A Black Tech Ecosystem Is Being Created In Chicago — Which City Will Be Next?

Fabian Elliott and panelists, Eric Lugo, Joseph Fields, and Ashley Evans discuss higher education, one of four pillars listed in the 2019 report that focuses on reshaping and growing Chicago’s Black tech ecosystem.

The 2019 Chicago State of the Black Tech Ecosystem convened this past Thursday evening at Google. The forum was hosted by Black Tech Mecca and moderated by its founder, Fabian Elliott. For three consecutive years, Elliott has sought to compile data explaining the gains and disparities that exist for Black entrepreneurs in Chicago and how to address them.

Elliott says that his “desire to see genuine progress for our people,” inspired him to take on the responsibility and mission to highlight the realities Black people face in Chicago’s tech community, but in a measurable way. “Real progress can be both assessed and created. I am a new dad and one of my worst fears is not leaving the Black Tech Ecosystem any better off for him than what I found it.”

Here are 10 Takeaways from the 2019 Chicago State of the Black Tech Ecosystem:

  1. “There is a great need for opportunities for high school students to have hands-on experience in their neighborhoods,” said Lucia Dettori, Executive Director, Office of Computer Science, Chicago Public Schools. “There are plenty in the loop.” Experiential experience is vital to the overall success for students who may live in underserved areas.


  2. “One of the issues of students entering STEM is that they do not have the vision of themselves entering [STEM] that field.” Adrienne Coleman, Director of Equity & Inclusion at Illinois Math and Science Academy encouraged Black educators to reach out for more information about teaching opportunities at IMSA and beyond. She further stressed the importance of culturally competent curriculum in classrooms. (Quick Fact: The founder of YouTube is an alumnus of IMSA!)


  3. Would you believe people lose focus on the mission to educate and empower our students by creating a competition where there should be none? Well, Tracie Screven, Site Director, Smash Illinois offered an anecdote about the time someone literally took the time to walk up to her and say “I just came to see who the competition was…” Now consider this fact to understand how unnecessary that encounter was:  According to the recent findings of Black Tech Mecca, there are 135 youth coding programs and camps available in Chicago, the majority are being offered downtown and in north side neighborhoods, and only 16 operate during the school year. Which means the more people and programs devoted to educating our children in STEM, the better. SMASH Illinois will be launching a program on Saturday, July 6, once a week, for five weeks, and will include 40 students. “We need to expose them to people of color in STEM careers,” said Screven. ”Their vision is so narrow, they don’t have the exposure.”


  4. Heads up speakers, youth and leadership advocates! Do you have a few words of advice for the next generation of leaders in tech and entrepreneurship? What kind of information do you wish someone would have shared with you during and definitely after college? Joseph Fields, Program Director, Black Tech Scholars, the University of Illinois at Chicago put a call-out for mentors and speakers to all who have a heart to see our young men and women thrive. “We need more tech professionals to be in front of our students, said Fields. His students are currently working diligently to create LinkedIn profiles to be more marketable for employers. If you would like to lend your expertise in other areas of professional development, here’s your chance!
     
  5. Chicago Codes is now accepting applications! Ashley Evans, Program Operator, Chicago Codes says she hopes to see more Black women being represented in the next cycle of applications. You may want to put your best foot… or code forward for this opportunity. During the last round of applicants, 800 were received to fill 60 slots.


  6. “Uplifting City Colleges is critical.” Did you know that Illinois ranks number one in transfer student success at four-year universities? Eric Lugo, Executive Vice Chancellor, Institutional Advancement at City Colleges of Chicago shared this brag-worthy fact and said that city college students are able to outperform because “they are prepared to thrive in a college environment.” We were also asked to keep in mind that Malcolm X College is a $300 million investment with the only virtual hospital in the region.


  7. “In some organizations, you’re changing a dynamic, if you’re starting an apprenticeship.” Gregory Sally, North America HR Strategic Sourcing Initiatives Lead for Accenture said that he is willing to share the company’s playbook with attendees interested in starting programs that focus on the training and empowerment of our future workforce leaders.


  8. “Focus on your budget and your narrative.” Derrick Champion, Deputy Director, Office of Minority Economic Empowerment, Illinois DCEO made everyone aware of the funding opportunities available in moderate to low-income areas; specifically, the Minority-Owned Business Capital and Infrastructure Program. Act fast! The deadline is Sunday, June 30 at 5:00 P.M.


  9. “Our plan is to be in every community. Our challenge is that we want to be in every community…” Tracy Powell, Managing Partner of Blue Lacuna and Founder of Ignite Technology and Innovation mentioned capital as an additional challenge and the reason for Blue Lacuna’s memberships being intentionally affordable at $49/month.


     
  10. Have you heard of the Student Loan Servicing Rights Act? Joseph Sanders Supervising Attorney, IL AG’s Office shared more than a few little known facts about available resources available within the Illinois Attorney General’s office dealing with student loans. This legislation is a brand new law that Attorney General, Kwame Raoul is making an effort to focus on because they recognize that there are several issues surrounding borrowing that need work. Visit illinoisattorneygeneral.com if you need assistance with dealing with student loans.
Fabian Elliott of Black Tech Mecca

The 2019 results came with a few surprises. “I was surprised to learn how much Black Students over-index on student loans — especially private loans, said Elliott. “Which are the most harmful kind. I was not aware of how much a factor it can be for aspiring Black tech entrepreneurs. ” 

The forum covered K-12 education, higher education, the corporate sector, and entrepreneurship with the help of expert panelists including:

Adrienne Coleman, Director of Equity and Inclusion for Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA)

Lucie Dettori, Executive Director, Office of Computer Science, Chicago Public Schools

Tracie Screven, Site Director, Summer Math and Science Honors Academy (SMASH Illinois)

Ashley Evans, Program Operator, Chicago Codes

Joseph Fields, Director of Black Tech Scholars at UIC

Eric Lugo, Executive Vice Chancellor, Institutional Advancement at City Colleges of Chicago

Gregory Sally, North America HR Strategic Sourcing Initiatives Lead, Accenture

Tiffany Spraggins, Apprentice, Accenture

Joan Taylor, Apprentice, Accenture

Derrick Champion, Director of the Office of Minority Economic Empowerment     

Tracy Powell, Founder & President, Ignite Technology

Joseph Sanders, Supervising Attorney, Consumer Fraud Bureau, and Student Loan Ombudsman 

Black Tech Mecca welcomes partnerships and collaboration to help more cities surface actionable Black Tech Ecosystem insights that can drive measurable growth. Check out the hashtag #CHISBTE19 on social media for more updates and a recap of the event.

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