I watched Black in America: Silicon Valley, The New Promised Land with Soledad O’Brien on the accelerator for black entrepreneurs. It was a terrific show and I highly recommend it. An interesting comment was made by one of the venture capitalists when O’Brien asked him why a white, wealthy male like him cares about diversity in Silicon Valley. He answered that there were huge opportunities in technology as well as huge global competition. In short, if we don’t take advantage of all of the talent we can in this country then some other global player that does is going to come along and eat our lunch.
It reminded me of an article I read about Bill Gates. He was speaking in Saudi Arabia to an audience that was four-fifths male and segregated, with the women in the audience divided from the men by a partition. A participant asked him how Saudi Arabia could become a major player in the technology field. He responded that as long as they continued to under-utilize half the talent in the country, they were never going to make it into the top ten.
This fits with a pattern I have noticed. After all, I’m a statistician and finding patterns in data is what I do. The countries that are the most privileged in terms of education, life expectancy, gross domestic product and median income are all countries with a high degree of gender equality. I think this makes perfect sense, for the exact reason Gates noted in his speech. The only countries with a high degree of gender inequality that are not extremely poor have oil. Eventually, there will be less of a demand for oil. Everything from Segways to hybrid and electric cars to concerns about global warming to a change in emphasis on buying useless crap points to a decline in demand. Anyone who thinks that demand and prices will remain high forever is encouraged to look at the cycles over time for housing, steel or coal. I haven’t studied history a lot, but enough to know that predictions of permanency are nearly always wrong.
But I digress, from my point which was – yes, what was my point – oh yes, that at least some people with deep pockets in Silicon Valley have expressed a belief that under-utilizing a substantial percentage of your population leads to a disadvantage in terms of competitiveness. Further, the evidence, at least on an international scale, does seem to point in that direction.
If start-ups really are an exclusively young, white or Asian male, Ivy League phenomenon then we should be concerned and try to expand that pool. That’s what the NewMe accelerator featured in the Black in America special tried to do.
The show and the idea of working at an accelerator really fascinated me. The house rocket scientist and I fit the prototype of a successful start-up team in many ways. We can afford to spend full time working on a product at no pay, (not, like most founders because we are young and have no expenses but because we are older and have paid off enough and saved up enough that we could get by without working for years, maybe forever). We have years of experience programming. We have degrees in technical fields. According to the Start-up Genome Project, start-ups are more likely to succeed if they have two founders (check). We have one founder who is more at the business end, another more at the technical end. We are more “technical-heavy”, though, and we are more product-centric, as their data suggest is more likely to be successful in teams like ours. Unlike a lot of younger founders, we don’t need co-working. We have a seven-computer LAN in our house, with two desktops with 1TB each of internal storage, two 2 TB backup drives, an off-site server for shared storage and back-up to facilitate working with partners around the country, printers, copiers, fax machines, Linux, Windows & and Mac OS operating systems, both the most current OS for development and older ones for testing. Basically, software and hardware we would need, we have it. We have a stellar accountant to take care of taxes and payroll, willing test sites for alpha and beta testing. I could go on a long list.
There are no doubt business accelerators that would find us a perfect fit and I have considered applying to several. So, what is stopping us if it is not technical skills, money or ability to take time to devote to the project and travel.
This … one of the people in the NewMe accelerator was a single mother of three children. She did not say who was watching them while she was in Silicon Valley. I presume a family member. Another founder had a seven-month-old son who he had left with his wife. No matter which way I turned it, no matter what excuses I made and how I rationalized it, it came back to the question of, “Would I leave my daughter for nine weeks?”
and the answer was a resounding, “No.”
Yes, I know that people in the military leave their children for months on end. My father was in the air force. I know that some people have to travel for business and are gone for long periods. While I travel a lot, the longest I have ever been away from my daughter is a little over two weeks.
The rocket scientist and I talked it over. We understand perfectly that there is a potential to make a lot of money, do exciting work. We could justify it by saying that if we are successful that it will give us the opportunity to provide our daughter with things she would not otherwise have. (While that is true, she is already the world’s most spoiled 13-year-old. True, she does not own a Porsche, a condominium in Malibu or the entire Brandy Melville line, but none of that would really improve her life, regardless of what she tells you.) The truth is that our daughter has everything she needs and 95.16% of what she wants. We could say that it would teach her about sacrifice, work ethic, pursuing a goal, motivation. Both of us came back with the same answer, an unequivocal, “No.”
I read a story about a basketball player who never played on Sunday because he never skipped church. His college team made the playoffs and their final game was on a Sunday. Although his teammates knew he did not play on Sundays, they could not believe that he would not skip church, “Just this once.” The author decided not to play in the final game. Many years later, he had no regrets. He said that he had found it was much easier to hold to your convictions 100% of the time than 98% of the time.
We believe our daughter is more important than any amount of money or career accolades we might receive and that being away from us for nine weeks would not be best for her.
Why should anyone care? As many of the commenters on many of the articles on the NewMe accelerator said, to hell with anyone who doesn’t fit in the mold. If you don’t want to eat ramen when you are young, live eight to a house in Silicon Valley, it’s your loss, that’s what you need to do to play the game.
Or maybe there needs to be a wider range of accelerator options and incentives.
Because I agree with Bill Gates and with the VC investor in Black in America, our country needs new start-ups, new jobs, new technology far more than I need to make enough money to buy Sweetpea a Porsche.