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Business

Black entrepreneurs part of new migration to Atlanta




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Atlanta emerges as the nation's black tech capital, where one in four technicians in the area is African American.
USA TODAY

ATLANTA – Over an iPad and a cup of tea, Marcus Blackwell, Jr. up their mobile app that uses music to help kids learn math. Sitting opposite him on a sleek wooden table is Jewel Burks Solomon, who after selling the start up to Amazon, is investing time and money to help other entrepreneurs make their mark in the technology industry.

As Blackwell shows how algebra formulas in Make Music Count play tunes and chords from popular hip-hop and pop songs, Solomon advises him on everything from how to get exposure to how to get funding to his app.

Informal coaching session takes place every hour in cafes all over San Francisco and Palo Alto. The difference here: Almost everyone in this room is black.

Welcome to the city that emerges as the nation's black tech capital. For a growing number of African Americans in the tech world, Atlanta is beckoning. The use of coastal hubs that do not reflect America's growing diversity, packs up their lives and careers for a city with a rich history of entrepreneurship, a thriving black middle class, affordable quality of life, and a small but growing technological scene. 19659007] Jewel Burks Solomon, which sold Amazon's launch, is investing time and money to help other black entrepreneurs make their mark in Atlanta, emerging as a new hot spot in the technology industry. ” width=”540″ data-mycapture-src=”” data-mycapture-sm-src=””/>

Jewel Burks Solomon, which sold Amazon's start up, is investing time and money in helping other black entrepreneurs make their mark in Atlanta, emerging as a new hot spot in the technology industry. (Photo: Lynsey Weatherspoon, for the United States today)

Nowhere is Atlantas cresting wave of black innovation more evident than here at The Gathering Spot, a member competency, collaborator, and business network hub on-site for a Turn-of-the -Century railway station west of downtown Atlanta. You never know who you can get into: Voting activist Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the 2018 Governor of Georgia, rappers T.I. and Killer Mike, Cast of "Greenleaf" from the Oprah Winfrey Network, and one who is of the local digerati like Solomon.

"I don't think there is a better place in the country if you are a black entrepreneur to be," says Ryan Wilson, co-founder of The Gathering Spot, about Atlanta. "I definitely stand as an example of what is possible in this city if you really become rooted here."

Though technology companies save money on increasing the diversity of their workforces, African Americans remain heavily under-represented in technical jobs nationwide. But not in the city called Silicon Valley of the South.

One in four technicians in the Atlanta metropolitan area is African American, significantly more than San Jose, where 2.5 percent of the technical workforce is black and San Francisco, where 6.4 percent of the technical workforce is black, according to a Brookings Institution study on black and Spanish under-representation in the industry.

Opportunity is not distributed equally at all levels, but even here. Although Atlantas black workforce in technology is much larger, the stock difference is. Black workers' representation in technical positions in the region is eight percentage points below their presence in the workforce, the Brookings Institution found.

As in Silicon Valley, white men dominate the management of tech companies in Atlanta. Blacks make up 5 percent of managers and 11 percent of site tech companies, according to regional data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And venture capital dollars are not much easier to come by in Atlanta than in Silicon Valley for black entrepreneurs.

For many years, investors have flown through – not into the city. The wind has begun to shift southwards and sends a sprinkling of venture capital's way in the Atlantic. More than $ 1 billion was raised in 2017 and nearly $ 1 billion in 2018, four times as much tech finance invested in the area a decade ago, according to data from the analytics firm PitchBook.

Nevertheless, the volume in Atlanta barely records the scale of the massive wealth capacity of Silicon Valley, and some of that money is going to reach black entrepreneurs.

"There is not much investment in early phase flowing into African American startup," said Kathryn Finney, an organization's digitalundivided, who prepares black and latina tech founders for pitch meetings with venture capitalists. "So digitalundivided, Atlanta-based founders learn to focus on building a solid business and then seeking growth for growth."

Atlanta pulls Silicon Valley transplants

None of these drawbacks have undermined the enthusiasm of recent transplants. In December, when one of the country's most prominent black entrepreneurs, Tristan Walker, sold the start-up to consumer giant Procter & Gamble, he sent tremor through Silicon Valley with the announcement that he also moved Walker & Company Brands to Atlanta.

