DURHAM – Speak to some seasoned black entrepreneurs who have been on the scene for a decade or two, and they’ll tell you that it wasn’t always easy to network and tap into local resources. Oftentimes, they had to figure it out alone and fend for themselves.
But things are changing.
As part of American Underground’s (AU) recent push to make Durham the most diverse tech hub – and the “Silicon Valley of the South” – it has been testing out a new series of monthly mixers called ImBlackInTech, specifically aimed at drawing in the African American community.
On Tuesday night, a crowd of about 100 black entrepreneurs and professionals heeded the call, packing into AU’s Google Lounge on the third floor of the old tobacco warehouse to mix and mingle, and exchange stories.
It’s the third time the group has hosted the event in as many months, each time to sell-out crowds.
“The interest has been overwhelming,” said organizer Tarryn Henry, AU’s director of Member Experience. “People keep coming back and telling others about it. There’s been a lot of traction.”
Tapping into much-needed resources
For Tynique Kelly, it’s all about making those vital connections.
“Resources are limited, and if there are resources out there, we’re not aware of what they are,” said the 34-year-old who runs startup Big Sister Talk, an outreach program for girls aged 11-18 out of Raleigh. “Events like this definitely give us a clue as to where to find those resources and opportunities for our community. It means the world.”
There’s also a level of comfort and sense of community, others say.
“In other mixers, most of the time it’s a challenge just trying to get to the resources because you’re trying to prove your worth; that you even belong in the building in the first place,” said Nessa Rutazamba, 33, founder of Royalcations. “Once that is out the window, you can just talk about the facts, what problems you need solved.
“I still go to the other mixers,” she added. ”But when I was young, I felt that way.”
For Dana Calder, 39, strategic account manager at local tech startup Spreedly, it was her first time attending the mixer. She says it’s about time that there’s a dedicated event for people of color in the tech community.
“I would have loved this when I first got into tech,” she said. “When you’re looking at the profiles of companies in tech, and the statistics in terms of the minority percentage, having a place where you can be around people that look like you, is pretty supportive.”
New chapter in Durham?
The series is one of many subprograms of ImBlackInTech, a global network of more than 3,000 Black and Latin founders and professionals in over 40 cities and 11 countries.
Ultimately, organizers say, if interest continues, the group could be interested in establishing its first chapter right here in the Triangle.
“All of this is exploratory, but the attendance points to the fact that there is enough density in terms of black tech professionals and tech entrepreneurs in this area to support a chapter,” said AU’s Executive Director Doug Speight.
“There’s been pent up demand in this market for some time,” he added. “We need a safe space to have some of the conversations about the challenges for entrepreneurs and tech professionals of color. This is the first step in creating that.”
Ultimately, it’s about building a solid network for the next generation of black entrepreneurs coming up.
“They now have the connections to grow their companies and not have to work as hard as we did to make their dreams come true,” said Henry.