Out of all the different industries in the world, the field of technology is one that is continuously in motion and constantly changing. Tech companies can go from zero to millions and even billions in a matter of a few years, and in some cases, seemingly overnight. However, there is one place where the technology industry has shown the snail-like movement, and that is in the area of diversity.
While serious strides are being made toward a more diverse and inclusive workforce, there remains a massive under-representation in the technology space of African-Americans and other minorities at the highest levels of business. The ongoing discussions about diversifying in the workplace have not fallen on deaf ears. Instead, it has helped to aid the larger population in recognizing these issues as more than just a matter of compliance.
While progress continues in this respect, there are several people who have and continue to make major advancements in the field of technology and beyond. Some of them you may have heard of before and some you may not yet know. These men and women represent a phalanx of founders, CEOs, executives, and leaders who are driving major transformation and strategic direction.
In the spirit of celebrating Black History Month, we honor and applaud these 14 black entrepreneurs who are showing the world what it means to be work with meaning and be successful doing it:
Kathryn Finney is the founder and Managing Director of digitalundivided (DID), a social enterprise that takes an innovative and transformative approach to economic empowerment by encouraging Black and Latina women to own their economic security through entrepreneurship. The company has impacted over 2000 people and helped other companies raise over $25 million in investments.
Kathryn completed her BA in Political Science and Women’s Studies from The State University of New Jersey – New Brunswick, and her Masters in International Epidemiology from Yale University. She is the author of the best-selling book “How to Be a Budget Fashionista,” and serves on the Board of Directors for Public Radio International.
Kathryn exclusively told TechFunnel.com,
“My vision is a world where women of color own their work and become empowered to control their economic destiny.”
2. Will Lucas
Founder and CEO
A William Lucas Company (AWLCo)
Will Lucas is the Founder and CEO of A William Lucas Company (AWLCo), which is the parent company of brand marketing technology company Creadio, founded in 2003. He recently also launched Classana, an educational resource discovery engine, and is also the organizer behind TedXToledo.
Will has also played a growing role on the political stage. In 2012, Lucas became Co-Chair of then-President Obama’s Ohio Small Business Committee and in 2016, Ohio Governor John Kasich appointed him to the University of Toledo’s Board of Trustees.
He completed his Bachelors in Organization Technology and his Associate’s degree in Technical studies from the University of Toledo. He has also held various positions at ProMedia.
Will exclusively told TechFunnel:
“I hope we as a people embrace the concept of ownership. I believe we should have a stake in the ideas we put out into the world. My challenge is for us to think differently about what we need from others in order to make our dreams a reality. The Internet age we live in provides so many options for getting out our creations and concepts – we don’t need the infrastructures we used to rely on. We can own the production from manufacturing all the way through to distribution. But we have to first believe we can.
When I started each of my companies, it was always with the thought of – if nobody came to lend me a hand in the early days, was I going to let that stop me? No. I decided each time that I would build out my ideas so that I could first learn the ropes and then ultimately take ownership of my own success.
So if nobody showed up to help you, would you let that stop you?”
3. Camille Hearst
Co-founder & CEO, Kit
Head of Product, Patreon
Camille held executive positions at Google and Apple before securing a $2.5 million investment for her own startup named Kit, a platform where you can discover products to buy as recommended by experts. Last year, she sold the company to Patreon, where she is now the Head of Product Line.
She completed her BS in Science, Technology and Society and her MS in Science and Engineering from Stanford University. She worked at Apple, Google, and Hailo, before launching Kit. She also serves as a Sequoia Capital Scout, a member of the Digital Advisory Board of the New York Public Radio, a mentor for TechStars and a mentor and advisor for YR Media.
4. Laura Weidman Powers
Co-Founder and CEO
According to estimates, 2040 is predicted to be the year when African-Americans and Latinos will constitute 42% of the population, which is why Laura Weidman Powers chose it as the name for her organization, through which she wants to make sure that current minority groups get a bigger seat at the tech table.
Laura studied Law at Stanford University Law School and completed her MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business. She held positions at CityStep, ARTiculate, Paul Hastings, Ogilvy & Mather, and Border Stylo, and was a Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She is also helping new entrepreneurs at New Media Ventures (NMV).
Laura exclusively told TechFunnel:
“I’m honored to be in TechFunnel’s Top 14. Tech is increasingly driving innovation in our economy, and it’s so critical that it’s used in ways that benefit those who are often marginalized. Increasing the diversity of leadership and visibility of diverse leadership in tech is critical.”
5. Amanda Spann
After developing a number of apps, such as AfriDate, a dating app for Black singles, Amanda launched Happii to help non-technical entrepreneurs develop apps. She is also a Co-Founder of Blerdology, a social enterprise that organized the first hackathon geared toward African-Americans.
Amanda completed her BS and BA in Merchandising and Communication Studies and took a course on International Merchandising from Florida State University. She also completed her MPS in Public Relations and Corporate Communications from Georgetown University. She has held positions at Atlantic Records, The R Agency, Avon Cosmetics, Trea Day Management & Publicity, Concur Technologies, IBM and Wells Fargo. She is also the co-founder of Tiphub and the founder of Spann & Company.
