TechConneXt Trailblazers Awards Dinner Recognizes Tech Pioneers

Roy Clay Sr., the first black tech founder in Silicon Valley

The first Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit Trailblazers Awards Dinner recognized three pioneers in the Silicon Valley tech space: Roy Clay Sr., and husband and wife Ken and Caretha Coleman.

Sponsored by AT&T, Capital One, EMC, and Intel, the dinner acknowledged Clay’s resilience and commitment to paving the way for other African Americans. In the 1950s, Clay was politely told by a company that it had no “jobs for professional Negroes.” Yet, within a year Clay would indeed work for McDonnell Aircraft and begin a lifelong commitment not only to his own professional excellence, but to bringing other African Americans on board.

Emceed by the stunning Caroline Clarke and attended by about 400 people, the dinner also included an acknowledgement of the 35 students in attendance, particularly the 20 student hackers, all from historically black colleges: Hampton, Howard, Johnson C. Smith, Morgan State, Southern, and Spelman. Black Enterprise CEO Earl “Butch” Graves said that the students’ presence was his response to Silicon Valley companies saying that they can’t find black talent: “You couldn’t find them, so I found them for you,” he said. He also reported that significant changes are occurring: Hewlett-Packard has four black directors on its board; and Apple named James Bell to its board just last week.

Graves quoted his father, Black Enterprise Founder and former CEO Earl Graves Sr.: “Our greatest history is ahead of us,” and intimated that the future for African Americans in Silicon Valley is bright indeed because of people like Clay and the Colemans who paved the way, and the 35 students in attendance who have embraced science, technology, engineering, and math—just a small sampling of the thousands of black students across the country who have done so.

Rosalind Hudnell, chief diversity officer and global director of Education and External Relations for Intel Corp., one of the title sponsors of the TechConneXt Summit, greeted those in attendance and applauded Black Enterprise’s planting of its flag in Silicon Valley. “It’s about time,” she said, to cheers and applause.

Grace Spellman-Castro, vice president of multimedia sales at Black Enterprise, thanked and acknowledged the sponsors: presenting sponsor AT&T; Intel and its audacious $300 million investment to increase diversity in tech; Capital One, sponsor of the BE Smart Hackathon; and corporate partner EMC.

But the highlight of the evening was, of course, hearing about the sterling character and trailblazing work of Roy Clay Sr. and Ken and Caretha Coleman.

Roy Clay Sr.
The 86-year-old Clay, founder and CEO of Rod-L Electronics and a former manager of computer research and development at Hewlett-Packard, forged an extraordinary career, especially in light of the prevailing racial attitudes of the time. He came to Palo Alto, California, in 1961 and worked for Control Data before moving on to HP. The first black tech founder in Silicon Valley, he was inducted into the Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame. Coleman, a direct beneficiary of Clay’s commitment to pave the way for other African Americans, said of Clay, “He’s viewed as an icon by all of us.”

Now somewhat frail, Clay still displayed a sense of humor when he described his current practice of meeting with African American colleagues once a month. He related how, in deciding what to call the group, Coleman, a member, suggested OBG’s—for Old Black Guys.

He also described how he wanted more African Americans in Silicon Valley, and how he was part of efforts to open a YMCA in East Palo Alto. At 86, Clay said a driving force in his life is to improve the quality of life of those around him. He also stressed the importance of education for African Americans.

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[TechConnext Summit] Recap: How to Deliver a Powerful Pitch to Investors

Newbie entrepreneurs are often big on ideas but less knowledgeable about how to secure financing for their companies. Being able to communicate well and convey the value in their ideas is what separates more successful fundraising and relationship-building.

This panel provided an impressive mix of seasoned Silicon Valley veterans as well as a successful entrepreneur and investor from outside the Valley for a comprehensive overview and evaluation of what it takes to make it. They discussed early-round pitching for those totally new to this, as well as second and third round pitching for those with some experience under their belt.

Moderator Carol Sands, founder of The Angels’ Forum (TAF), one of the most respected angel groups in the San Francisco Bay Area, presided over a panel of distinguished industry peers. The panel consisted of June Riley, CEO of VC Taskforce; Charles Hudson, partner at SoftTechVC; and Donray Von, founder of Caslteberry & Co.

a) VC Taskforce addresses both sides of the investing ecosystem to connect people seeking funding with those who want to provide it.

b) Start Up Academy – workshops for entrepreneurs on how to dialogue with investors
Angel Academy – tools for investors on identifying and vetting potential startups

Charles Hudson discussed his career background in greater detail and used this forum as the opportunity to mention that he would soon be launching his own fund. Any startup founders looking to pitch should definitely add his name to their list of potential investors.

Donray Von had a successful career in the music business as a manager before becoming an investor. He explained the differences between those on the buying side and those selling. As a check writer (investor), he better understands why he didn’t always get funding—he needed to refine his ideas.

VC MATH: Funding Differences Between Big Investors & Smaller Investors
Angel Investors are usually affluent people (read that as anyone who is willing or able to take a loss in case the business fails) who receive a small equity ownership (1%-2% percent) in a company. This would likely be in exchange for a small six-figure sum invested.

An Angel may not fund you if they think your company will need a lot of money to stay afloat. Larger investors may come into play, which would reduce the chances of smaller investors making any profit.

In this example a $50M fund needs to earn at least three times the net and can often take 10 years to recoup.

Larger VCs (venture capitalists) get a greater percentage of companies and may invest as much as $10M or more. Note: Some investors don’t only want money, they may be just as interested in program related investments (PRIs). PRIs are included under the charity/nonprofit/private foundation area and are defined by the IRS as potentially covering:

  1. Low-interest or interest-free loans to needy students
  2. High-risk investments in nonprofit, low-income housing projects
  3. Low-interest loans to small businesses owned by members of economically disadvantaged groups, where commercial funds at reasonable interest rates are not readily available
  4. Investments in businesses in deteriorated urban areas under a plan to improve the economy of the area by providing employment or training for unemployed residents
  5. Investments in nonprofit organizations combating community deterioration

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TechConneXt Summit: Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson Talks Urban Cities 3.0

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson (Image: Carlos Eliason)

Agriculture and the Gold Rush were Sacramento 1.0 and California’s political hub led the city’s 2.0 iteration. But 3.0 is all about technology driving economic growth, according to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. During the TechConneXt Summit in Silicon Valley at the Hyatt Regency in Santa Clara in a fireside chat Johnson shared his views on how 3.0 cities are building “next” economies as hubs on innovation and entrepreneurship.

Johnson spent 12 years playing pro-ball where he was a three-time NBA All-Star along with holding numerous records for the Phoenix Suns organization. Today he is highly noted for his work in public service and being the first African American to serve in that office. It was his grandparents he said who taught him the importance of “giving back.” It was Barack Obama’s first presidential election run (and win) that inspired him to run for mayor. He also served as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Since entering office in 2008, Mayor Johnson has been on a mission to reshape the city of Sacramento by creating jobs and economic development, launching sustainability initiatives, improving public safety, and enhancing the local quality of life.

[Related: TechConneXt Summit Students Tour AT&T Foundry, Google]

As he sees it, the second generation of cities, or Cities 2.0, came much later during the Industrial Revolution. These cities had factories and big industry smoke stacks. They had electricity, transportation, and other modern services. They were destination points for immigrants from around the world pursuing the American Dream. “Our 3.0 cities are paperless, they’re wireless and they’re cashless,” said Johnson. “There are more cell phones than landlines, more tablets than desktops, and more smart devices than toothbrushes.

Johnson has often cited ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft as models of urban innovation and next economy technology. Until Uber came along, people still were hailing cabs the way they did a century ago—standing on a street corner waving their hand. Now, a person picks up a smartphone and a car arrives within minutes. This is what his “Cities 3.0″ vision is all about.

This represents a new era of the American city. The 3.0 city must be the ultimate service provider. Why? Because 3.0 citizens operate in a new paradigm. In this generation, the world’s largest music company has no record stores (Apple). The world’s largest bookseller has no bookstores (Amazon). The world’s largest taxi company has no cars (Uber). It’s only a matter of time before the world’s largest hotel will have no hotel rooms (AirBnB). And very soon, the world’s largest university will have no campus. That means we need to provide city services on new platforms too, Johnson explained.

Johnson believes that 3.0 Cities must provide a new kind of infrastructure, like citywide Wi-Fi networks and turnkey operations for startup companies, from office space to high speed communication lines. The bottom line is cities must provide services and infrastructure that residents and businesses need and do it quicker, faster, and cheaper

If cities are going to drive the revitalization of this nation then they must become the laboratories and incubators of change. They must be the engines driving the local and national economy. “What’s more, we need more African Americans in technology and we need to create wealth through entrepreneurship,” added Johnson.

[TechConneXt Summit] Google Senior Executive Shares the Inside Scoop on Silicon Valley

Google's David C. Drummond

David C. Drummond, Senior Vice President of Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer of the recently renamed Alphabet

David Drummond is one of the most powerful executives in Silicon Valley. He joined Google in 2002 and is now the senior vice president of corporate development and chief legal officer of the recently renamed Alphabet. He also serves as chairman of the company’s investment arms, Google Ventures and Google Capital. As such, he has unique insight into Silicon Valley and the role black entrepreneurs can play in the tech ecosystem.

Drummond was interviewed by Journalist Carlos Watson, founder of Ozy Media, for BE Tech Talk: A Conversation with a Silicon Valley Powerhouse, kicking off the first day of the Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit.

[Related: [TechConneXt Summit] Day 1: Investing and Ascending]

Here’s some of what Drummond had to say:

On what makes entrepreneurs successful…
No. 1: They think big. Even if you don’t make it there, sometimes along the way you end up doing something substantial. The other thing is they’re contrarian, almost to a fault. When everyone else is going this way, they go that way. They don’t take perceived wisdom very well.

On who shouldn’t be an entrepreneur…
I think there are a lot of people getting into it because it looks like you can do well.  A lot of people don’t have the risk-taking mentality for entrepreneurship, and that’s fine. Risk tolerance is really important. Silicon Valley is like baseball—three out of 10 is good.

On black entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley…
I think it’s the new reality. And we need to accelerate it and push it forward. One of the things about Silicon Valley that I’ve always liked is that it has some meritorious elements; it doesn’t matter who you are, if you build the right thing. They’re brutally honest about performance. But Silicon Valley isn’t immune from the realities of the rest of the world.

On Rev. Jackson’s work to push diversity in tech…
What’s great about it is it forces us to think practically about what it going to yield results. It’s fine to have the right principles, but you have to devote resources to it; just like with all of your other business principles. And you’re seeing lots of startups thinking about diversity early in their life cycles.

On the next trends…
Mobile—this is happening much more quickly than we thought it would if you look at the amount of computing people do on their phones versus desktops or laptops. Most people coming online today are coming online through their phone. It has all kinds of implications for what startups are going to be built and where. Another is artificial intelligence. We’re moving toward this notion of general artificial intelligence, where the algorithms actually learn. They aren’t pre-programmed.

On whether we’re in another tech bubble…
There’s no question that the valuations of some of these firms are astronomical. They’re priced for perfection—if 100% of everything goes right. On the other hand, there are companies that are changing the world in pretty amazing ways. There are a number that look like they’re going to be around for a long time. They have scale, and they’re global, and they delight the user. There’s going to be some carnage, but there are a lot more that will get through this.

On replicating Silicon Valley…
I think this is happening everywhere. There’s nothing in the water in Silicon Valley that is making this happen. The talent, the creativity, the drive, the ambition—those things exist all over the world. There’s a saying I heard: “genius is evenly distributed.” There’s no reason to think this is going to be isolated to the United States, or within the United States to Silicon Valley.

[TechConneXt Summit] Meet the Hackers

Spelman hackers at TechConnext Summit

If you’ve been in tune with all things Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit, happening now in Silicon Valley, then you’re well aware of the 20 ambitious students from Morgan State University, Howard University, Spelman College, Southern University, and Johnson C. Smith, hacking their way into notoriety with the BE SMART Hackathon.

Four students from each school are currently taking on the challenge of developing an app that will enable individuals to create budgets, manage expenses, review credit history, track spending, and develop savings and investment plans; all from their electronic devices. Each team’s app will be judged based on the utility to individual users and viability of the app. May the best team win.

Let’s meet the team members:

Morgan State University

Benjamin Hall (Team Lead) – Senior
Major: Computer Science
Minor: Mathematics

Khir Henderson – Senior
Major: Electrical Engineering
Minor: Computer Engineering

Kevin Proctor – Senior
Major: Electrical Engineering
Minor: Mathematics

Jaleel Wright-Walker – Senior
Major: Electrical Engineering
Minor: Cybersecurity

Howard University

Victor Foreman (Team Lead) – Senior
Major: Computer Science

Errol Grannum – Junior
Major: Computer Science

Barry Harris, Jr. – Junior
Major: Computer Science

Remington Holt – Senior
Major: Computer Science

Johnson C. Smith University

Michael Gibbs (Team Lead) – Senior
Major: Computer Science and Information Systems

