Black Innovation Alliance aims to increase Black ownership and shrink the racial wealth gap

Megan Rose Dickey

Over the years, a number of support organizations geared toward fostering diversity and inclusion in tech have emerged. Black Innovation Alliance, which launches today, aims to serve as a unifying force for the many organizations focused on supporting Black innovators. Meanwhile, the Alliance's existence signals to white folks that there are other organizations focused on advancing Black people beyond the NAACP, United Negro College Fund, Color of Change and others.

"There's so much that we owe to the organizations like the NAACP and UNCF and others," Aniyia Williams, co-creator of BIA and founder of Black & Brown Founders, told TechCrunch.* "They're wonderful, but are they alone going to get us to the next stage of where this movement has to go? It's like white people want to grab the closest Black thing to them and say, 'here, you fix the problem.' But can we be just a little bit more intentional than that?"

To name a few more innovation-oriented organizations, there's Black & Brown Founders, Founders of Color, Black Female Founders, HBCU.vc and many more. Through BIA, organizations like those mentioned will work together to create a more structured system around supporting Black entrepreneurs, tech startup founders and creative technologists. Over the next 10 years, BIA hopes to have at least 500 organizations on board.

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More specifically, BIA is looking at how these disparate organizations can "work together and leverage the innovation economy to get us to this place of Black prosperity -- kind of being the promised land there -- and that being a collective show of strength and love and trust, above all else," Williams said.

Much of this fragmentation is due to the fact that "everybody's starving," Williams said. "So we're all in survival mode. We're all doing whatever it takes to keep our lights on and make sure that we have a bed to sleep in and food on the table for that day. And that is not always going to be aligned with what someone else is doing when you want to show up and partner with someone. But you also have to keep moving or you're going to die."

Many of these organizations try to do it on a shoestring budget, while some leaders at these organizations don't pay themselves in order to help people within their community get ahead, Williams said.

"It shouldn't have to be that sacrificial, especially when we have this money in the industry that we throw around for people to make fucking juicers and scooters," Williams said. "We are trying to build the actual future that people want to live in -- not just make another cute, shiny thing that a VC thought was cool."

Still, BIA is an invitation to VCs and those in Silicon Valley that are often on the other side of the table, Williams said. Now, however, BIA has built its own table.

"We've spent the last however long clamoring to get our seat at the table," Williams said. "And BIA is being basically like, fuck it, we've just built this table and you can have a seat at it, if you step correct. We would love to have you co-create this with us but you're not going to be running the show because this is not your show to run."

At this new table, BIA plans to build and streamline pathways for entrepreneurs to get from idea to revenue to exit, if that's what they want, and putting that infrastructure in place, Williams said.

She added, "And not having that be something that comes from another kind of ivory tower, you know, basically white institutions that oftentimes very much miss the mark on how to deliver exactly what this ecosystem needs and not empowering the people who are actually from the community to be serving them."

Within the first six to 12 months, BIA hopes to raise $10 million from supporters and $1 billion over the next 10 years. This money will go toward building out the organization's operational capacity and infrastructure. In terms of infrastructure, BIA co-convener and Founders of Color CEO Kelly Burton likes to use the federal government's creation of the highway system in the 1930s as a metaphor for what BIA is trying to do.

"Right before then, states and local governments were essentially all doing their own thing," Burton said. "It was just a series of paved-over cow paths. And so what we have today in terms of the ecosystem that exists to support Black and brown founders is a bunch of like paved-over cow paths."

Currently, the system for supporting Black and brown founders is hyper inefficient, Burton said. In order to close the wealth gap and achieve economic prosperity in Black and brown communities, "we have to convert these paved-over cow paths to something akin to a superhighway."

That means increased connectivity across all of these disparate organizations that enable a more effective deployment of education, programming, resources and capital.

"Right now, we're in a digital world working on an analog system," Burton said.

It's still early days for the organization, which just started meeting a few months ago. That means there's still a lot of work to be done and clarity to be achieved around how BIA accomplishes its goals. But all decision-making happens through a democratic process, in which all the organizations have equal say.

"People come to these meetings often feeling isolated, they feel marginalized and for one hour every other week, they get to be in a space with other people who fundamentally get them," Burton said. "So a lot of what we're trying to do is build community in this space and build these connections. Our goal is to make history -- we're very explicit and matter of fact about it. Nothing like this has ever been done in this space, as far as we know, in terms of this generation. We feel that it's an opportunity to figure out how you build and sustain collective movement around this innovation work. We find this to be a demonstration of collective Black love. We are going to reimagine what Black community looks like within this innovation space, which has been less than hospitable to Black and brown folks."

Generally speaking, Williams believes people in Silicon Valley really do want to be on the right side of doing things but she is trying "to reconcile that gulf between who they think they are and who they actually are," she said. "That's what we're feeling a lot of tension about right now."

Through BIA, folks who need their hands held can get closer to their ideals of who they think they are, Williams said. BIA has the patience to work with people on these topics of race, equity and inclusion, as long as they're willing to do the work, she said. Other than funding, BIA is looking for people with expertise in cybersecurity to help protect digital assets, people to help create tools to track member contributions and projects, as well as lawyers and other specialists who can help the Alliance.

"So, you know, this is the olive branch," Williams said.

This article has been updated to clarify Williams' views on legacy organizations focused on advancing Black people in society. We've also added Williams' tweet about the Alliance's launch.

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