“We held the inaugural event in Atlanta, because [we] felt that it has a budding tech community,” Spann said. “A lot of accelerators like Hypepotamus are popping up. We wanted to stay away from New York and San Francisco because they already have an established tech scene.”
Each team in the competition was paired with a coach to help guide the development of their products. Cheryl Hubbard was happy to lend her time.
“I got involved through a venture capital friend of mine. She sent me the information and said ‘you have to go help them,’” the business coach and marketing director for WowNowWhat.com said.
The biggest challenges startups face? “[N]ot enough money and lack of a strategy [for what] makes them a business,” she told theGrio.
Another coach, Steven Otu, was very impressed by the event. The founder of VocalTap, a platform that helps small businesses learn from each other and stay accountable to their goals, rarely sees diversity at mainstream events like this. “Last weekend they had [another] hackathon here in Atlanta,” Otu noted. “There were over 100 participants, but only one or two were African-American.”
The scene at Black Girls Hack presented the opposite image. Amid the coders were supporters just checking out the scene — while looking to build their tech industry contacts.
Sisters Charlotte and Antoinette Newman, the founders of Team Fenom, were their to take in a rare forum for techies who look like them. The sisters created their beta web site featuring women’s sports information, news, lifestyle info, and community without knowing how to code at first. Charlotte asserted that their story presents “a lesson for anyone interested in starting something” if they “don’t necessarily have a technical background,” she told theGrio. “You should still move forward. There is room for you as long as you have one of the pieces necessary to start a business. We both have MBAs so we focus on that piece of the puzzle.”
Ama Marfo, founder of Airfordable, is one of the eight startup leaders that competed in Black Girls Hack. Her online platform will provides layaway payment plans for air travel — once she builds it. Marfo saw the hackathon as a big chance to advance her project. “I don’t have a technical background and I have been searching for a CTO [Chief Technology Officer] for a long time,” she told theGrio. “When I heard about this opportunity, I was excited because I really need this prototype done. I can’t talk to investors without a prototype.”
It’s a good thing that she took the risk, and made her case for her project. Marfo was named the hackathon champion based on her concept. Hopefully, this win will generate the attention and networking opportunities critical to building her executive leadership brain trust.
Black Girls Hack’s next event is going to be in Newark, New Jersey in March. “We chose Newark for a few reasons,” Calvin said. “First, just like every other black woman, I have a giant crush on Corey Booker. Most importantly, I have been really impressed with how hard Newark is working to build up the city. We expect to get people from all around the New York and Connecticut areas to come to the event.”
Everyone interviewed for this piece, when asked, was enthusiastic in their pronouncement that young black people eager to start a new venture should go for it, and love it while they build it. Black Girls Hack is making it easier for people to follow this simple advice. With their passion to diversify the tech sector, maybe these women will help cultivate the next Mark Zuckerberg by promoting talent from urban communities.
Lawrence Watkins is the founder of Great Black Speakers, Great Pro Speakers, and co-founder of Ujamaa Deals, which is a daily deal site that promotes black-owned businesses. He graduated in 2006 from The University of Louisville with a B.S. in electrical engineering and earned his MBA from Cornell University in 2010. Lawrence currently resides in Atlanta. You can follow him on Twitter @lawrencewatkins.