When I first met my mentee, 3 years ago, the first thing that she said to me was, “I’m so happy that you’re black!” This was an hilarious moment for the both of us. She later explained that when her social worker mentioned that mentors were volunteers, she associated volunteering with white people. And that she was happy to have someone that looked like her. In her eyes, I was already cool, and yes, only because I was a black female.
Last week, Vivek Wadhwa, a scholar who is well-known in tech and entrepreneurship, published a post titled, We need a black Mark Zuckerberg. Unfortunately, based on the comments on the post, a lot of people still don’t get it. We don’t need a black Zuckerberg, because we are asking for black people to be like white people. We don’t need a black Zuckerberg, because we are extremists who think black is a superior race. We need a black Zuckerberg because the name has visibility, and this visibility has the the power to influence a community that has historically been disconnected from networks of influence. The title could’ve easily been “We need a Jackie Robinson of startups.” Vivek sums up the why in his closing paragraphs:
“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.”
Accelerating the success of minority groups in the tech startup community is part of the work that NewMe Accelerator and BlackFounders are doing through connecting, equipping, and creating visibility. But this is just a start, and currently blacks’ exposure to startup networks are still limited. The entire startup community needs to really understand how diversity can effect innovation, which can impact profit margins.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending dinner with some very successful black entrepreneurs and vcs. Being in the room was extremely inspirational for someone like me with a very early stage startup. I wanted to express the same sentiment (that my mentee expressed to me) to everyone I met last night, “I’m so happy that you’re black!”