs of their own communities and often other communities as well.). African Americans have long been trend setters in fashion, music and entertainment in general. We have led the way in creating publications for our communities including Ebony and Essence magazines and now have groups which speak to our concerns on Twitter and Facebook. Silicon Valley should learn from these examples and create more customized products h while seeking input from more black customers to serve their needs better and more profitably.
- Enhanced Creativity
Black perspectives combined with perspectives of others can produce insights and ideas that only emerge from a mix of diverse viewpoints. I know this well from leading groups tasked with creating future scenarios. I am fascinated by how many racially integrated bands — The Black Eyed Peas, Bruce Springsteen, Eminem and others — create globally successful music. Silicon Valley, likewise, may gain greater success, and avoid some spectacular investment failures, by expanding their creative teams beyond the white guys from Stanford University who regularly appear.
- Political Support
Support from blacks in the political arena could prove useful to the Valley over the long term, as it runs into more restrictions, regulations and barriers. Political attacks will grow with the influence of Silicon Valley firms, as they change the basics of how we live our lives. Airnb and Uber are transforming our use of our homes and cars. Other firms will change how we receive medical care or get an education. To the extent these companies impact our lifestyles, they will face political consequences. If Black Americans are being served by and benefiting from this change, we might make good political supporters.
Five Reasons Why Black America Needs Silicon Valley
- Better Products and Services
Silicon Valley is best at pointing out many parts of our economy that are out of date, inefficient and stuck in old paradigms. These archaic patterns of operating are costing African Americans just as they are costing others. We, too, will benefit from cheaper, faster and better products and services. Other black men may find, as I do, that Uber makes it much easier to hire a ride in New York City. Booking my vacations is cheaper and better with Airnb. I can listen to more of the music I like at lower cost by streaming on Spotify or Pandora. What Mayvenn is doing for black hairstylists by bringing them into the digital economy is an emerging story with great potential. Products and services are sure to emerge that can help black people improve our health and education, using digital technology.
- Wealth Creation
Black Americans need to participate in the wealth creation that technology is stimulating in other communities. We need more black tech millionaires and billionaires who can support our communities with jobs and other forms of investment.
- Career Success
Young black Americans need to be part of the unfolding future that Silicon Valley is creating. During my time with NSBE, I saw this clearly in the career choices that young, very well-educated black youth were making. Black parents want great futures for our children just as all other parents do.
- Showcase for Excellence
Black genius and intellect needs to demonstrate their value in the technology world just as they have historically in other realms (law: Thurgood Marshall; writing: Toni Morrison or Alice Walker; engineering: Elijah McCoy; dance: Alvin Ailey; music: Ella Fitgerald, Aretha Franklin (an endless list); social change: Dr. King, Marian Wright Edelman, or Mary McLeod Bethune; science: Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson or Mae Jamison (first Black woman NASA astronaut)). America is at its best when it takes full advantage of all of the talents of all people.
Wealthy philanthropists have played key roles in the elevation of black Americans from the historical injustices of slavery and Jim Crow. Black colleges received some of their startup funding from and continue to be supported by the likes of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Warren Buffett. Silicon Valley billionaires can find some of their most satisfying social investments in historically black colleges and other black organizations that have made the lives of all Americans better.
Email your thoughts to Gerald Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org, and find him on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=32841606&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile.