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By Helen Silvis of The Skanner News
Published: 12 September 2013

If you have an idea share it with your supporters, Finney told Portlanders. "I might know someone who will fund it."

For too long people of color have been sitting on the sidelines of the digital revolution. Now is the time to get in the game, says Kathryn Finney, the tech pioneer better known to many as The Budget Fashionista.

"We come from a long line of entrepreneurs," Finney told Portlanders Sept 8.

"Our uncles fixed up cars in the driveway. Our aunts did hair in the kitchen. It's really important to remember that. So maybe technology is a new field, but entrepreneurship is not new to us."

Finney spoke in the new Microsoft store in downtown Portland Sunday, at an event organized by Deena Pierott,  president of the Vancouver-based recruiting and diversity consulting company Mosaic Blueprint, and founder of the iUrbanTeen technology program.

The White House recently honored both women, naming them Champions of Change for their work to bring tech opportunities to urban youth.

"When they see a tech startup they see young White men," Pierott told the audience. "They don't see people like us."

If Pierott and Finney have their way the face of technology is about to change. That's important, because opportunities for workers with math, science and tech skills are set to grow. And technology jobs can command high salaries.

Deena Pierott said building her career in the tech field sometimes feel like, "I'm building a plane while I'm flying."

Pierott started the iUrban Teen program, aimed at exposing Black and Latino youth to careers in the science and technology fields.

Finney's projects include: being editor-at –large for the women's blogging community, BlogHer Inc., and creating Digital Undivided, a social enterprise focused on expanding opportunities for urban youth and adults.

The tech world has not welcomed African Americans or women, Finney says. But if you have an idea and the passion to carry it out you will find support.  

"Don't give up," she says. "Don't listen to the naysayers. Keep going till you get to that person who believes in you. Seek out support groups and potential partners.  Partner up. There is no reason to do it alone."

Helping Black women find that support, encouragement –and investment—is one of reasons that Digital Undivided sponsors the Focus 100 conference.  Billed as "The Most Diverse Tech Conference on the Planet," the conference will be held Oct. 4-6 in New York City.  

"We offer a two-day workshop where we focus on getting people into the tech pipeline," Finney said. "Our focus is on people with a new product or company who want to take it to the next level. We're working on building an angel network of Black women who invest in other Black women."

Finney traces her own success back to a father who was introduced to computers early on and found a niche in technology. As a result she was comfortable with computers and understood how software was created from a young age.

"I want to give people opportunities that my dad had –opportunities that changed my life," she says.

When she created Digital Undivided, Finney signed up 40 tech businesses founded by Black women. And in the first year, eight companies won investment funding through the Focus 100 startup bootcamp.

"When you look at where technology investment is going, the average is 1 percent for Black entrepreneurs – let alone Black women," Finney said.  "So numbers start to talk."

Headlining this year's conference will be Mignon Clyborne, currently chair of the Federal Communications Commission, along with three-time Grammy award winner MC Hammer; and MacArthur Genius Award Recipient, Majora Carter.

Most people don't realize that Hammer went on to become one of the earliest investors in the tech sector, Finney says,

In fact, more than 80 percent of the long list of digital stars lining up to sharing their insight at the conference are women and people of color. However, Finney said the conference is not restricted to Black women or to people of color. Anyone can attend.

Focus 100 offers people with ideas for startup tech companies a place to pitch ideas and get help and encouragement to make them happen. And its pitch contest will give out more than $10,000 in prizes. That's in addition to the opportunity to impress investors.

The conference's diversity could help stop the sexist behavior seen at similar events, such as Tech Crunch. Dominated by young White men, Tech Crunch conference hit the news the wrong way this week, with anger over presentations focused on male masturbation, and photos of men staring at women's breasts.

 You can find Digital Undivided on Facebook DigitalunDivided or follow @DigUndiv on Twitter. Check out the weekly Twitter tech chat Tuesdays at 4 p.m.

Oregon Tech Resources

Logcamp.org offers a bootcamp in coding for teens.

IdealPortland:  Links minority communities to the innovation economy.

Calagator  A tech calendar for Portland 

Gameeducationpdx.com   Helps youth learn through video games

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