Detroit’s Tech Revolution: Black Tech is the Future

In the ever-evolving city of Detroit, where the tech landscape is constantly growing, it’s exciting to watch a new industry flourish. Black people have indeed made significant contributions to the tech industry, playing a vital role in the development of important technological advancements and key startup businesses within the ecosystem. Unfortunately, they have often faced additional challenges and a lack of support compared to their counterparts. These hurdles can include limited access to resources, lower representation in leadership positions, unconscious biases and systemic barriers.

According to a report by CompTIA in March 2022, despite comprising 12 percent of the overall U.S. workforce, Black individuals represent only 8 percent of employees in tech jobs. This statistic highlights a concerning underrepresentation of Black professionals within the tech industry, indicating a need for greater diversity and inclusivity in this sector. Addressing this disparity and creating equitable opportunities for Black individuals in tech is crucial for fostering a more inclusive and representative workforce and with final products that are introduced to the world.

As Detroit is being groomed to likely be the next Tech Hub alongside established ecosystems like New York and LA, there is a dynamic couple in Detroit breaking barriers and building a community that exemplifies the potential of determined Black professionals when united and supported by a strong community. Johnnie and Alexa Turnage are visionaries behind the revolutionary initiative that’s rapidly gaining momentum and capturing the imagination of individuals citywide. .

With a keen understanding of the obstacles that Black founders encounter, they have united to establish an all-encompassing environment for collaboration, mentorship and empowerment. This groundbreaking initiative, Black Tech Saturdays, is swiftly gaining traction and revolutionizing the Detroit tech arena.

“I started to realize that all the Black and Brown founders really didn’t have a space to go to,” said Johnnie, “and as I started getting more involved with the startup ecosystem here [in Detroit], I noticed that I’m always the only Black male in the room or one of few Black people in these rooms. It made everything very code switchy. The founders I started bumping into really started to express some of the same kind of confusion and feeling kind of lost out here and alone. I realize we’re all blindly bumping into the wall. Although there’s a bunch of different spaces that are talking about helping, in 2022 there was no real galvanizing force. I think places have tried but what I learned is programs need to be founder led. We have to talk to other founders and figure out what makes the most sense.”

Black Tech Saturdays is more than just a gathering; it is a catalyst for change. By leveraging the power of community, the Turnages are nurturing an environment where ideas flourish, collaborations thrive and barriers are shattered. Their visionary approach ensures that Black professionals have the support and resources they need to excel in the tech industry and a community to turn to for inspiration and information.

Initially, Johnnie was engaged in a project at NewLab Detroit when he and fellow tech entrepreneur Darren Riley, co-founder of JustAir, began inviting other Black founders to join them at the facilities for collaborative work and brainstorming sessions. The consistent presence of this dedicated group of Black tech professionals caught the attention of the operations manager, who recognized the opportunity to provide support.

“They were like, we noticed this group of like 10 people coming in every week,” Johnnie recalls.  “They told us, ‘Hey, we see what you’re doing and you don’t have to sneak anymore. We actually want to support this. Tell us what you need.’”

The inaugural event, hosted in April, brought together Black founders, investors and tech enthusiasts in an atmosphere of collaboration and camaraderie. The event provided a platform for founders to share their stories, make meaningful connections, learn about resources and foster relationships with potential collaborators. It quickly became evident that there was a dire need for a consistent and curated space for Black founders to build relationships, acquire essential skills and bridge the gap between their visions and investor expectations.

Four weeks later, Black Tech Saturdays became an established phenomenon, surpassing all initial expectations. The vision for the initiative expanded to include workshops, networking opportunities and mentorship programs. The primary goal is to equip Black founders with the tools they need to succeed, both in terms of technical skills and the soft skills required to navigate the complex world of entrepreneurship.

One significant aspect of Black Tech Saturdays is the emphasis on storytelling. Founders are encouraged to embrace and share their unique experiences, incorporating their backgrounds and aspirations into their startup narratives. This approach challenges the traditional norms of the tech industry, showcasing the immense value and authenticity that comes from the fusion of personal stories and business ideas.

Black Tech Saturdays has also recognized the importance of cultivating a strong developer talent pool within the Black community. Many startups struggle to find the right talent or lack access to networks that can connect them with skilled professionals. Through the cultivation of community and collaboration, Black Tech Saturdays strives to create an environment where startups can connect with the talent and resources they need to thrive and succeed.

Black Tech Saturdays is kicking off an exciting summer series that will further prepare Black tech professionals for the events and opportunities coming this fall.

“The different events we have this summer are so important because we’re going to have different speakers and workshops to prepare people as the summer escalates,” Alexa explained. “The different speakers coming on Saturdays each month are to prepare you to be in front of investors to know how to build those relationships and how to move the needle forward. Preparing them for meeting with people during events and how they can move forward when you’re connecting the dots and bridging the gap so the people know what you’re doing.”

The initiative has garnered significant support from various stakeholders in the Detroit tech ecosystem. Investors, organizations and experienced professionals have recognized the potential impact of Black Tech Saturdays and have offered support. The collective effort to uplift and empower Black founders is not only benefiting individuals but also fostering an environment in which the entire ecosystem can flourish.

The ultimate vision for Black Tech Saturdays extends beyond individual success stories. It aims to create a community in which the success of one entrepreneur is celebrated as a victory for all. By fostering collaboration and mutual support, the initiative seeks to transform the narrative surrounding Black founders in Detroit, ensuring their accomplishments are acknowledged, respected and amplified.

In the quest for a more inclusive and diverse tech ecosystem, Black Tech Saturdays has emerged as a beacon of hope, bringing together talented individuals who have long been overlooked or underestimated. Through this initiative, Detroit’s Black founders are finding their voices, sharing their stories and building a vibrant and thriving community that is redefining the future of tech entrepreneurship in the city. To follow this journey and get involved follow @blacktechsaturdays on Instagram.

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