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Minority Innovation Weekend Boosts Tech Entrepreneurs

Technology-related businesses are the main engine of the U.S. and global economies, but people of color and women are only a small fraction of the nation’s technology entrepreneurs. To address this problem, and to advance the broader mission of the National Society of Black Engineers, the Baltimore Metropolitan Area Chapter of NSBE Professionals (NSBE–BMAC) held its second Minority Innovation Weekend (MIW), Nov. 3–4, 2018, on the campus of the University of Baltimore.

Minority Innovation Weekend is a summit dedicated to aiding minority innovators in launching tech-focused startups.

“Our event gives prospective tech entrepreneurs an opportunity to spend quality time learning the steps required to take an idea from concept to business startup,” said MIW organizer Derek Westray of NSBE–BMAC. “MIW brought tech enthusiasts together for a weekend of presentations, workshops and panel discussions led by seasoned tech entrepreneurs and experts in their fields. We were very pleased by the year over year growth of the event in attendance and programming,” he added.

The first MIW, held in downtown Baltimore in November 2017, was a one-day event with one conference track on the topic of Startup Fundamentals. MIW 2018 added a second track, Emerging Technologies, which covered topics such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Blockchain, Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality, and Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning. The conference included 16 sessions, eight panel discussions and an Innovation Showcase, which gave attendees the opportunity to interact with representatives of tech startups founded or cofounded by members of minority groups underrepresented in STEM.

Aaron J. Ferguson, Ph.D., a technical director in the National Security Agency’s Operations Directorate, led a session on Internet of Things and “smart cities.” He advised aspiring entrepreneurs delving into these technologies to consider privacy and security concerns as well as convenience as they develop products and services for their consumers.

“I was really impressed with the level of engagement of the audience with the topic” and with the content of the conference as a whole, said Dr. Ferguson. “Pretty much anything that is NSBE-affiliated I try to participate in,” he added, crediting his membership in NSBE as an undergraduate at Howard University with keeping him on the path to his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. “…NSBE is very, very important to me.”

Consultant Nuria Diallo, a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, attended the MIW for the second year.

“I was very pleased with the programming, speakers and network at MIW 2017, which made me look forward to the expanded schedule in 2018,” she said. “As an entrepreneur and M.B.A. candidate at the University of Baltimore, I gladly welcomed having such a significant event on my campus.”

“…Day 2, which covered more advanced topics in the startup process, proved invaluable for me, because it answered specific questions I had pending,” Diallo added. “The entrepreneurs and panelists shared firsthand experience, lessons learned and nuggets of wisdom not readily found in books and articles written for a general audience. I also took the opportunity to switch tracks and learn about blockchain and how it will impact cybersecurity, healthcare, education, business and more. Overall, I left equipped with new resources, a deeper network, added insight and a better sense of what I need to do next to move my business idea forward.”

NSBE–BMAC President William Redmond said the chapter’s goals, and the MIW, are aligned with NSBE’s mission statement.

“We are looking to engage youth in STEM and ensure that our members and the larger community have access to programming that will help them excel in their career or in their entrepreneurship journey. This conference did both,” Redmond said. “There were youth in attendance, and they were able to get an early glimpse at tech entrepreneurship and emerging technologies.”

NSBE Professionals’ Washington, D.C. Metro Area Chapter and the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers partnered with NSBE–BMAC in presenting the 2018 MIW. 

NSBE–BMAC offers professional development programming, networking mixers and opportunities to serve as volunteers and mentors, Westray reports. The chapter will celebrate its 30th anniversary at its Annual Awards Banquet in spring 2019, where students and outstanding leaders in the community will be honored.