Aniyia Williams

“We need to get more money in the hands of Black and Brown people,” says Aniyia Williams, the executive director of Black & Brown Founders and one of the conference’s featured speakers.

— PHOTO COURTESY OF ON POINT COMMUNICATIONS

When Aniyia Williams started her San Francisco-based fashion tech hardware company, Tinsel, she realized that there were investment disparities for minority and women-led businesses.

“We had to make this thing happen with pennies, compared to what some other founders who are also in our space who were doing something similar would get,” said Williams, whose company makes necklaces that also function as earbuds.

“I started to understand the reasons why, a couple years into building the business. What I noticed was that disproportionately women and especially people of color and Black women were not getting the dollars. Investors were just not writing those checks,” she said.

A 2015 study by First Round Capital found that only 0.2 percent of all investment funding went to companies run by women of color.

So Williams, a Philadelphia native, launched Black & Brown Founders in 2017. The organization works to provide education and support to Black and Latinx tech entrepreneurs.

BBF and the city of Philadelphia have partnered for Project NorthStar, a three-day conference set from Oct. 3-5 at 2300 Arena, 2300 S. Swanson St. The event aims to provide connections, education and opportunities to more than 500 current or aspiring entrepreneurs and knowledge workers from the Black and Latinx community who want to build a technology company or launch a career in tech.

“The purpose of this work and what we are doing is not meant to be a final solution, but it’s a major step toward creating a prototype for success,” said Williams, who will be among the featured speakers at the conference.

“It’s something that our team is really thinking specifically about using this as a starting point for helping to close the wealth gap,” she added. “We need to get more money in the hands of Black and Brown people. Technology just really offers a lot of opportunity and we want to be getting the information out there to people to let them know how they can start to engage with it.”

The conference comes as Philadelphia has the fastest growing tech sector in proportion to total job growth, after the San Francisco Bay area. A report by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia notes that employers in the Philadelphia area have added more than 25,000 new tech jobs since 2002.

One of the conference’s notable keynote speakers will be Arlan Hamilton, the founder and managing partner of Backstage Capital, a venture capital firm that backs underrepresented entrepreneurs including people of color, women and members of the LGBTQ community. Earlier this year, the firm, based in Hollywood, Calif. launched a $36 million fund to invest in Black women.

As part of its effort to support the underrepresented, Backstage Capital plans to launch an accelerator in Philadelphia this spring. The first six companies accepted will receive $100,000 in exchange for a 5-percent equity stake, and Williams will serve as a special advisor.

Project NorthStar will feature talks, panels and workshops from a national network of speakers with expertise in the technology, finance, investment, law, marketing, sales, product development, engineering, workforce development, design and hiring fields.

Attendees who are interested in entrepreneurship will have an opportunity to learn about topics ranging from how venture capital works and alternative forms of funding to emerging tech opportunities. Participants who are working as tech professionals, or are interested in getting tech jobs, will learn more about career paths. The third day of the conference will be free to attend and aims to create a pipeline for youth and newcomers to get exposed to opportunities in technology.

“I know that there is a lot of sordid history and pain around the way that our people have been excluded or not included in these gold rushes that keep transforming things and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that we are not left behind on this one,” Williams said.

Mayor Jim Kenney and BBF officials are slated to announce event details during a press conference at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the city’s Innovation Lab, located on the 16th floor of the Municipal Services Building, 1401 JFK Blvd.

ajones@phillytrib.com (215) 893-5747

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