Creating a new generation of technology entrepreneurs Part 1: Changing the Value Proposition for Urban Youth

I spend easily 50% of my time reading about technology startups. Watching them get funded, seeing what business models take off and reading the stories of how they went from idea to executed company.  There are so many new technology companies being created everyday. Some fail, some succeed but the great part is that people are taking the chance to create something. One of the things that frustrates me is the lack of African Americans creating technology-based start-ups. Before people start jumping at me saying, “What are your talking about I’m a Black tech entrepreneur?!”

You have to admit that even if you are one or know one, there are not enough of them.   And I don’t buy the argument that we can’t because we have shown creativity and innovation in almost everything we do. When I was running GlobalGrind I was fortunate enough to go to places like Facebook and meet employees from well-known startups like Ning and Digg. What I was always impressed with was the environment of creativity that existed among these people and how everyone there was keenly focused on solving problems. Yes, they were all making money but you could quickly tell that was only part of the value proposition for them. I would always say to myself that if more minority teens knew that there are places to work like Facebook and other startups, and more importantly they can create companies just like this, they would line up around the block to learn how to do it. So what is it? Why in this age of opportunity does Black Web 2.0  have maybe 2 startups to cover a week while sites like Techcrunch cover about 10 a day?

I believe we have to change the value proposition of urban youth. We need to help them understand how great the opportunities are and how much easier it is to start your own company than they think. When I speak to teens at events I usually ask them if they knew that there was a guy who, using free software, in his dorm room created something and he is now worth more than P-Diddy, Jay-Z, and Russell Simmons combined. People rarely guess that I’m talking about Mark Zuckerberg and that he did that in about 5 years.  But after that remark I usually have their attention.

Being a pro athlete or an entertainer is great but the odds are extremely high for people to have careers in those fields. But that is who they see and the problem is that our youth don’t see people they can identify with in technology entrepreneurial roles so they don’t believe it is in the realm of possibility for them. Yes, they love to use Facebook but they never think that they can create the next Facebook. So I ask the question what can we do to change their value proposition. Let’s talk about any ideas people have and start working to making this become reality for our youth.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Here are some good articles to read:
Youth Use Entrepreneurship as a Pathway to Success

Teen Tips for Entrepreneurship

Lesson Plans for Young Entrepreneurs



navarrowwright says:

Thanks for the compliment. Give parts 2 and 3 a read here as well and you can read my other posts at navarrowwright.com

alena01 says:

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Wm_Tucker says:

The BDPA (and similar organizations) can function as excellent conduits for capital — social, financial, and intellectual — between corporations, members, students, entrepreneurs, and schools. I'd like to speak with my local chapter on creating an incubator, perhaps with Bowie State, Howard, or another HBCU.

Wm_Tucker says:

The BDPA (and similar organizations) can function as excellent conduits for capital — social, financial, and intellectual — between corporations, members, students, entrepreneurs, and schools. I'd like to speak with my local chapter on creating an incubator, perhaps with Bowie State, Howard, or another HBCU.

navarrowwright says:

Great post man! You are totally right. It's not about the money it's about having a career that is stimulating and the money will come. your also right that i believe that there is a brainwashing that has occurred that make us believe that african americans should just consume technology and not create it. My next post of this topic covers just this point. Thanks again for the reply

pablomore says:


Good afternoon and thank you once again for your input. I am very much interested in what the Urban League in Chicago is doing. BDPA does have an Entrepreneur Advisory Group under the leadership of Boyd Stephens. (http://tinyurl.com/cxv4q4).
I will say that we have not done as much as we should and I believe you will see a renewed focus on entrepreneurship thru chapter programming, seminars and at the National conference. Also more and more chapters are using webinars to reach out to more folks so you as a business owner can still remain connected.

I believe that BDPA as a proffesional IT association can play a major role in encouraging our young people to go into entrpreneurship giving that we already have a successful High School Computer Competition program as well as IT Showcase. I believe this is a very good and timely article. We need to spur more innovation, encourage our young students into STEM opportunities especially young girls whose numbers are low in the field. One of the best methods of encouragement is to mentor a student or young proffessional but also to pay a visit to a local public school, community center and
volunteer and show folks what opportunities exists. There is allot of work that we have to do and its very encouraging to hear that other groups are stepping up.

Thank you,


mikeydigital says:


Perhaps a balanced focus on both a corporate technology career and entrepreneurship could be a start. I am a member of BDPA Chicago and typically the topics we focus on are more so for corporate technical careers. Not everyone has the desire to reach the boardroom, so seminars, programs, and what not on technology entrepreneurship may be more beneficial to certain BDPA members.

