By Raquel Harrah
ONE OF THE GREATEST aspects of new technology is its universality. Regardless of locality, education level, race, religion, culture, or income level, advancements in technology and the internet affect and include everyone. Behind the scenes, however, the reality is quite different. African American, Latino, and woman entrepreneurs hoping to get their internet startups off the ground are often excluded from funding in Silicon Valley.
Angela Benton, co-owner of NewME Accelerator and CEO of Black Web Media LLC, emphasizes the detrimental effects that exclusion of minorities can cause.
“Without participation from everyone, we do a disservice to the innovation that might be created from those people,” says Benton. “We also do a disservice to the local communities that they come from and the impact of jobs that those founders are able to create.”
NewME Accelerator began after co-owners Benton and Wayne Sutton learned about the disparity in Silicon Valley—less than 1 percent of internet startup founders are African American. They quickly noticed the same issue with Latinos and women, later expanding their business to include these groups.
The nationally recognized accelerator has a mission to close the gap in Silicon Valley and empower underrepresented minority tech entrepreneurs. Through its twelve-week, twice a year “immersive” program, NewME provides entrepreneurs with education, mentorship, connections, and a chance to present their work to funders at “Demo Day.”
NewME is also unique in its set-up. By being selective (only eight startups are admitted per cycle) the accelerator ensures they have chosen the best of the best. This also guarantees each startup receives the help they deserve, whether it be with design, code, or any additional needs. Furthermore, they provide encouragement through a close-knit “family” setting among the “founders,” or startups—all of the founders live in the same house in San Francisco.
Why the Gap Exists
The quick pace in which Silicon Valley operates makes it easy to overlook groups that are being excluded. Although groups like NewME offer opportunities, the question still remains why innovative minority startups aren’t being launched.
“Technology as a brand right now has an image issue,” says Benton. “The issue is that tech looks like a white guy with glasses who, in most cases, lacks social skills. Until we change what that looks like, the industry won’t be appealing to all types of people,” she says.
Benton also attributed the lack of STEM education as a major contributor to the dearth of underrepresented minorities in Silicon Valley.
Another fundamental issue, according to Benton, is access to information. Gender, location, race, and income level can affect the resources available to certain groups and can limit the information available through technology. Similar to the education gap, the digital divide can be a matter of economics.
A Unique Business Model
NewME Accelerator is not only focused on profits within their company, but also the success of the founders. The two are intricately woven so that the NewME’s success depends upon the start-ups.
“We are a for-profit business that accelerates the success of entrepreneurs,” says Benton. “We operate based on the impact that we are able to make, but also take into account, profitability.”
This business model not only aids NewME, but the founders and subsequent jobs their startups can create.
“We are lucky to have a team that is invested in everyone else’s success, not just their own,” Benton says.
NewME is only in the beginning stages of its vision—Benton and Sutton hope to expand and continue to launch minority groups into the tech sector. The owners recently hosted a pop-up in Miami and have plans to continue expanding geographically.
Says Benton, “I think if we continue to work hard and help others, our work [will] speak for itself.”