“Black in America: The New Promised Land-Silicon Valley” debuting Nov. 13
ABOVE PHOTO: NewMe participant Tiffani Bell, the founder of Pencil You In, at work on her fledgling startup.
(Photo by Mark Hill/CNN)
While much of the country struggles to emerge from a recession, California’s Silicon Valley is booming, and technology companies like Facebook, Skype, and Apple are seeing their valuations soar, CNN anchor and special correspondent Soledad O’Brien reports that the ownership of this digital bloom is mostly young, white, and male.
For her fourth Black in America documentary, O’Brien asks why, according to industry analyst CB Insights, less than one percent of all venture capital money went to digital startups with African-American founders in 2010 — and she profiles a unique, technology-focused “accelerator” developed to help African-American digital entrepreneurs secure funding to establish their businesses.
The NewMe accelerator program, founded by friends Angela Benton and Wayne Sutton, is a collaborative of African-American start-up founders with Internet-based businesses – the first such business accelerator of its kind. NewMe’s ultimate mission is to diversify the technology industry by accelerating the participants’ business ventures. Participants seek venture capital investment and are mentored by prominent people from within the industry.
O’Brien follows the progress of the eight former strangers after they were selected to live together for nine weeks in a modest, three-bedroom house in Mountain View, CA, from June to August of 2011. The entrepreneurs were provided with free office space and attended regular networking events hosted by NewMe’s sponsors. The participants come from varied backgrounds and experiences, and include:
- Tiffani Bell (PencilYou.m) of Fayetteville, NC, a 26-year-old Howard University computer science graduate and computer programmer for a family business;
- Angela Benton (GetCued) of Charlotte, NC, a 30-year-old single mother of three who co-founded NewMe and publisher of Black Web 2.0, which focuses on African-Americans working in new media industries;
- Crisson Jno-Charles (fetehmob) of Queens, NY, a 26-year-old former technology sector specialist at a hedge fund who is collaborating with his girlfriend;
- Hajj Flemings (GoKit) of Detroit, MI, a 39-year-old mechanical engineer laid off from GM and married father of a 1-year-old;
- Anthony Fraser (Plavd) of Montclair, NJ, a 25-year-old former “big box” store clerk and online gaming fanatic;
- Wayne Sutton (Vouch) of Raleigh, NC, a 36-year-old father and partner at NewMe;
- Pius Uzamere (becouolv) of Washington, DC, a 27-year-old MIT graduate who is also developing his start-up with his girlfriend; and
- Hank Williams (Kloud.co) of New York, NY, a 46-year-old, Ivy League drop-out who founded a $40 million dollar music-sharing platform, Clickradio, as well as other Internet companies.
The participants have given up family and creature comforts to focus on the pursuit of their dreams, but the official launch of the program was inauspicious. They gather for what they are told is an informal welcome reception at Google. In fact, the reception turns out to be a “Dragons’ Den,” a presentation opportunity for their business plans in front of their mentors and sponsors. It does not go well.
“I said to myself that they weren’t ready,” says mentor Navarrow Wright to O’Brien, when she asks for his frank assessment of the Dragons’ Den presentations. Wright told the NewMe participants that their lackluster presentations were not well-received. His response to Williams, who offers reasons for the poor performances:
“You can make those excuses and at the end of the nine weeks, not be where you need to be. But you got to recognize, the only person that was in control of that fault was yourself,” Wright told the group. Wright founded GlobalGrind-com, a successful digital publisher of hip hop industry news and celebrity gossip, and is now the chief technology officer of Interactive One, the digital arm of syndicated, minority-owned radio company. Radio One.
Black in America: The New Promised Land – Silicon Valley will debut on Sunday, Nov. 13 at 8:00 PM ET & PT and replay on Nov. 13 at 11:00 PM ET & PT. It will also replay on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 8:00 PM and 11:00 PM ET & PT on CNN/U.S.