Whether or not BDPA should even focus on technology entrepreneurship (or entrepreneurship in general) is another discussion, because it would essentially go against what our motto is. I personally believe the Urban League is currently leading the way in the black community (especially in Chicago thanks to Cheryle Jackson) in terms of providing entrepreneurs (technology businesses or not) with the tools and resources they need to succeed. The fruit from that is the Urban League Chicago show NextTV being nominated for 3 or 4 local Emmy’s.

Founder Black Digerati & Digerati Labs

pablomore says:

Very good points Mike and I appreciate you referencing BDPA whose motto is taking folks from the “classroom to the boardroom” as well as being a resource for entrepreneurs.
The 2010 National conference is going to be in Philly. (http://www.bdpa.org/).

One thing which I would like to know from entrepreneurs is what can we (BDPA) as an organization do to help you and be a resource for your business. We have various chapters across the country and we need input to have develop 2010 program meetings.

Thank you,


BDPA Orlando chapter president.

This is a great article and I believe this problem extends itself to a number of other areas in out community as well. I agree with mikeydigital. The main point being that we as successful Black people are not doing a good job of making our successes visible to our community. For example, we should some Ron Brown Scholars on the cover of magazines, looking fly, getting paid, etc. Whatever imagery is attractive now, we need to transfer that imagery to those areas that need attention (ie. technology entrepreneurship). The media spends too much time and energy on death, destruction, and celebrity fluff when the media could be using their influence to promote positive behaviors. That being said, since the goal of the mainstream media is not to improve the lives of Black children, it is up to us to create media channels ourselves and start promoting more positive imagery. As an Ivy League graduate and an entrepreneur, I feel a cultural responsibility to create and promote media that celebrates mentors and positions my peers as leaders and role models. I have personally committed myself to working towards that goal and other successful Black people should do the same. This is one of the reasons I appreciate Black Web 2.0 because it promotes an industry that I am starting out in and provides that “imagery” for me to aspire to. Keep up the good work.

Thanks for this article. We have similar issues here in the UK.

As a Director of a digital/new media consultancy I’m often disappointed to see the lack of diversity within the new media industries. However, let’s not forget our brothers and sisters from the mainland. I know many West African’s that are involved within the tech industry, some of whom are taking their skills back home and developing start-ups on their own turf.

I think the greater issue is overcoming the ‘urban’ mentality, which in the UK is not constrained to Black people. There’s lots of evidence to demonstrate that urban consumers are early adopters of tech, but making the mental shift from consumer to producer is more challenging. The reasons for this are probably similar to those you face in the US, and a great deal centers on capturing interest at an early age within education, and creating an environment where this interest can be honed and developed.

Urban black kids are not short of ambition, but part of the challenge is to rebrand terms like ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’. I tell my kids that being a geek is cool, and many of the richest people in the world are nerds. Your President is actually a great example of that – he’s a black guy who s both cool and nerdy.

By tapping into the aspirations of urban young people who want money, power and influence; providing positive role models; and creating education pathways, hopefully we will start to see the tiny trickle of Black urban tech entrepreneurs turn into a stream.

Jon Gos says:

@Mike Great comments. I agree that there need to be more examples, but I don't think that means 'making examples' out of people. I mean there are a lot of successful Asians (of all types but particularly Indians) in the tech industry and rarely do I see them being presented in a way that spotlights their race or ethnicity over their ideas. As the founder of my own tech startup, I don't particularly want to be introduce as 'the black guy'. IT should be more organic. This was something Corvida, Angela and some other people touched upon last year at SXSW. I think in the long term, truly successful black and minority entrepreneurs will need to remove race and culture from the picture, and let that take a backseat to the stuff they are doing. No offense to 'Black'Web2.0, of course. =)

mikeydigital says:


Excellent article and thanks for getting the discussion started. This is a topic we've talked about ad nauseam at blackdigerati.org and at BDPA (http://bit.ly/4y4GIi)..

There are many reasons as to why we don't see MORE black tech entrepreneurs or more blacks working in the technology and digital media space. Instead of going into all of the reasons why, I'd rather focus on two basic things that have worked in organizations such as the Anita Borg Institute, NCWIT, BDPA, etc.:

First: The actual idea/image of technology (beyond just consumption) and tech entrepreneurship has to be presented to black digital natives in a way that they understand and in a way they find appealing. One aspect that could be appealing for some is of course the money; however the options in the technology and digital media space can be appealing as well.

