Silicon Valley is like the United Nations.
The level of diversity in the Valley is unlike anywhere else in the world. But look deeper and you begin to notice that something is missing: Blacks and Hispanics. According to the San Jose Mercury News, as of 2008, blacks and Hispanics constituted only 1.5 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively, of the Valley’s tech population—well below national tech-population averages of 7.1 percent for blacks and 5.3 percent for Hispanics. And the Silicon Valley numbers were declining while national numbers were rising.
It is worse in the ranks of tech company founders.
So I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit the NewME Accelerator, last night. This is a group of eight minority-led startups that is renting a house in Mountain View, CA—in the heart of Silicon Valley. These entrepreneurs are from places like New York and North Carolina, and from other parts of California. They are hosting dinners (hamburgers and BBQ) at their place and inviting Silicon Valley’s elite to visit and speak to them. It’s a novel concept, conceived by Angela Benton, CEO of Black Web Media, and her entrepreneur friends, Wayne Sutton and Toby Morning.
The key to achieving success is to learn from others and to network. That is exactly what this group is trying to do. But it’s going to take a lot more. This group needs the same advantage that is provided by technology company accelerators like Y-Combinator, Founder Institute, and TechStars. In these, highly-successful entrepreneurs actively mentor the startups and provide introductions to investors, business partners, and customers. They provide the startups an unfair advantage.
This is important, because innovation flourishes when there is diversity, and we desperately need more innovation and startups to heal our economy. We can both improve the quality of U.S. innovation and uplift disadvantaged communities by mentoring minorities.
Ultimately, we are going to have to increase the numbers of blacks and Hispanics studying engineering and science. Nothing will accelerate this trend more than the success of other members of these minority groups.
Think of what Mark Zuckerberg did to computer science enrollments – they skyrocketed after the success of Facebook. Imagine what a black or Hispanic Mark Zuckerberg could do for innovation.