North Carolina is a good place for entrepreneurs of color to land — Durham is ranked a top city for black-owned businesses and plays host to the Black Wall Street Homecoming entrepreneurship conference , as well as Google for Entrepreneurs Exchange for Black Founders . Now a young organization called BLKTECH Interactive is catalyzing the Charlotte tech and startup community.
Started in 2016, BLKTECH Interactive is the Queen City’s first community initiative supporting technologists and entrepreneurs of color. Sherrell Dorsey , founder and president of the community development consulting firm that runs BLKTECH, says the initiative launched to fill a gap in the local ecosystem.
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“Our first foray into this was to galvanize and really do some research into what the black tech and entrepreneurial ecosystem looked like in Charlotte, trying to find out the who and where,” says Dorsey. “There wasn’t one space where people of color were gathering specifically to talk about tech through an entrepreneurial lens.”
In the last two years, the group has secured partnerships with technology companies like Airbnb and Charlotte-based fintech unicorn AvidXchange and has reached about 800 entrepreneurs.
One of the organization’s primary goals for 2018 is to double that audience. This past weekend, it opened its first physical space, a 1,200 square foot office in Charlotte’s smart innovation district at Camp North End, sponsored by a one-year foundation grant from OrthoCarolina .
“The space allows us to have a place to call home. We’ve been using other organizations to host events. I think that having this physical space, a space for black and brown tech talent to say, hey, we have a space in this city … it’s going to provide us with tremendous impact,” says Dorsey.
Though the organization has thus far limited its BLCKTECHCLT event series to Charlotte, the goal is to spread its economic development footprint throughout North Carolina. One avenue for this is a $100,000 fund BLKTECH Interactive launched last year in partnership with the Carolina Small Business Development Fund. The fund provides microloans (less than $10,000) to entrepreneurs and small business owners and offers one-on-one counseling and technical assistance to help them grow.
Dorsey, an entrepreneur and technologist herself, has a background in data research and data journalism (she also founded ThePlug Daily newsletter, which focuses on news about founders and technologists of color). She says BLKTECH Interactive can serve as a platform to collect data that can be turned into actionable insight. For example, corporate partners who want to actively encourage inclusion can tailor their recruiting efforts to attract more diverse candidates.
“We’re trying to be driven by data. It’s not just collecting info about our group, but being able to share that on a city level with policy leaders … [and] our corporate partners.”
Eventually, Dorsey thinks this insight can even inform policy decisions.
“I think there’s a deficit in knowledge on what actually is happening in this black entrepreneurship community, so we’re able to stand in the gap by leveraging what we’re learning and what we know, to leverage it to really affect policy.”