Since 1995, Essence Music Festival has been one of the meccas of “black girl magic.” Women from all over the country travel to the Creole capital of the world, New Orleans, to let go of the daily struggles and release what is within. After the release of box-office record-breaking film, “Girls Trip,” the brand has expanded in ways unimaginable. The brand has turned into more than just a weekend of vibing to tunes from your favorite artists. It’s become a weekend of opportunity for creatives in industries outside of the norm. Cue BlackTech Weekend.
Before this year’s festival begins, participants will have the chance to stop by BlackTech Weekend, an Essence Weekend kickoff event on July 5 in New Orleans. Created by husband/wife entrepreneur duo, Felecia Hatcher, and Derick Pearson, BlackTech started in 2014 to help bridge the gap between entrepreneurs and black innovators, getting past the stigma of competition and helping to shed some light on the future. “BlackTech Week was born to try to dive into some of that power and create a blueprint for what a diversity eco-system looks like in terms of tech,” Code Fever Miami Production and Partnerships Manager Denayja Reese said. “The idea of BlackTech Week is to show the community and participants how to build inclusion.”
Inclusive innovation and competitiveness have always been talking points for Hatcher and Pearson. Their economic development 501c (3) not for profit organization, Code Fever, works with minority kids in underserved communities, ages 13-21, to dig into the world of coding. Launched in Miami in 2012, Code Fever encourages students to pursue careers in STEM or entrepreneurship, training them to become tomorrow’s leaders in the field. Once it gained popularity, being highlighted on platforms such as NBC and Essence magazine, BlackTech Weekend was created as a national conference to support entrepreneurs of color with startup ideas of potential growth.
Hatcher and her team decided it was time to take the conference on the road, spreading the word on the importance of tech education. “We really want BlackTech Week to be like SXSW or a National Association of Black Journalists convention, that industry event that everyone goes to,” Reese said. “Our thinking was, hey, let’s travel around the country and connect with our people in these different places and inspire people to do this without us.” Their 13-city tour, already stopping in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York, will be hitting some of the smaller markets that are making big noise in the field of tech, cities like Charlotte, NC, Tulsa, OK, and Cincinnati, OH.
Another reason BlackTech Week is hitting the road is to solidify opportunities for “techies” of color that Silicon Valley promises, but never follows through on. “Participants are trying to figure out how do I take this active small business or startup and turn it into a big business. How do I get that big round founding because our community isn’t getting that,” Reese said. “Our goal is to get those founders in front of people who can help them figure out why they aren’t getting that funding.”
Conference followers are really excited about BLackTech coming to New Orleans, having some local leaders in the tech field speaking like Sevetri Wilson, CEO of ExcemptMeNow, as well as heavy hitters such as Anastasia Wright, VP of Digital Strategy for Janet Jackson & Founder of IMG Way and Jaia Thomas, board member of the LA Black Investors Club. “The biggest thing you can expect is what you can always expect at our events, to hear from really powerful voices in the black tech community,” Reese said. “I think Sevetri Wilson is going to be really exciting because she is from New Orleans, living in New Orleans and I think a lot of times the idea of what that founder looks like is you have to be in New York or Silicon Valley and I want to see that change.”
More influential leaders in the tech industry are to be announced in the days heading up this lively event. Be sure to follow @BlackTechWeek on Twitter.