Twin Cities beats out Silicon Valley to woo black tech conference

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and others at Techquity meeting in June, 2018.
Sharon Kennedy Vickers, CIO of the City of St. Paul and Blacks in Technology Twin Cities co-founder, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, James Jones, Founder Spark.DJ and Clarence Bethea, CEO and Founder of Upsie, discuss technology at a recent Techquity event in June 2018.
Anthony Harlin for Blacks in Technology

Silicon Valley move over.

The Twin Cities will host the first national conference aimed at increasing the number of black men and women in technology jobs and to allow those black entrepreneurs and innovators to network.

Organizers of the Black in Technology Conference (BITCON) asked the question on its blog: Why Minneapolis?

One reason is the region's rich history as a tech hub that dates back to the 1950s. Another is because of the region's diversity-minded tech economy, an organizer said.

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"There is a desire here within the Twin Cities to be inclusive of communities of color within the tech space to ensure we build an inclusive tech economy," said Sharon Kennedy Vickers, co-founder of Twin Cities Chapter of Blacks in Technology.

"I also wanted to dispel the myth that Silicon Valley is the only place for thriving tech companies. I believe the Twin Cities has a vibrant tech startup community as well as a long history of technology companies," she added.

Minnesota-based Target and Best Buy are among the major companies backing the event. And Make It. MSP — an initiative to attract talent — with a special emphasis on professionals of color; is also a sponsor.

The region's robust tech economy was also a draw, said Kennedy Vickers who is also the city of St. Paul's chief information officer.

There were almost 60,000 tech job openings in the metro, according to a 2017 Computing Technology Industry Association report. And Kennedy Vickers said companies strive to recruit and retain professionals of color.

"On a national level people are not aware of the jobs and opportunities that are available here in the Twin Cities so this is an opportunity for companies to connect with diverse talent," she said.

Blacks in Technology has more than a dozen chapters, with 725 members in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

"The purpose of the organization is to increase representation, support, education, and opportunities of black women and men in the tech industry," said Greg Greenlee, who established the national trade group in 2012.

Kennedy Vickers co-founded the local chapter in 2015. She said there's a vibrant and growing community of black entrepreneurs running their own startups and professionals working at various corporations.

"This conference allows for an opportunity to increase the visibility of individuals of color," she said. "Locally and nationally it allows people to see what is happening within the black tech space."

Greenlee said other cities should "take note" on the Twin Cities' efforts to bring diversity to its tech economy. He said the companies sponsoring the conference believe in the mission of his organization.

"They're not trying to hog the spotlight; they're not trying to be in front," said Greenlee, who is also a development and operations engineer based in Ohio. "They're saying, 'Hey, you all have the ear of the community. You all know what it takes and we just want to support you.' And I think that's a big deal for us as an organization."

More than 1,000 people are expected to attend.

The conference, held in St. Paul and Minneapolis, will include a pitch contest, a job fair and workshops on topics, like software engineering and entrepreneurship.

Learn more

Tickets to the conference start at $99.

See the schedule of speakers.

Join the conference's Slack channel.