SXSW Leads Surge To Increase African-Americans In Tech

100 students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) participating in the HBCU@SXSW initiative.

hbcuHBCU@SXSW initiative, a partnership between South By Southwest Convention and Festivals and organizations such as Opportunity Hub, Huddle Ventures and Stemmed. These have teamed up to help students of color attend the popular music, interactive and film festival in Austin.

HBCU@SXSW organizer Rodney Sampson, an Atlanta-based tech entrepreneur and his wife wanted to take a  practical approach: fund the next generation of engineers to attend one of the largest tech industry events in the nation, a nexus of thought leaders, investors and future colleagues. The first year, 50 students attended.

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This year, more than 440 went through the rigorous application process just to be considered for the program.  Sampson prides himself on the fact that these students aren’t only selected from the biggest and most well known HBCUs, such as Morehouse or Howard, but also schools like Medgar Evers College, Hampton University, Tuskegee University, Allen University, Kennesaw State University and Huston-Tillotson University.

“We picked the students who wanted to solve the biggest problems using technology and had some pretty good ideas about it,” Sampson said. “We’ve really kind of have emancipated SXSW to a degree.”

Tech companies are taking notice of HBCU@SXSW and have begun to support the initiative through sponsorship. First was Booz Allen Hamilton, then Google, Microsoft, Mailchimp, Snapchat, and Apple. More than 30 companies are currently supporting the initiative. At an estimated cost of $3,000 per student, HBCUxSXSW aims to continue to expand its program to reach its goal of having 500 students attend the annual event.

“Diversity grows out of the soil of inclusion,” said Cheryl Wade, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Booz Allen Hamilton, “It starts with making the hires and finding the talent, but there is work to be done on the side of the companies and organizations to be sure they’re building a culture where it creates an environment that people can stick, stay, and thrive.”

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