Allen Johnson – Senior
Major: Computer Science and Information Systems

Lewis Lawrence – Senior
Major: Computer Engineering

Kimberly McFadden – Senior
Major: Information Systems Engineering

Southern University

Egbeyong Tanjong (Team Lead) – Senior
Major: Computer Science

Morgan Brenton – Senior
Major: Computer Science

Jonathan Charles – Senior
Major: Computer Science
Minor: Math

Alanie Fernandez – Senior
Major: Computer Science

Spelman College

Brygette Bagley (Team Lead) – Junior
Major: Computer Science
Minor: Math

Mya Havard – Junior
Major: Math
Minor: Computer Science

Osariemem Odemwingie – Junior
Major: Computer Science
Minor: Math

Elizabeth Sengoba – Junior
Major: Computer Science
Minor: Math

Watch these students hack their way to success via livestream at​. To closely follow all TechConneXt activities be sure to check out Black Enterprise via social media @BlackEnterprise and search #TECHCNXT for updates, highlights, attendee uploads and information.

TextConneXt Summit: Ascending Into The C-Suite

The lack of diversity in the C-Suite in corporate America extends beyond major tech companies in Silicon Valley.  African Americans lead just 1% of America’s top companies.

A candid conversation about what it takes to move into senior management and make the leap to the executive level took center stage on Monday at the Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit at Hyatt Regency, Santa Clara, California. Director of Product Management at Yahoo, Erin Teague, hosted the BE Tech Talk: Ascending to the C-Suite in Silicon Valley, which featured COO of TaskRabbit, Stacy Brown-Philpot.

TaskRabbit is the San Francisco-based startup that runs an online marketplace for outsourcing household errands and tasks to trusted people in the community. Two years ago the company hired millennial tech star Brown-Philpot, who worked for nine years in various management roles at Google before joining Google Ventures as an entrepreneur-in-residence in 2012. She became the first ever COO for TaskRabbit, which is headed up by founder and CEO Leah Busgue. That move brought the number of C-level executives at TaskRabbit to three — Busque, Brown-Philpot, and Chief Revenue Officer Anne Raimondi.

A key decision that positioned Brown-Philpot to move into the C-Suite, was first to take the step to leave Detroit and move to Silicon Valley, bidding farewell to a traditional career path in finance and going to work for a then relatively unknown company. The Detroit native worked in high-level finance jobs at the Silicon Valley search engine giant. What’s more, she worked on global operations for a wide range of products — including as head of online sales and operations for Google India. It was that decision to live abroad, without her husband and children, which set her apart from other employees by affording her the chance to lead over 1,000 people in a country that is male-dominated and hierarchical.

“I got leadership opportunities that I wouldn’t have gotten had I stayed where I was,” she added. Then she did the opposite of what most industry insiders expected her to do—she left Google to do something more “mission minded” by joining a startup.

Also joining Brown-Philpot was Laurence “Lo” Toney, who is the newest partner at Google Ventures, having come from Comcast Ventures, where he focused on the Catalyst Fund; leading a group of investments in early stage technology companies. Previously he served as general manager at the social video game service Zynga, and CEO of LearnStreet, an online education provider.

“How do you know when it is the right time to make a transition, to leave a job and to land a position that was better than the one you had before,” asked Teague. “Mentors,” stressed Toney. “Once you build a brand and become known for certain things, opportunities flood your inbox. When I transitioned from Zinga, one of my mentors was Shellye Archambeau, CEO of MetricStream. She is an absolute rock star who sits on the boards of Nordstrom and Verizon. She asked me serious, poignant questions. She said I was really to become a CEO.  She made the introduction for me at LearnStreet.”

[Related: Mentoring Pays Off]

Brown-Philpot also noted that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is an ongoing mentor. It was a relationship that she has built over the years from when she first interviewed for Google and Sandberg was then a VP. “For four and a half years we built a strong working relationship. I was a part of her staff as her . . . business partner,” she added. “I was helping her solve problems. She started to trust me to make decisions on her behalf. I made good decisions and then I started making bigger decisions. She bought me in to manage a 200 person team. Eventually I graduated from her and went out on my own, but I can still call her for advice.”

