Business Diversity Leadership

2012 / 11 November

An Army of Entrepreneurs: Are You Ready to Enlist?


Speech presented at NSBE Region 5 Conference, November 10, 2012

OPENING:

Good evening, how is everyone doing?

So, are you enjoying the conference? [crowd response]

W

ell good.

I just returned from South Africa on Thursday where I sought to connect with the African tech diaspora on behalf of my Chamber and the City of Austin. Before I left, I was informed that there would be a legion of African American engineers in Austin due to the National Society for Black Engineers Region V Conference and immediately I called President Charles and said, 'I want to speak to these students about the awesomeness of Austin!'

I travel far and wide looking for the very talent I have in the room today. And, I work hard to attract this diverse tech talent to consider, thrive and remain in Austin, a city’s whose technology economy is ranked among the best in the nation and growing.

It seems like every day we relocate a company from California looking to expand into the region.

Today, I am here to capture you.

And, not just to attract you to Austin for jobs with companies like Apple, Facebook, Google, Paypal, Legalzoom, IBM and of course Dell, but also to attract you to the possibility of starting a company right here in this city. Not tomorrow, but today.

But before we go there I must ask: Are You Ready To Enlist?

MAIN SPEECH:

This week four Nigerian teenage girls turned human waste into one of the most valuable resources of the last two centuries: energy.

Last week, teens from an illiterate, uneducated Ethiopian village, who represent a population of overlooked, under-valued talent hacked into the very Android computer we use each day to frivolously update our Facebook status messages.

Last year a young man from humble beginnings in Tampa recognized the power of mobile technology in connecting his nephew and family, often without internet access, to text messages that allowed for direct and immediate access to teacher feedback and engagement. The outcome: $2 million in funding.

And, Fifty years ago, a teenager from Natchitoches, LA, void of much personal life, studied so intently his chemistry and science books that he began teaching his high school science class as a high school student. Today, he is the only African American appointed to the New York Academy of Sciences, the Dean of the Undergraduate Business Program at Carnegie Mellon University, a top-10 technology university, and most importantly, my dad.

Tomorrow, our hope is to insert the amazing story of you.

These hopes are not only high, but also burdened by the ever-growing realization that what was once hope has quickly turned into a necessity.

You see, the world is changing, and has changed very rapidly within the last 20 years. How we consume information, connect with friends, store important corporate files, and harness the power of technology is dramatically different than it used to be.

This change does not lack African Americans as consumers or end-users, but is noticeably void of us as creators.

Did you know:

  • Black internet users continue to use Twitter at higher rates than any other race in the United States – 28% vs 12 and 14% for white and Hispanics respectively.
  • That Facebook created an algorithm to determine the ethic make-up of its users based on last names, among other variables, and determined a growth in the usage of what it deemed to be ‘African Americans’.
  • That The Kaiser Family Foundation found that African American youth between the ages of 8 and 18 play video games 30 minutes more per day than white youth, while Hispanics play an average of 10 minutes more. And while African American make up a dismal percentage of actual video game producers, we were reflected as characters in them roughly 10 percent of the time, but mostly as athletes and gangsters.
  • Lastly, that a 2011 Venture Census reported that only 2 percent of venture capitalists, or investors, are Black or Latino up from 1-percent for Blacks in 2008.

I’m not here to bore you with statistics that further validate what many of us already know: being African American can pose considerable challenges.

Instead my goal is to motivate you to take action and ownership over your future and future firms.

I am here to call to attention to a new army of engineering entrepreneurs bound by a four-point credo:

ONE: I will use my logic, to think illogically.

Logic will tell you that the safer career path is always the better career path. But there is no reward without risk. And while risk must be calculated, it also must be cashed. Your job is to think outside of the box, outside of the norm, to identify career opportunities and prospects that solve business needs.

TWO: I will cultivate an internal flame that only the greatest of defeat can fan.

Though I cannot guarantee you success, I can guarantee you that you will meet a failure or two along the way. In order to win you must be willing to fail. You must not let defeat knock the wind out of you, but breath rise to a flame that furthers your passion, commitment, and desire for success. The further up you go, the deeper you most go inside of yourself for energy and inspiration.

THREE: I will challenge myself to look for opportunities to transform communities and improve livelihoods.

A recent NY Times Article: Wasting Time is New Divide in Digital Era’ study showed that many low-income youth are spend far more time using gadgets to for shows, videos, games and social connection that for educationally valuable content.

Contrastingly, while I was in Africa this week, technology was harnessed to gain access to basic necessities, to improve quality of life.

Though often considered dissimilar, there are a number of under-served, underdeveloped pockets within the United States that could benefit from innovations in access brought forth by technology in much the same way.

I believe the next generation of tech developments will be those that harness technology to increase efficiency or solve a pain point that has the power to considerably affect someone’s life for the better.

An example of such is Khan Academy, which President Obama has heralded as revolutionizing the education industry and whose mission it is 'to provide world class education to anyone, anywhere' through online learning.

FOUR: I will establish and cultivate meaningful relationships across racial and geographical lines.

My generation, your generation and future generations must be willing to build upon the rich legacy of our parents who struggled for equality by developing meaningful relationships with people of other hues and ethnicities. It will be a major disservice to all generations if we choose to limit the networks we interact with. We must expand and explore all horizons.

You see, the beauty of diversity is that it goes both ways. As we encourage other to embrace us, we must too be willing to embrace them, reach out to them, and engage them. Your life, network, experiences, and products will be all the richer for it.

CLOSING:

In closing, it was not too long ago that I attended my first NSBE conference. It was 2000, I was 19, the location was Indianapolis and put it this way, I had fun.

I was an information technology major at Howard University who spent many late nights in the school of engineering trying to get my C Boolean statement or SQL code to work.

NSBE connected me to a powerful network of like-minded engineers of color who were all striving for excellence. The people I met at that conference have, through the years, turned into life long friends.

Today, you are where I was.

Your youth and creativity are assets that give you considerable competitive advantage. But advantages are only advantages if you take advantage of them.

The greats have said:

  • Great achievement is usually born of great sacrifice, and is never the result of selfishness. – Napoleon Hill
  • The best way to predict the future is to create it. – Peter Drucker
  • The few who do are the envy of the many who only watch. – Jim Rohn
  • The road to success and the road to failure are almost exactly the same. – Colin R. Davis

You are the new army of engineers our community and country so desperately needs to walk toward the pursuit of entrepreneurship.

So tell me, are you ready to enlist?

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