Felecia Hatcher and Derick Pearson started their nonprofit Code Fever Miami three years ago.
The husband and wife duo wanted to use their background in math, science and marketing to support entrepreneurs of color in South Florida and to connect them to the start-up and tech scene.
They had worked for companies like Nintendo, Verizon, and the NBA. Together, they launched Feverish Pops, a popular gourmet popsicle company. The pair successfully raised $250,000 in seed money to start the frozen treat venture in 2008.
Their work has garnered numerous accolades, including the 2014 White House Champion of Change for STEM Educational Excellence Access and Diversity for African Americans.
Both Hatcher and Pearson are sought after speakers in entrepreneurship and start-up circuits, but when they looked around in their own backyard, South Florida, they found something puzzling: “Derek and I were the only ones who looked like us in the room,” said Hatcher. "We were the only black people."
From Friday Feb. 24 through Saturday Feb. 25, the pair will launch Black Tech Weekend, two full days focused on raising capital for start-up founders of color.Hatcher sat down for a conversation with WLRN’s Nadege Green. Below is an edited excerpt:
WLRN: This week you're launching Black Tech Weekend. Tell me more about this specific program.
HATCHER: In the entrepreneurial journey for a black entrepreneur every feedback we got was— funding. Like, “ I just I don't understand it. I feel like I'm at a point where I can scale, but I have no idea how to be able to touch the money that I keep hearing exists in Miami or the resources, the accelerators, incubators.”
And so [with] Black Tech Weekend we created a weekend experience that have those collision points, those conversations.
CEO of Y Combinator Michael Siebel [is one of] our opening keynote speaker. He runs arguably one of the largest accelerators on the globe investing in all the major companies that we use every single day. He's here. Most people don't even know that he's black, but he's here in Miami to be an asset.
You have a shirt that I’ve seen at your events that I absolutely love. It reads, “Black nerds unite.” Is this a rallying cry of sorts?
It is because I think for nerds, especially black nerds, we've all had those battle scars of being a kid and being geeky and thinking that we needed to be cooler than what we were.
We have a lot of nerds and there's power within that.
We're seeing a huge shift from being consumers of technology to now creators and innovators in technology, but we need to see more of that.
For me, when we get to a point where every municipality not just here in Florida, but all across the country has a coding program or a maker's camp or a drone program with the same frequency that they have sports programs, then we will really truly start to see a shift in our community. That’s the movement that we hope to start not just with entrepreneurs, but with kids as young as my daughter who is three years old.
Do you ever get the, “ Why does it have to Black Tech Week,” comments?
I've gotten that more times than I will even share. And it's not often that nice. It's unfortunate that we've gotten some really disgusting comments.
Systemically, there are major issues that have affected the black community so that we do not index high in these major technology companies, that we do not have the same opportunities that others do.
But on the flip side of that we also have innovators doing some phenomenal things. And those stories aren't often told.
All the people that have succeeded in the industry like Roy Clay Sr. who holds patents in [Hewlett-Packard] and is a Silicon Valley veteran. Most of us may not be sitting here today in this space if it wasn't for him or Ken Coleman, or all the women that you've seen on Hidden Figures. All these people have paved the way so that we can be there, so when we look at the abysmal numbers in the tech space— it's because we don't see them every day.
What have you seen come out of the work that Code Fever has been doing in Miami? What makes you say this is why we're doing this…
We've seen an increase in the number of students from our program that have gone on to win pitch competitions, that have changed their majors in college and are now pursuing computer science or different technology fields. That to me has been one of the most rewarding things. We've seen start-up founders raise significant funding from connections that they’ve made.
Our thing is getting our community access because it's not for lack of ideas in our community.
We have some amazing ideas. I always tell people look at the Jitney in Little Haiti. It's people piling into a vehicle and they're paying one or two dollars. It's taking them from one destination to another.
Tell me what's the difference between that and Uber pool? What's different and what's missing is an online platform that connected those people.
We all know that friend that will come to your house and cut your hair or that friend that will braid your hair. Tell me what's the difference between that and GLAMSQUAD or any of these other platforms that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars?
Those ideas were no different than our ideas in those spaces, but they were able to get connected to the funding they needed to turn them into global platforms that people are using and financially supporting.
If You Go:
Black Tech Weekend
Fri.,Feb 24—Sat., Feb 25
Little Haiti Cultural Center, 212 NE 59th Terrace, Miami
Tickets: $199 and up
For more information visit blacktechweek.com