Attendees of a June 2023 Black Tech Saturdays at NewLab inside of Michigan Central’s Book Depository Building in Detroit.
As a member of the Michigan Founders Fund community and the EvenScore team, I believe we have the potential to make Michigan the innovation hub of the world. I discovered MFF through an introduction from fellow founder and friend, Sergio Rodriguez. Sergio founded ToDooly and has been in the ecosystem since he was a college student at Wayne State University.
He invited me to a small gathering downtown Detroit where I was introduced to Michigan founders and ecosystem leaders, really, for the first time. These new relationships connected me to other founders and ecosystem leaders. My network kept compounding and I started to realize the untapped potential of Michigan’s tech ecosystem. Today, I want to emphasize the importance of our collective efforts and inspire action toward creating a thriving innovation landscape in our beloved state.
Since joining MFF, I have forged invaluable relationships that have accelerated our progress by leaps and bounds. However, I have also witnessed the challenges faced by many first-time founders and almost all underrepresented founders, irrespective of their backgrounds. Lack of access to capital, risk-averse mindsets, and mistrust of “others” hinder our ability to build successful ventures here, while other cities and states seem to offer a convenient “easy button” for growth. In Atlanta, for example, ecosystem leaders broke down a comprehensive list of grants and programs to accelerate our EvenScore build – No one in Michigan has done that to the same extent.
Yet, amidst these challenges, I firmly believe that we are at a pivotal moment. We possess the energy, momentum, and a growing awareness of the issues at hand. Now is the time to change the narrative and spark a movement for innovation, creativity, and the future of Michigan.
Taking Action: Be the Change You Want to See
As founders, investors, and ecosystem builders, all of us have the power to contribute to and shape the future of Michigan. Even the smallest efforts can yield significant results by pooling skills and focusing on collective impact. As someone with a background in community organizing and a passion for leveraging technology at scale, I am building a platform to empower others to make a difference. When entrepreneurs embrace a spirit of abundance and collaboration, we become the drivers of innovation, paving the way for a world where everyone can succeed. This is the foundation of the “I’m rooting for you to win” attitude that we must strive to cultivate.
Our responsibility as innovators extends beyond our immediate network. At Sergio’s event, I was able to meet people in this ecosystem for the first time and those relationships kept growing at the MFF Founders Retreat, Michigan Tech Week and more. We have an opportunity to redefine the narrative and create an environment that fosters growth for all. MFF stands as a beacon of the values we seek to instill: a network that gives generously and supports one another’s endeavors. It is essential that we go beyond our network and demonstrate to the broader community what the future can look like.
Founders, ask yourselves how you are giving back to your community and driving the change you want to see. Are you growing inclusively? Do you have policies and cultures that allow for people to be successful and live great lives? Do you use your status to influence change in our state?
Investors, reflect on how you can move the needle and change the narrative for Michigan. Do you invest in Black founders? Do you take the same risks on female founders as you do on male founders? Do you use your status to influence change in our state?
Each one of us has the power to make a difference through our investments, platforms, and stances. We are the ones we have been waiting for, and the time for action is now.
Black startup founders share their stories at a June 2023 Black Tech Saturdays in Detroit. Pictured from left to right: Andrea (Dre) Wallace (Opnr), Ashley Williams (RIZZARR), Ashton Keys (Athlytic), Johnnie Turnage (EvenScore), Alexa Turnage (EvenScore).
Black Tech Saturdays: Igniting Change
One concrete example of igniting change is Black Tech Saturdays, a movement I helped initiate. Since its inception, it has evolved from a small gathering of five individuals in a conference room to a thriving digital community with over 1500 members. Our events have attracted over 600 unique attendees and we have actively worked towards bridging the gap across communities, supporting indigenous groups, and fostering representation and connectivity in tech. The name may be Black Tech Saturdays, but this is an open event to all who want to be part of the change. We have taken the first steps towards supporting and encouraging other founders of color to organize their communities. Through initiatives like Black Tech Saturdays, we are creating a visible, inclusive space where everyone can see themselves in the world of tech.
To close, I want to challenge all of us: The future of Michigan is bright and it lies in our hands. Let us join forces and harness the power of collaboration, innovation, and community to transform Michigan into the global innovation hub we envision. Together, we can change the narrative, build a thriving ecosystem, and empower each other to succeed – we can Focus the Fight & EvenScore for innovation in Michigan.
Come check out Black Tech Saturdays to see the change manifesting in person. RSVP here for an upcoming event, visit BlackTechSaturdays.com to learn more, and engage with our growing network on Instagram.