Funding and Fear: Two Gatekeepers Barring Black Tech Startup Founders From Entering Silicon Valley

When the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley was brought to the nation’s attention, tech lovers and entrepreneurs from all backgrounds quickly began discussing exactly what was keeping Black people barred from the world of tech.

Disparities in quality of education, lack of access to resources for students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and racially biased hiring practices quickly emerged as some of the most popular ideas.

Statistically speaking, there is more than enough data to back up these claims and suggest that fixing these issues could be key to diversifying the world of tech.

As the national discourse continues, however, some tech entrepreneurs are highlighting two more major obstacles that are preventing Black people from not only getting into tech but also discouraging them from launching their own startups.

Funding and fear.

This intimidating duo could possibly be among the great adversaries for aspiring Black business owners, especially in the world of tech.

The number of Black employees at tech giants like Google and Facebook was well below the 5 percent mark in recent years. The number of Black tech-savvy entrepreneurs who launched their own startups plummets to a measly 1 percent.

One key reason for this is the lack of funding.

Even outside the world of tech, Black people have historically faced much greater obstacles than their white counterparts when it comes to seeking financial assistance via loans, grants, investments or donations.

Without the necessary funding to get a startup off the ground, it may be nearly impossible for Black-owned startups to stand a chance in the rapidly expanding tech field.

Companies like Y Combinator are hoping to level the playing the field.

Y Combinator is a major incubator for startups and provides seed money to projects that show great potential.

In the past, the company has backed startups like Airbnb and Dropbox.

Now the company is expanding its reach with a particular focus on Black entrepreneurs.

Even as other programs like Y Combinator have started to shift focus in order to find more Black entrepreneurs with promising tech startups, it’s the other enemy that is still causing many to shy away from opportunity — fear.

At least, that’s how Michael Seibel sees it.

Seibel, the first Black partner at Y Combinator, explained that many Black people have a negative perception of launching their own startups.

“We have to convince Black engineers that they have more control of their careers than they realize and they will always be in demand,” Seibel told The Root.

Statistics would also work to support Seibel’s point.

Less than 5 percent of Y Combinator applicants for the winter program were Black.

It suggests that these entrepreneurs simply don’t know about the opportunity or are convincing themselves to not even take a chance in stepping out on their own.

As frightening of a decision as that may be, it’s a decision that has already led Black entrepreneurs like Riana Lynn and Talib Graves-Manns to life-changing opportunities.

Both of the Black startup founders were announced as a part of the first class of entrepreneurs in residence under Google and Code2040.

The coveted title means they will have access to free office space, mentoring teams from both Google and Code 2040 along with a $40,000 stipend.

They are both urging other Black entrepreneurs to overcome the fear of Silicon Valley and take a massive leap forward with their own tech startup.

Lynn explained that a part of the fear could come from a lack of knowledge or not feeling like one has enough experience in the field. It may seem like a legitimate reason to stay out of Silicon Valley’s deep waters, but Lynn says the solution to such a problem is simple.

“If you don’t have the skills to build exactly what you need, then you should at least have team members or freelancers that can help you move things along faster,” she told The Root. “Then you can also understand a little more about how long the project is supposed to take or how much it may cost, and that’s really key to launching a project as a startup founder with little or no capital.”

SXSW Interactive Reminds Young Blerds of the Racial Disparities Facing Black People in Tech

Tech lovers, designers, creatives and many more convened in Austin, Texas, to join the South by Southwest interactive experience.

These innovators were prepared to find investors, share their unique ideas with business veterans or just mingle with other entrepreneurial hopefuls who were ready to become a part of the ever-expanding technology industry.

Unfortunately, Black and Latino members of this crowd were met with disappointment.

While the crowd of attendees has been more diverse than it has ever been, according to multiple reports, the diversity of investors and venture capitalists in the space is still just as whitewashed as ever.

Joshua Mitchell was one of the Black innovators whose trip to SXSW was also a bleak reminder that constant conversations about diversity in STEM are no promise that change has actually taken place.

Mitchell was hoping to link with a Black venture capitalist firm that would be interested in funding his start-up jeniusLogic, a company that focuses on building mobile apps for people in the music and entertainment space.

With so many aspiring musicians and entertainers paving their own paths to Hollywood, it’s an app idea that could certainly prove to be a major success.

That potential still wasn’t enough to overcome the racial barriers for Black people like Mitchell who are interested in the tech space.

“There’s a big disconnect between people of color’s culture and the technology industry,” he told USA Today. “Right now, it’s a little difficult to navigate.”

The lack of diversity in tech would never be considered breaking news at this point.

Consumers caused quite the uproar when tech giants released diversity reports back in 2014 that revealed that less than 5 percent of their employees were people of color.

Many of the companies had workforces that were less than 2 percent Black.

When it came to management positions, the numbers were even more troubling. Black leaders in the tech space were nearly non-existent.

It has caused tech leaders, major companies and national programs to shift gears to focus more on boosting diversity, but the team behind SXSW never had to bother with a major shift — they had always focused on discussing diversity in STEM.

This year, SXSW hosted more than 100 sessions that focused on diversity in tech and that number was only a slight increase from their usual numbers, proving that they have always found diversity in STEM to be an important topic.

SXSW is also one of the few major events that is being more direct with its approach to diversity.

Despite million-dollar plans and national initiatives being announced to boost diversity in tech, there are many cases where the details are murky and unreliable.

SXSW, on the other hand, is making a particular effort to not only discuss the issues but to discuss plausible solutions.

“We want to have a lineup that reflects what we think should be a more diverse tech ecosystem,” explained Hugh Forrest, the head of SXSW’s Interactive section, to USA Today. “We still have a long, long way to go.”

That’s the unfortunate part of many of these conversations. The realization that throwing money at the problem is not enough and that the path to diversity in Silicon Valley and beyond is still a long and winding one.

One key element to embarking on a successful journey, however, is realizing that tech success is not all about skill.

“The Silicon Valley perspective is that everyone’s here because they deserve to be here and they’ve worked hard and that’s really bull,” Hank Williams, the founder and chief executive of told USA Today. “The reality is everyone who is successful had someone who helped them get there.”

When so few Black people are in leadership positions, it becomes increasingly unlikely that Black people can enter an industry that is reliant on someone giving a young talent a chance that could catapult them to success.

Studies show that leaders and hiring managers are attracted to what’s familiar, and when white males are dominating the tech industry, there is no mystery as to what it is exactly that seems comfortable and familiar to today’s biggest tech executives.