His modern personal careline for color people, from shaving products to shampoos, has raised millions from venture capitalists, as well as rapper Nas and singer-songwriter John Legend, targeting a billion-dollar market, but sadly subordinate. Walker, who runs a majority minority company, says he wanted to bring his business closer to his customers and to the pulse of the black culture.

"It is an exciting time for the celebration of blackness and hope for what might mean for this country," he says.

Prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneur Tristan Walker moves his company to Atlanta, where one in four technicians is African American. (Photo: Martin E. Klimek, USA TODAY)

The cross-country migration comes six years after Walker with founder Code2040, a nonprofit as a funnel's African American and Latin American engineers in technical firms. 19659005] "I can't count how many articles have been written about the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley, but the problem doesn't get better. And why?" He lets the question hang in the air. "There is no reason why it should or would not."

Silicon Valley may have the nation's greatest density of genius per square kilometer, he says, but Atlanta claims the greatest density of black genius. "The feeling I get when I go to Atlanta now," he says, "is the same feeling I got in 2008 when I moved to Silicon Valley."

Last year, Jareau Wadé, vice president of growth of a financial tech firm, Finix Payment, traded a $ 3,800-a-month townhouse he rented, but could not afford to buy in the Bay Area for a mortgage on a four-bedroom home in Atlanta less than half.

It wasn't & # 39; Not just the quality of life and the differences in life. Wadé says he and his wife wanted to raise their six-month-old daughter closer to the family and to the black community.

"Black people can't just move anywhere in the United States and expect to live near other black people" he says. "So when black families move to the Bay Area, the absence of black people is conspicuous."

The feeling of isolation extended to work. Wadé is reminiscent of someone he knew one day at the start of the CEO's office and pointing his head to say hello. "How do you know each other?" CEO asked. "We are both answered in technology," replied Wadé.

Also, Silicon Valley was not the right fit for Sheena Allen. Allen, who grew up in rural Mississippi and whose launch, CapWay, is a digital alternative to traditional banking, decamped into Atlanta in January to be in the southern capital of finance. She first landed in Silicon Valley in 2012 and returned in 2018, only to discover that, despite the fact that the industry was talking about becoming more inclusive, she was still the only black person in the room.

"They call Atlanta, the capital of black excellence, and I see many people of color here. There is also a melting pot of fashion, athletics, entertainment, music, reality TV," she says. "For me it makes a big difference."

"We're just warming up"

Paul Judge, a veteran of successful technology companies and widely regarded as the godfather of the Atlanta tech scene, has spread the word over the past two decades.

In 2014, Judge published a guide to Atlanta's startup scene on the technical news site Pando titled "Hip-hop, housewives and hot startups." "Many outside Atlanta are more familiar with the former: hip-hop and" real "housewives," he wrote at that time. "Of these two things, one makes us proud, and one does us, let's just say, not so proud. However, it's a warm start – we've been busy on that front."

Atlanta Technological Entrepreneur Paul Judge says the region is "just warming." (Photo: Elliot Liss)

Today The latest security company he co-founded, Pindrop, which raised an additional $ 90 million in December, is spread over three floors in the historic Biltmore Hotel, just a quick jog from TechSquare Labs, where Judge helps the ideas of employees fly. His fiance, Tanya Sam, is the director of partnership at TechSquare Labs and – ironically – recently joined the "Real Housewives of Atlanta".

"It has become very clear that what is happening in Atlanta is unique," said judge. "We must continue to care for it and better tell the world about it."

That philosophy is behind its recent investment in the A3C festival and conference in Atlanta. He is working on bringing large Silicon Valley names to the annual shindig serving music, hip hop, culture and technology every October. His vision: An event that demolishes Austin South by Southwest or Aspen Ideas Festival.

"This next chapter in Atlanta is going to be exciting," judge says. "We are just warming."

Melting pot of colleges, businesses and culture

Regions around the country – New York, Boston's Route 128 and Austin, Texas – have attempted to replicate Alchemy of the Bay area, with its deep pocket investors, risk-taking culture, world-class universities, in love with technical talent, and the story of turning dream dreams into breakout success.

Atlanta has its own competitive edge with a melting pot of colleges (Georgia Tech and historically black colleges such as Morehouse and Spelman, which produce more black engineers than anywhere in the country), are large corporations (Atlanta home to one of the largest concentrations of Fortune 500 companies, including Coca-Cola and Home Depot) and film culture in film, television and music (filmmaker Tyler Perry, musician and actor Donald Glover and rap duo Outkast, not to mention "Black Panther", which was filmed in and around Atlanta).

