Features November 2018

Incubating Black Tech Talent in East Gainesville

Written By: Wanda Eugene

Gainesville’s entrepreneurial spirit has ignited the launch of many tech startups. One gauge of this success is the University of Florida’s ranking as third in the Milken Institute’s 2017 ranking among all research universities in the country for transferring its ideas out of the laboratory and into the real world.

The steady growth of startups birthed in Greater Gainesville dates back to the mid-1990s. Downtown Gainesville has long served as the nucleus of growth for tech startups in locations such as the Sun Center and Innovation Square – including UF Innovate | The Hub.

In East Gainesville, the Gainesville Technology Entrepreneurship Center, which Santa Fe College operates, has fostered tech startups.

Little of this growth, however, is visible among underserved ethnic minority communities such as in East Gainesville. These disparities are not due to a lack of ideas or problem-solving potential among residents. Underserved communities often have abundant creative solutions to everyday needs.

However, many aspiring minority tech entrepreneurs struggle to navigate the road to entrepreneurship because of a lack of resources, community support, mentorship and so on.

The Entrepreneurial Diversity in Information Technology (EDIT) program is dedicated to changing the narrative in Gainesville.

Computing and Society Engagement (CASE), a part of the University of Florida’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering Department, Human Experience Research Lab, developed EDIT, a free pre-incubator program that helps underserved minorities in East Gainesville launch tech-based businesses. The program includes a multi-week workshop based on a curriculum derived from the principles of design thinking and lean startup.

As participants learn the ropes of entrepreneurship, we leverage our unique group of UF students as a development team for each startup to create high-fidelity prototypes of the technologies our participants have envisioned and designed.

The UF students, typically human experience researchers from computer science and engineering, gain practical experience in rapid prototyping that will make them marketable and stand out upon graduation.

We’ve estimated that, on average, EDIT business founders receive up to $24,000 of technical support from our development teams. Finally, volunteer mentors on all levels are brought in, either in-person or virtually, to guide the business founders through the process of building their business.

The EDIT program is held at UF’s East Campus in order to be accessible for our participants. EDIT business founders come from all walks of life, ranging in age from their early 20s to their 70s, and they have all types of experience.

They are becoming trailblazers and ambassadors to minorities in tech-based businesses. They speak of the “camaraderie and the knowledge (the process of thinking)” they are gaining exposure to. Here is what some of the EDIT business founders from the fall 2017 and spring 2018 cohort had to say:

“Impressed, because previously I was unable to put my ideas together about opening a business. This training program is assisting me to think and connect the thoughts about being an entrepreneur. I am able to keep up with technology and able to conduct research because of the class.” – Fall 2017 participant

“EDIT seeks to provide and teach minorities about resources to open a business and helps them connect to a network.” – Spring 2018 participant

EDIT originally was envisioned to cultivate new startups much like traditional incubator programs but targeted at cultivating startups and founders from East Gainesville. However, as we focused on community engagement to explore the needs of the community, we identified knowledge gaps that could possibly serve as barriers to success.

Changing the narrative of diversity in the tech-startup world requires meeting people where they are and addressing the gaps on their path. Understanding that the needs of the entrepreneurs we targeted might require additional fundamental support, we shifted to be more of a pre-incubator program to better cultivate our business founders in addition to helping them with their startups.

Providing a bridge to support, empower and equip them to succeed, EDIT is incubating black tech-based businesses in East Gainesville and beyond.

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