On Feb. 15, Black Tech Week is kicking off at Florida International University and is projected to draw more than 2,000 participants in its second year. Started by husband and wife entrepreneur duo Felecia Hatcher and Derick Pearson, the event – purposefully hosted during Black History Month – is designed to be a fun, dynamic resource magnet for black entrepreneurs and professionals working in technology.
“For me that’s extremely important,” Hatcher said. “Traditionally we’re not. Even if we get the funding [for our startup], often times we can’t reach back out in our community in order to actually close the deal.”
When Hatcher received funding for Feverish – a successful handcrafted gourmet popsicle company that has become popular at staples like PayPal, Google and Live Nation – she said she experienced the lack of resources first-hand.
“When we received venture capital funding for Feverish, I said ‘Dad, do you know a good lawyer?’ And he said, ‘I know a construction lawyer but not one for the deal and everything that happens after the term sheet.’”
So in order to bring those crucial resources to Black Tech Week, a lot goes in to selecting the programming. Hatcher said her husband Derick is the genius behind the line-up that includes Snapchat QA Engineer Justin A. Washington, Kathryn Finney of digitalundivided, Flat Out of Heels CEO Dawn Dickson and musician/entrepreneur Trick Daddy. (Click here for a complete list of the Women of Black Tech Week).
Hatcher said they curated the content for Tech Week in a way that will allow attendees to find all of the resources that they need, things that compliment deal flow. “We want to make sure deals are happening but at the end of the day, once they leave here, they have to go back to their ideas, their companies and I want them to go back with a new sense of who they are and what they have,” Hatcher said.
Sponsored by The Knight Foundation, the jam-packed schedule includes full-day sessions that challenge and shape startups, ecotech vision conversation, pitch competitions, cocktail discussions on the intersection of technology and Hip-Hop, digital civil rights talks, women in innovation and more.
Hatcher’s overarching goal is for Black Tech Week to become like Global Entrepreneurship Week that takes place in November – where it is being hosted simultaneously around the world. She feels that this is the perfect addition to Black History Month because it celebrates our active history that is currently manifesting.
“Black history month is our month. We have those 28-29 days. It’s so rooted in talking about the past and only acknowledging a few key people. It doesn’t really do anything for moving us forward. My cousin that is 12 years old doesn’t relate to Martin Luther King, Jr., but he does relate to Justin Washington. He’s at Snapchat and is a DJ, so that’s black history and its future, too. When you look at other cultures, they are big on celebrating the culture. We haven’t done a good job about celebrating our culture,” Hatcher said.
When her team was seeking sponsorship for the event, they received some feedback from potential sponsors that the word Black was not inclusive enough. However, Hatcher would not be deterred, adding that, “we had like 30 ethnicities present last year and we wanted to show why it’s important to invest in Black business and technology and industries. The Knight Foundation is our presenting sponsor, our founding sponsor. Fundraising for Black Tech Week has been very interesting. I know that if we changed the name to Urban Tech Week, the conversation would be easier, but we need to make this statement for the world and our community. The funders that we have absolutely get it.”
Hatcher’s impressive career has been featured on MSNBC, The NBC Today Show, Essence Magazine, BET and more. She’s successfully launched more than three startups, authored several books and has been recognized for her excellence in STEM by the White House. She is the March 2016 cover star of Lioness and next month we will delve into her successes, advice for other women in business and being a woman of color navigating her way through entrepreneurship.