Goldman Sachs alum, tech founder, and investor Boris Moyston was inspired by female pioneers. The Black Women Talk Tech conference had already been running for a couple of years when Moyston volunteered to help. He was pleasantly surprised by the turnout and decided to replicate the concept for men.
Together with his fellow tech entrepreneurs Abiodun Johnson and Evan Leaphart, he co-founded Black Men Talk Tech (BMTT) in Miami. “Many Black entrepreneurs launch their businesses because they don’t feel like they fit in the corporate world,” Moyston said. “At our conferences, they can finally find the authentic community they were missing.”
Six feet apart
Moyston’s conference is now in its second year and is supported by many organizations, including the Knight Foundation. BMTT’s partner event, Black Women Talk Tech, launched in London, so Moyston, too, is eyeing an expansion to the U.K. “The bias exists everywhere, although the Europeans don’t really like talking about it,” he said. Paris, France and Accra, the capital of Ghana, will be his next destinations.
The coronavirus has forced most event organizers to move online, so Moyston’s team has now been tasked with creating an engaging virtual event. “We are thinking of a hybrid experience,” Moyston shared. The virtual app Run The World will be available for participants remotely, while those attending in-person will have to follow social distancing guidelines and use personal protective equipment.
The main issue for virtual events is keeping the audience’s attention and replicating unintentional meetings that create opportunities. BMTT will offer speed networking online, Moyston said. The team is also considering a special prize for those attendees who stay engaged: they will get a chance to pitch their business ideas.
“I don’t like how you dress”
Moyston believes that Black entrepreneurs should not be treated differently than others: “Good ideas come from everywhere. It’s just harder for people of color to raise investment, because VCs tend to work and invest in people who look like them and have similar backgrounds – Black and Latinx entrepreneurs are generally not on their radar.”
Sometimes investors, too, lose an opportunity because of small-mindedness. When Edrizio De La Cruz first launched his fintech startup, Regalii, now known as Arcus, to allow immigrants to send money online, a prospective investor didn’t like his Dominican accent and colorful clothes.
The investor decided that De La Cruz, who moved to the U.S. at the age of 11 and grew up in the Bronx, was not a fit to be a CEO. “What the investor didn’t understand is that how De La Cruz looks and sounds happens to be very important to the people he serves,” Moyston stated. Arcus raised $7.9 million and in 2016 focused on bill pay data.
Lack of inclusion is costly
Minority businesses are less likely to get funded, so some market opportunities are overlooked. When Rihanna launched her cosmetics brand Fenty Beauty, she succeeded by offering Black women something they couldn’t find on the shelves before. “Many other Black entrepreneurs have been attempting to do the same for decades, but the opportunity was dismissed as ‘too niche’ by traditional investors,” Moyston said.
Some costly mistakes have been made, too. “In the past, tech giants spent millions of dollars on facial recognition software that couldn’t identify people of color, because there were no minorities on the development team,” Moyston stated.
According to Moyston, when entrepreneurs of color finally get investments, they scale quickly. “Many are growing despite the lack of funding. They just need some help. That is why we are putting a new investing marketplace to remove racial bias from the funding process and provide minority entrepreneurs with a better chance of raising funds.” His other business, Fundr, allows users to invest in minority-owned businesses using a smart algorithm that scores startup investment applications.