Top 5 takeaways from Ascending into the C-Suite:

  1. Take on global assignments
  2. Move beyond your comfort zone
  3. Don’t be afraid to take risks
  4. Work for small companies/startups
  5. Advocate for yourself

[TechConneXt Summit] Looking for an Investor? Ask Yourself These 5 Questions

Tim Draper, tech investor and founder of Draper University

With 30 years of experience, third-generation venture capitalist Tim Draper, founder of Draper University, a startup boot camp and accelerator, and one of the founders of DFJ, which invests in companies such as Tesla and Skype, knows what he’s looking for in an investment.

[Related: [TechConneXt Summit] Day 1: Investing and Ascending]

Draper gave us insight into his decision-making process during the first day of the Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit at the BE Tech Talk: Investing in Millennial Tech Stars session. Sharing the stage with him was Sequoia Blodgett, an entrepreneur-in-residence at Draper University and the founder of 7AM, an online resource for personal development. Both appear on ABC Family’s Startup U, which follows a class of entrepreneurial millennials for a semester at Draper.

Here are five things that sway Draper, so if you’re a young tech startup looking for investment, ask yourself these questions first:

  1. Do I have “entrepreneurial verve?” “When we meet with the entrepreneur, it’s got to be bursting out of their chest,” Draper says. “It’s something they have to do.” You can’t just be in it for the money.
  2. Is it a big idea? Draper is looking for something transformative, something disruptive. “I’m looking for that next thing that’s way out there,” he says. And he always asks what big business it is going to piss off.
  3. Does it solve a problem? The best entrepreneurs can identify what isn’t working, many from experience, and they truly believe they can offer a better way. Draper says, “They see the problem and they believe they have the solution.”
  4. Is it good for the consumer? “The consumer should be the one that we care about the most. When industries get lazy, we’re all stuck with the monopoly provider, even though there are better solutions,” Draper says.
  5. Does it represent progress? Does the idea move society forward in some way? “We should be thinking about the threats to humanity. It’s entrepreneurs who ask the questions like, ‘how do we get to Mars?’”

[TechConneXt Summit] Day 1: Investing and Ascending

Welcome to the very first Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit kicking off today in Silicon Valley, at the Hyatt Regency, Santa Clara, California. Students, engineers, professionals, executives, and tech pioneers have gathered for two days of collaboration, forward thinking, learning, and networking as a means to present a unique occasion to make connections among the brightest of the African American tech community and offer a space for ideas and opportunities to flourish.

Check out what’s on the agenda today:

  • From 2:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m. PDT Capital One will be hosting a BE SMART Hackathon where teams of four college students representing Howard University, Johnson C. Smith, Southern University, and Spelman College, will use their creativity to develop apps that will enable users to create budgets, manage expenses, track spending, and develop a savings and investment plan, and more. The teams will be judged on the viability and utility of the app.
  • BE Tech Talk: A Conversation with a Silicon Valley Powerhouse will also begin at 2:00 p.m., featuring speaker David Drummond, senior vice president of Corporate Development at Alphabet and interviewer Carlos Watson, co-founder and CEO of Ozy media. The two will discuss how Drummond has used his vision and legal expertise to help Google transform the world.
  • At 3:00 p.m., AT&T will be presenting a Corporate Showcase with remarks by AT&T Senior Vice President – Compensation, Benefits, and Policy, Tom Moore, presented by Ken McNeely, president of AT&T Services.
  • The corporate showcase will be followed by BE Tech Talk: Investing in Millennial Tech Stars. This exciting conversation features billionaire venture capitalist Tim Draper, co-founder of DFJ and founder of Draper University, and Sequoia Blodgett, entrepreneur-in-residence at Draper University and founder of 7AM. The speakers will discuss Startup U, a Shark Tank-styled reality show for millennial entrepreneurs on ABC Family.
  • TechConneXt attendees may receive direct insight from angel and venture investors on principles used to create pitch presentations that engage investors. How to Deliver a Powerful Pitch to Investors will feature CEO, VC Taskforce, June Riley; Partner, SoftTechVC, Charles Hudson; and Founder, Castleberry & Co., Donray Von. This session will be moderated by Carol Sands, founder and managing member of Angels’ Forum, and begins at 4:20 p.m.
  • COO of TaskRabbit, Stacy Brown-Philpot, and Director, Product Management, Yahoo, Erin Teague will host BE Tech Talk: Ascending to the C-Suite in Silicon Valley, a guide to moving into senior management and making the leap to the executive level. This session begins at 5:25 p.m.

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