SAIC would then turn around and later sell Network Solutions in 2000 to VeriSign for $21 billion dollars and make history in one of the biggest tech deals to be completed in the United States at that time. Network Solutions remains one of the most important companies in the Internet industry.
Traumatizing. Devastating. It is for such events that these adjectives were probably created. In fact, White and McHenry even stopped speaking to each other and parted ways, bitter with disappointment.
This situation might be a distant memory, but could remain a looming concern for many young black tech entrepreneurs today — and therefore the U.S. economy overall — because there is no full-proof inoculation against business growing pains. Are many entrepreneurs falling prey to a similar strain of “Network Solutions syndrome” today? Where, for example, are the faces of color in the current Best Buy television ad that features a number of successful Caucasian males trumpeting their inventions? From the duo that started Words with Friends, to the man who enabled mobile phones to take photos, each man starts off saying, “I invented….”
While watching that ad, one can’t help but think, “They created those things, but it’s African-Americans who actually over-index in mobile phone purchases, usage, expenditures, features and mobile video viewing.” Need verification? Google “Nielsen Mobile” and find out. Clearly, we are not timid about the use of technology, so perhaps there is something more.
“[P]art of the problem,” explains White, “is that we have very little reference to our history of contributions to building America. We don’t know our history, particularly within tech. We don’t know that we come from a long line of inventors and entrepreneurs so there is little psychological support for today’s black entrepreneur. But we do, we have and we can still create amazing things… even in this economy!” White cites contributions within Bell Labs, broadband and more where blacks have played a vital yet clandestine role in the rise of technology.
We just may have an opportunity to begin to turn things around, however. White is encouraged that through the jobs bill people will soon be able to invest in companies on-line via a new twist on crowd-funding. This could be a huge game-changer for economic growth (particularly for people of color), regardless of whether one might be on the entrepreneurial or investor side of the table.
“What we need to do now is start to understand this opportunity and, for example, create investment clubs around it in order to review potential businesses and take full advantage of it,” White excitedly explains. “This is a huge move that the SEC is doing because it will put power in the hands of the individual; buyer and/or seller. All one will have to do is produce a business plan, have the right background credentials and take it to a crowd-funding site. You’ll be able to get up to a million dollars, if you’ve got the right idea. This makes access to capital much less problematic and levels the playing field for those who want to invest in the new tech companies that will be the black-owned Apples and Samsungs of tomorrow.”
For White and McHenry, time has changed many things. It’s taken several years, but the two former business partners have found their way back to friendship and continue to share with each other’s families and at events. McHenry owns and runs a $300 million company with firms such as Nokia among its clients.
But where they, and we, go from here is — as the character Neo says in the closing scene of The Matrix — a choice I leave to you. White has some guiding words of wisdom.
“If there is any advice I could give black entrepreneurs today,” explains White, “it would be that you must stick with what you are doing, if you feel it is right. Don’t allow other people to tell you that you don’t have anything important like we did. That is really the key. That’s why we suffered. Listening to other people… who didn’t know.”
Hopefully, future African-American tech entrepreneurs can benefit from White’s drama of lessons learned from a life in the tech arena.
Lauren DeLisa Coleman is part of the new technorati-to-watch. She is a mobile strategy specialist and analyst specializing in the convergence of Gen X, Y with hip tech platforms, and the author of the new e-book, Rise of the Smart Power Class. Follow her on Twitter at @mediaempress.