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Black Tech Week to celebrate innovation, diversity

Organizers are calling it Black History Month 2.0.

The inaugural Black Tech Week, slated for Feb. 23 to 28, will bring black tech innovators, entrepreneurs and investors from around the world to South Florida to celebrate black innovation. Events will include a two-day summit at Miami Dade College North Campus, pitch competitions, a hackathon and other networking events around the area.

Felecia hatcherBlack Tech Week aims to change the narrative surrounding the black community and replace it with innovation, creativity and technology, said Derick Pearson. He and wife Felecia Hatcher (pictured) co-founded both the company Feverish Pops and Code Fever, an organization that teaches minority youth how to code, create technologies and become entrepreneurs. While Code Fever is the leading force behind Black Tech Week, it is supported by a steering committee of community leaders plus the Knight Foundation, Baptist Health South Florida, Accelerate Google, Miami Dade College’s North Campus and other organizations.

“We want to tell those stories that aren’t being told,” Pearson said.

The Code Fever founders and the event’s steering committee hope Black Tech Week will help accelerate Miami as the U.S. gateway to the Caribbean and the entire African diaspora — much as the city has become a gateway to Latin America, Pearson said. During Black Tech Week, the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce will announce a trade mission to South Africa and the Canary Islands planned for the fall, Pearson said. Once the Tech Week is over, the event’s steering committee plans a monthly speaker series to keep the conversations going.

It’s a big mission — one that has been simmering for awhile. Pearson and Hatcher purchased Blacktechweek.com domain about three years. “We just felt the time was right and it was now or never,” said Pearson.

MichaelHall_2015_4C (1)The fact no one owned the Web domain blacktechweek.com gives a clue to the summit’s uniqueness, said Michael Hall, who is on the steering committee (pictured).

Black Tech Week springboards off a growing number of local initiatives designed to bring more minorities into technology careers, which was cited by regional tech experts as a key challenge in my report on the tech hub movement in October. Last summer, Hatcher hosted a community conversation about the topic following reports from Google, Facebook and Twitter indicating black employees make up less than 3 percent of their workforces. “That's one characteristic of Silicon Valley that Miami does not want to emulate,” Hatcher said then.

That summer meeting helped jump-start the Tech Week idea, said Hall, who co-founded Fort Lauderdale-based marketing firm Mediumfour. “All of us have different projects but we are working together for the bigger cause.” Hall co-founded Digital Grass, a social awareness campaign for inclusion in innovation and a diversity-led accelerator. He also co-founded and will soon launch W3RTech, an international campaign uniting innovation and inclusion, he said.

Black Tech Week’s program features sessions like “Tapping into Africa with Tech,” a hackathon, two pitch competitions, tech mixers and conversations focused on tech efforts in various Caribbean nations. Attendees will be able to network with global entrepreneurs and investors.

Confirmed speakers include Chinedu Echeruo, founder of HopStop, which was sold to Apple in 2013 for $1 billion; Eric Osiakwan, an Angel Africa advisor, TED fellow and investor; Kanyi Maquela, venture capitalist with the New York-based early-stage Collaborative Fund; Justin Washington, a music producer and songwriter as well as an engineer for Snapchat; Jon Gosier, founder of Appfrica, Apps4Africa, and co-founder of big data company MetaLayer; Brian Dixon, social impact venture capitalist with Kapor Capital based in Oakland, Calif.; Ingrid Riley, founder off KingstonBeta and Startup Weekend Jamaica; John Lewis, global chief diversity officer for Coca-Cola; and several executives from New York-based Maker’s Row, an online platform connecting designers to U.S. manufacturers.

Also speaking at the conference are Miami entrepreneurs Stonly Baptiste, co-founder of Urban.Us, a fund for urban tech solutions; Brian Brackeen, founder of facial recognition software company Kairos, recently selected to join Endeavor; and Pandwe Gibson, founder of EcoTech Visions, an incubator supporting green businesses in underserved communities.

The week's activities will kick off at 5 p.m. Feb. 23 with a pitch competition at EcoTech Visions incubator. The winner will receive a $1,000 grant from Awesome Foundation. Register to pitch here. 

All Black Tech Week activities are open to the public.

Fabiola Fleuranvil“I’d like to see the business community rally around this. We should be positioning South Florida to do business in the Caribbean and in Africa,” said Fabiola Fleuranvil (pictured), who is on the steering committee and is a marketing entrepreneur. She is also on the Beacon Council’s New Leaders Taskforce, where she was a past chair, and organized a monthly meetup for black professionals that is going on its sixth year.

Fleuranvil said the event could  help the community with asset mapping to identify who’s where and what they need and then be able to match them with resources. “Black Tech Week is also an opportunity to see there is a different Miami ... as we further extend the story of Miami with its new tech and startup scene.”

Find tickets and more information on Black Tech Week: www.blacktechweek.com.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg