“Black Men Talk Tech” connects entrepreneurs with unicorn investors

by Deon Osborne, Associate Editor
Black Men Talk Tech

Memphis-born Abiodun Johnson blazed a trail on his way to building one of the nation’s most elite conferences for Black tech founders. Yet, the journey started with rejection.   

A tech founder himself, GeoCloud co-founder Johnson earned more than a decade of experience building software products for machine learning, digital marketing, and more. But for some people, that didn’t matter.

“I’ve been to many tech conferences throughout my career. It’s hard to get those conversations. People don’t take me seriously as a Black founder,” Black Men Tech Talk co-founder Abiodun Johnson told The Black Wall Street Times via zoom. 

“Even though I have an ivy league degree, they see the black skin and they’re like ‘you probably don’t have a product I’m interested in’,’’ Johnson added.

Black Men Talk Tech

(Courtesy of Black Men Talk Tech)

Barriers to creating more Black tech founders

It’s a struggle shared by the vast majority of Black tech founders seeking to thrive in a hostile environment. For instance, Black Americans make up less than five percent of the tech workforce in Silicon Valley and one percent or less of the tech founders in the industry, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“There’s quite a few barriers that we face as African-Americans when people are looking to build their own company,” Johnson said. Black families are less likely to have the capital to help launch a business. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs like Elon Musk (Tesla), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), and Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin, Amazon) all received substantial funding from their parents, Johnson added.

Eager to empower a community of Black tech founders, Johnson, along with co-founders Boris Moyston and Evan Leaphart, created the first “Unicorn Ambition Conference” for Black Men Talk Tech in 2019. BMTT is a collective and concert series that supports emerging and elite Black tech entrepreneurs.

Screenshot from video of Black Men Talk Tech’s 2021 Unicorn Ambition Conference. (Black Men Talk Tech)

Three years later, the co-founders are celebrating their third successful conference. The latest conference took place in Miami on October 20 and 21. Dozens of investors and founders gathered together to shoot hoops before networking and listening to speakers who ranged from venture capitalists–people who give you money to grow your business–to full-blown unicorns–people whose company is valued at $1 billion or more. That’s a billion with a B.

Informing, promoting and funding Black tech entrepreneurs

To date, only three Black men grace the list of Fortune 100 CEOs. The statistics add weight to calls for Black entrepreneurs to join Black Men Talk Tech.

“With our conference, everybody’s coming with the idea of meeting Black tech founders and supporting them,” Johnson said. We want to provide a community so you don’t feel alone in this journey.”

Johnson highlighted what he called four pillars of Black Men Talk Tech: to inform, to promote, to ideate, and to fund.

The conferences themselves serve as educational seminars for founders and practitioners in the tech industry to share useful information on marketing, scaling their business, and other helpful tips. Additionally, the conferences serve as instant promotion for the founders who are exposed to billionaire investors and industry leaders. 

Johnson said seeing other Black and brown faces among an elite crowd of entrepreneurs inspires confidence in Black tech founders to see themselves in the industry. Beyond that, Black Men Talk Tech seeks to connect entrepreneurs with big institutions and corporations to help commercialize their products. 

Last but certainly not least, the conference gives away funding to entrepreneurs through pitch competitions. Johnson said BMTT has awarded over $80,000 in funding to Black tech founders since 2019.

Black Men Talk Tech and GeoCloud co-founder Abiodun Johnson talks with a guest at the 2021 Unicorn Ambition Conference. (Black Men Talk Tech)

Black tech founders speak at conference

Dozens of speakers attended this year’s Unicorn Ambition Conference, representing a range of diverse tech companies. George Azih is the founder and CEO of LeaseQuery, a user-friendly, digital financial accounting platform. Meanwhile, Gregory Coleman is the co-founder and CEO of Sworkit, an at-home personal trainer app to help you get (and stay) in the best shape of your life.  All in all, more than two dozen industry professionals and venture capitalists spoke at October’s conference.

But for Johnson, who practices Muay Thai in his spare time, the best part of the event was shooting hoops with other Black tech entrepreneurs.

“You know, basketball is our equivalent of golf. That’s where all the connections happen,” Johnson said.

Black Men Talk Tech and GeoCloud co-founder Abiodun Johnson hustles for a layup at a pre-conference basketball match with other Black tech founders at the 2021 Unicorn Ambition Conference. (Courtesy of Black Men Talk Tech)

Organizers closed out the conference with a pitch competition. The winners received funding for their businesses totalling $25,000, thanks to sponsors Square and Mastercard.

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Dr. Innocent Clement of CibaHealth took home the first place prize. Meanwhile, Derrick Barker’s Nectar and Tobi Smith’s All I Do is Cook took home second and third place prizes respectively.

Placing Black tech founders on center-stage

For his part, Abiodun Johnson said his wife founded Black Women Talk Tech in 2018. It was that effort that inspired him to help launch Black Men Talk Tech a year later. Since then, he says Black Students Talk Tech has been added as well.

Ultimately, those who attended this year’s conference were permeated with powerful images of Black men with the dress suit drip, networking, learning from each other, and supporting each other for a common goal of mutual success.

“Too often an investor says well we don’t know where the Black tech founders are. We created the solution just to highlight them and show you that we do exist.”

For more information on Black Men Talk Tech and how to join next year’s conference, visit their website at blackmentalktech.com.

Black tech founders finished a game of basketball at the 2021 Unicorn Ambition Conference. (Black Men Talk Tech)

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“Black Men Talk Tech” connects entrepreneurs with unicorn investors - Newz Ai November 10, 2021 - 5:43 pm

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