For example, explaining to them how their love for gaming and music can both be combined to work in the gaming industry as a producer or how they could start their own gaming company. This is important because many black digital natives that have been interviewed (check out the book 'stuck in the shallow end') as to why they shy away from technology and digital media as a career or as an entrepreneurs say, ‘well it's only for people who program or who want to be programmers.’ This of course is not true.. Of course they don’t know better until they’re shown other options.. Again, through a medium they can relate to..

Second: They need exposure to people in the industry that look like them. They also need access to the programs like or similar to Y Combinator or the Glitch Game Testers at Georgia Tech & Morehouse College. Within these kind of programs they learn about how to be a tech entrepreneur or how to test and rate the latest video games that hit the market. Presumably, this kind of exposure will spark greater interest into starting a tech company or going to work for EA Sports or Microsoft.

Being someone who has worked on efforts in this particular area since 2003, I’ve seen the positive results once black digital natives become exposed to the possibilities of what’s out there for them in technology..

Founder Black Digerati and Digerati Labs
http://www.blackdigerati.org.. http://www.9westdigilabs.com/

navarrowwright says:

I agree Nikki. The sense of discovery is lost. Students use things and their minds don't wonder how things work, We need to teach digital literacy but from the standpoint of creation not consumption. Then once they develop that love for it. Showing the career options behind it will be easy. Thanks for the comment.

isaac barnes says:

This is a great article about something that has been bothering me for a while. I have been in the IT industry for over 9 years so I am naturally exposed to the latest happenings in the tech world. Lately I have been putting a lot of thought into the reasons why young adults and teenagers seem to be clueless to the the fact that they could be living a better life if they were in the tech industry in general.

I have discovered that the main reason why most of these non-minority entrepreneurs are successful is that they are in a different space psychologically than most minorities. Check out Maslow's hierarchy of needs for a better understanding. Every minority person that I have met in the tech space has had someone step into their life at some point and show them that there is more to life than their bubble. If not they were not raised in a minority filled environment.

Another big difference is the parenting. The vast majority of minority parents are not technically or business savvy individuals because of their up bringing. So the only examples of success the youth are exposed to comes from the media. This is something that will take a long time to correct, but I do believe it will happen with the next generation of kids as long as our generation focuses on making sure of it.

The biggest hurdle our generation will face will be figuring out how to use the internet to erase this brain washing that has occurred in our communities since the crack era. We will have to figure out creative ways to convince the next generation that having flashy possessions doesn't mean your rich. We also need to focus on educating parents on preparing their children for the future in a fast paced world where they can easily get left behind. The divide battle between the rich and the poor will soon become the war between the nontechnical and technical.

This has been my main focus and drive as an entrepreneur. And Navarrow i'm pretty sure you agree that it's not about the money, it's more about being able to be that blueprint for the next generation that keeps us hungry.

I know what u were saying, so it's all good… I just was stating the facts, he isn't a billionaire… To date over 400plus million in funding… So for him to ever become a billionaire, FACEBOOK would have to sell for a few billion… NOT going to happen…

Still your point is, our youth need to embrace the technology more…

navarrowwright says:

Thanks for the comment but i think your missing the point on the Zuckerberg example. In the scheme of things i don't care if facebook gets bought or goes public etc… The key point is that 5 years ago the guy was sitting his dorm room eating off a college meal plan and now his company is worth over billion dollars (whether you agree with it or not) and has millions in the bank. Honestly there are a lot of entertainers and athletes whose wealth is more on paper and less stable than his. The point here is that the barriers for him to achieve what he did are still lower and more avail to people than the entertainment or pro sports route. Lastly the facebooks of the word are the extreme cases but i can point out startups for days that you have never heard of that pulling in 7 figure revenues and were created from scratch. Kids see images in the media with faces like ours and assume that is the only way they can ” make it” My point is that we need to show them that there is more they can do and that it's attainable.

Liked article!

Just my opinion but I believe that students need access and time to play with technology and dream of the capabilities of technology outside of listening to music or text messaging. Then students must have entrepreneurial spirit or be exposed/awaken to the technology startup as a viable option.

Nice article here but you lost me with the Mark Zuckerberg comment… He is only a billionaire on paper, as who is going to purchase Facebook really? Those days are over my friend, as I don't see any major company lining up to fork over a billion or more for that web property… That goes for the Twitter founders also…

Other then that you make some valid points…

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