October 11 at the Twin Cities Public Television Station in downtown St. Paul, black innovators and entrepreneurs mingled over charcuterie and cocktail shrimp as the second annual Blacks In Technology Conference came to a close. The event showcased the growing opportunities for black entrepreneurs in technical fields.
“Blacks in Technology (BITCON) is a national organization,” said the organization’s founder Greg Greenlee. “Our mission is to increase the representation and participation of black women and men in tech.”
For four days, BITCON sprawled across the Twin Cities with nearly 100 workshops and featured speakers, who included Miss Black America; tech, diversity and inclusion activist Ryann Richardson; and Google software engineer Anthony Mays.
While at a glance Minnesota may not seem like the ideal state to hold a black technology conference, there are unique factors that make Twin Cities a smart place to meet. As of 2019, Minnesota is home to 17 Fortune 500 companies. Boasting annual venture competitions like the Minnesota Cup, Twin Cities Startup Week, and recently Minneapolis Metropolitan Economic Development Association’s (MEDA) Million Dollar Challenge, Minnesota is a contender for startup capital of the North.
“MEDA is an organization that has been around for 48 years,” said Sam Ndely, a MEDA business consultant and speaker at the 2019 BITCON conference. “Over the years, we have helped many entrepreneurs of color grow and succeed through a number of resources and services.”
The final award ceremony for the Million Dollar Challenge took place on the last day of BITCON. “This year two out of the top three awardees were Minnesota-based companies, Civic Eagle and Phenomix, and they received between $200,000 to $500,000 in equity funding to scale their businesses to the next level,” said Ndely.
From 2018 to 2019, BITCON has grown. “We were able to bring more students this year—a lot more outreach was done to the universities. We were also able to expand [the conference] by an additional day,” said Greenlee. This year there was also special focus on black women in tech, including a Black Girl Magic tech panel.
While Blacks In Technology has remained a success in the Twin Cities, Chicago will be their next destination. Although BITCON will be moving next year, there is still much work to be done and resources to be found right here in Minnesota.
“To continue the momentum of BITCON, keep showing up to events hosted by organizations like Graveti, Techquity, Blacks In Technology Twin Cities, Hack The Gap, Minnestar, Forge North, Lunar Startups and more,” advised Ndely.
It is up to people of color to both participate in and develop means to connect and uplift our communities. This includes careers, businesses and ultimately, quality of life. “It’s all about progress and making this something that we can all be proud of,” said Greenlee.
If you are an aspiring tech entrepreneur of color and want to learn how to “level up your startup,” join MEDA on Nov. 2 for the 2019 Graveti Summit at Target Commons Plaza in Minneapolis from 10 am to 3 pm.