Digital Undivided’s FOCUS100 Conference Aims to Diversify Tech Landscape
FOCUS100 is not your average technology conference. It’s the only conference where most attendees are Black and/or Latino women. White males dominate a majority of tech conferences, events and meetups, particularly in tech hubs like Silicon Alley and Valley. Hence, FOCUS100 is changing the landscape through its two-day event (October 3-4), which provides attendees with the tools and resources needed to advance their idea or startup, as well a dose of motivation to keep on keepin’ on.
Back for a third year, Digital Undivided’s FOCUS100 was held at a new venue, The Graduate Center at City University of New York, providing women techies and founders with TED Talk-esque presentations from leaders in the space like Maira Benjamin, Manager of Music Engineering at Pandora; Issa Rae, director, producer and writer and owner of Issa Rae Productions; and founder and Managing Director at Digital Undivided, Kathryn Finney, as well as one-on-one conversations with women of power like Maxine Williams, Global Head of Diversity at Facebook, and FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.
Throughout each talk and discussion, one thing was certain: Diversity in tech is not an option. Research has shown that diversity yields strong returns for a business’ bottom line and, ultimately, the landscape and industry. With Black purchasing power in the US hitting $1.1 trillion, African American women over indexing on our use of social media, as well as mobile usage, it’s a shocker that our value is still being debated. There’s no shortage of talent, as was evident at FOCUS, and sponsors such American Express OPEN, BlogHer, Facebook and Pandora, among others can co-sign that value.
Speaking of value, a FOCUS 100 favorite is the “FOCUS100 Pitch Finalists: One Year Later” chat with former FOCUS fellows. At the second FOCUS100 conference, attendees were introduced to three pitch finalists: Danielle Jones, co-founder of Lineapple, Nicelle McCall, founder of BOLD Guidance, and Nicole Sanchez, founder of VIXXENN (and Tender Caring, the startup she pitched last FOCUS and has since folded). Each of the entrepreneurs reflected on the last year, advice for advancing in tech and what’s next on the agenda.
This year’s pitch portion included pitches from four of the 2014 FOCUS fellows, including Kelechi Anyadiegwu, founder of Zuvaa; Mary Farrow, founder of Gramsly; MentorMe founder and CEO Brit Fitzpatrick and Melissa Hanna, founder of Mahmee. The founders pitched to a group of angel and venture investors, as well as tech organization leaders from 37 Angels, K1, All Start Code and New York Development Corporation. Fitzpatrick took home the title and grand prize.
There was also a hackathon winner. The Blender app team, Stephanie Lampkin and Devon Howell, received a $2500 grand prize.
While FOCUS100 came to a close for good— Finney announced that Digital Undivided will transition to a new phase of helping women entrepreneurs of color via an 8-10 week residency program—the network and connections will live on.
“FOCUS100 really blew away my exceptions with the amount of thought leadership and network bustling at the event,” said Esosa Ighodaro, co-founder of Cosign. “Meeting all the power players and getting amazing advice on what is going to set us apart and what to expect [in the tech industry].”
To date, 30% of the FOCUS100 fellows have raised funding with several going on to raising a series A round. The social enterprise has helped over 1,000 Black women in tech.
Based in New York City, Janel Martinez is a multimedia journalist who covers technology and entrepreneurship. She is the founder of “Ain’t I Latina?” an online destination geared toward Afro-Latinas. You can follow her up-to-the-minute musings on Twitter @janelmwrites.