Tech is already a significant player here, accounting for 12.5 percent, or $ 42 billion, of the city's economy. And the national profile is rising. Atlanta ranks in the top ten "tech cities" in the nation, surpassing traditional strongholds like Boston and Washington, D.C., according to CompTIA, an industry trading conference.

Job posts go into tens of thousands. Technical work pool has increased almost 35 percent over the past five years, the third fastest pace in the country, and faster than the Bay Area, says real estate company CBRE.

"The technology industry is rapidly expanding in terms of entrepreneurship and startup," said Marcellus Haynes, founder of Atlanta's Color Meet-up Technologists, who has a 2,600 email list. "We create a fruitful environment that many companies will benefit from of. "

" "I don't think there is a better place in the country if you are a black entrepreneur," Ryan Wilson, co-founder of The Gathering Spot, tells of Atlanta. "I definitely stand as an example of what is possible in this city if you really get rooted here. " (Photo: Lynsey Weatherspoon, for the United States today)

What puts Atlanta over the top is the breed diversity of its technology industry and a basis for activity to increase the opportunities for black and other volunteer entrepreneurs Solomon flirted to Silicon Valley in 2013 when she founded her company Partpic, which created software that allows you to point a smartphone camera on a hardware to find a replacement without Knowing the name of the supplier or part. Today she scouts black entrepreneurs across the country hoping to lure them to Atlanta.

"I think Atlanta has just about everything a startup community needs," Solomon says. "You only have people who are willing to help."

Atlanta's history as a black mecca

The welcome sign here has flashed since after the civil war. The city was transformed into a black mecca in the 1970s under the stewardship of Maynard Jackson, Atlanta's first black mayor and granddaughter of slaves who won the first three years of 1973 and monitored the construction of what would become the country's busiest airport. 19659005] Today, African Americans are changing the Great Migration, leaving the Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Detroit to recover cities in the South.

Brookings Institution Demographer William Frey, author of "Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics is Remaking America", says Atlanta leads all other metropolitan areas in black migration, increasing more than five times from 1970 to 2017.

Leads to migration is younger, highly educated blacks who want quality of life without the avocado toast price tag. Over 99 percent of the Atlanta zip code – 210 out of 212 – is cheaper than the cheapest post code in the San Jose metro area, according to Bert Sperling, founder of Best Places, a site that ranks across the US. That means you can trade a $ 200,000 salary in San Francisco for a $ 75,747 salary in Atlanta and not sacrifice anything.

Another big drawing for African Americans is the large number of entrepreneurs. About 20 percent of the black workforce in Atlanta is self-employed, the highest proportion in the nation, according to a study by demographer Joel Kotkin, a presidential candidate in urban futures at Chapman University in Orange, California, and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism.

In a majority black city where 22.4 percent of residents live below the poverty level, black tech entrepreneurs jump at the chance to work in a place that supports issues affecting black people and marginalized communities.

In 2015, Horace Williams launched Empowered, an app that provides information about elected officials and connects people with legal groups, after George Zimmerman was acquitted to kill Trayvon Martin in Florida hoping to get more black people to participate in democratic process.

In 2017, Jasmine founded Crowe Goodr, a mobile app that fights hunger and food waste by getting restaurants and com

Blackwell says his app, which is being tested in Atlanta Public Schools, was inspired by his desire to see that responded children excel in math. "I think what is lacking in education is to meet students where they are and the communities they come from," Blackwell says. "It's important for me to help close this performance gap."

Morgan DeBaun, CEO of Blavity, a popular digital media hub for Black Millions, says she decided to open a technical office in Atlanta last year to take advantage of all this local black engineer talent.

DeBaun spends a week in Atlanta each month. One of her co-founders, Jeff Nelson, the company's chief technology, is based here. She believes that Atlanta will be a major player in the technology industry.

"The more we are all committed to, the more it will manifest," she says. "It's like a self-fulfilling prophecy."

More USA TODAY Coverage of Inclusion, Equity and Diversity in Technology

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Kathryn Finney created a pipeline in the technology business to help Black and Latinx female founders become successful.
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