While sharing her pearls of wisdom with TechFunnel about how everyone can make it if they are persistent and passionate enough, Amanda said:
“This career and personal journey will be a constant battle between your faith and your fears – fear of failure, inadequacy, belonging, the unknown, hard work or even change. And no matter how alone you may feel, know that these are emotions that everyone experiences in some shape or form. You however have an obligation to yourself, and everyone who believes in you, to not let cowardice debilitate you from reaching the next version of yourself. The world needs your gifts and is counting on your vision.”
6. Ade Olonoh
Founder of Formstack
Co-Founder of Jell
A seasoned entrepreneur, Ade Olonoh is the co-founder of Bottled Software, founder of Recursive Function and Formspring in 2006, Formstack in 2009, and co-founder of Jell in 2014.
7. Regina Gwynn
Co-Founder & CEO, TresseNoire
Co-Founder, Black Women Talk Tech
A branding and digital marketing executive with over 15 years of experience, Regina is the Co-Founder and CEO of TresseNoire, a digital platform that connects consumers with mobile natural hairstylists. She is also the Co-Founder of Black Women Talk Tech, a group of black female tech founders that identifies, supports and encourages black women to build the next billion dollar business.
Regina completed her BS in Marketing from Rutgers University and her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She also studied Fashion Buying & Merchandising at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Additionally, she serves as the Vice Chair of the Strategic Advisory Board at Rising Tide Capital.
8. Kimberly Bryant
Over the last six years, Kimberly Bryant has been building BlackGirlsCode, a non-profit organization introducing girls of color (ages 7-17) to the field of technology and computer science with a concentration on entrepreneurial concepts, all in an attempt to bridge the diversity gap and get more women started in STEM fields.
Kimberly completed her BE in Electrical Engineering from Vanderbilt University, and held positions at Philip Morris, Merck & Co., Pfizer Inc., and Genentech, to name a few. She also serves on the Boards of Glitch, Nielsen, and EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center).
9. Esosa Ighodaro
Co-Founder, Black Women Talk Tech
Esosa left a career in financial services and banking to help launch Cosign, an app that makes it easier for people to shop for products through social media.
In 2013, she helped launch Cosign, and in 2017, she helped launch Black Women Talk Tech.
10. Tristan Walker
Co-Founder of CODE2040
Founder of Walker & Company Brands
Founded and led by Tristan Walker, Walker & Company was created to make health and beauty simple for people of color by designing, developing and testing products and services to assure great customer service and easy and practical shopping experience.
Tristan completed his BA in Economics from the State University of New York, and his MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He has worked in different positions at Twitter, The Boston Consulting Group and Foursquare, and is an Entrepreneur-in-residence at Andreessen Horowitz.
11. Martin Ijaha
Co-Founder and CEO
Martin Ijaha’s UK-based startup, Neyber, partners with employers to offer loans to employees at affordable rates, with the repayments being taken directly out of their paychecks. To date, the company has lent out more than 50 million pounds.
12. Courtney Caldwell & Tye Caldwell
Husband and wife duo, Courtney and Tye Caldwell, launched ShearShare in 2015, with the mission to connect salon and barbershop owners with independent stylists to fill unused salon suites and stations on demand.
Tye is a salon owner with more than 20 years of experience, while Courtney has worked in sales and marketing for companies including Zendesk, Zenefits, and Qualtrics. With their solid business idea, complementary skills and a new infusion of cash, analysts expect ShearShare to grow even faster in 2019.
Courtney and Tye offered some excellent advice exclusively to TechFunnel.com,
“Every startup founder’s journey is like a snowflake: unique by nature. So try not to compare your journey with anyone else’s highlight reel. The quickest path to success means you stay close to your users, figure out what works, and let go of what failed . . . because change is inevitable.”
13. Freddie Figgers
Founder & CEO
Dynamic, seasoned, and innovative entrepreneur, Freddie has over 16 years of experience in enterprise and software architecture and engineering, technical and business analysis, and management of lifecycle software engineering. He founded Figgers Communications in 2011 and has since taken the company from being a fledgling startup to one with 4G LTE Nationwide WiMAX technology capable of serving over 3 million cellular and home phone subscribers.
Figgers got started with technology at a young age and already has a series of inventions to his name.
14. Riana Lynn
Founder & CEO
Riana Lynn provided a technology-powered solution to organic food more accessible to people through her companies, FoodTrace, and Journey Foods. Journey Foods builds software and apps to help link local farms and food distributors to larger wholesale food buyers, while her previous startup FoodTrace has already been acquired.
Riana completed her BS in Biology – Chemistry from the University of North Carolina, and her Masters in Leadership, Business, and Policy from Northwestern University. She has held roles at Dyad Mentorship, CNBC’s “The Profit” and Cleveland Avenue, and is also a lecturer at the Kellogg School of Management. She is also an entrepreneur-in-residence with Google and Code 2040, and also helped out at Michelle Obama’s kitchen garden at the White House.
These extraordinary entrepreneurs are inspiring and empowering their peers and other young adults around the world to pursue their dreams with conviction, irrespective of their race, gender, or cultural backgrounds.