One hundred African-American college students are headed to the famed SXSW festival today courtesy of an Atlanta technology entrepreneur and his NFL-linebacker partner.
The effort, dubbed HBCU@SXSW, is aimed at expanding opportunities to build startups or to become investors in those companies. It also seeks to introduce black students, particularly from historically Black colleges to heavy hitters from Silicon Valley, which is notorious for its lack of diversity. HBCU@SXSW, now in its second year, is the brainchild of Rodney Sampson, co-founder and CEO of Opportunity Ecosystem. The Atlanta-based company partners with professional athletes an early investor is Tennessee Titans defensive end Derrick Morgan, foundations and municipalities to connect entrepreneurs and tech investors.
“I’ve been doing ecosystem-building work in the innovation and entrepreneurship economy for four years, ” said Sampson, who created four startups himself — two of which failed and two from which he made successful exits. “In order to close the wealth gap and end poverty, we have to get more African-American entrepreneurs and underrepresented communities into tech.” It’s a straightforward proposition with high barriers. Tech insiders refer to the world of startups and venture capital as an “ecosystem” because their entrepreneurs and investors contribute to and feed off of one another in such an airtight loop that outsiders rarely break through.