Kelli Jones sees a two-sided problem when it comes to making sure Black business owners can take advantage of the opportunities in technology.
First, many Black business owners just don’t have the necessary access to capital for technology, which Jones refers to as more like a business model than an industry.
“The way we’ve seen the technology field erupt, historically Black people have not had the same ability to access those fields,” she said.
Then there’s the perception of what a Black-owned business is: usually a small mom-and-pop that provides a service and relies mostly on word-of-mouth advertising.
“That’s not all we are and all we do,” Jones said, while adding there’s still a tendency for new Black business owners to “shy away” from being a tech-based business. That has made life especially difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic, when there’s much less traditional interaction than normal.
Jones wants to help solve these problems, and she’s developed a few ways to do it.
Jones is co-founder of Be Nimble, which launched in 2016. The nonprofit trains people in technology and then helps place them in tech careers ranging from coding to sales. The organization also guides start-up entrepreneurs through business accelerators, workshops and pitch competitions.
Be Nimble’s venture capital arm, Sixty8 Capital, focuses on investing in Black, brown, women, LGBTQ and disabled founders. (Numerous studies show most venture capital funds go to college-educated white male founders.)
There is also an annual fundraiser, Pardi Gras, which raises money for coding camps and other programs, and founders working in the accelerator can pitch their business in a competition to win money.
Jones has been doing this work for a while. She was previously director of sales and marketing at HipHopDX and worked in business development and partnerships at Blavity.
Technology is exciting and useful, and Jones wants to make sure Black business owners can take full advantage of it. But training people and helping them find jobs in tech can also be a path to generational wealth, something Black people haven’t even been allowed to accumulate for much of America’s history.
“They are jobs that pay significantly more than a lot of the jobs that are currently out there,” Jones said.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.