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Eric Ries Speaks Out on Racism and Meritocracy in Silicon Valley

Disclaimer (as I am from Washington, DC, land of the lawyers): The opinions I state in this post are exclusively those of my own and do not reflect my partner(s) or our affiliated organizations.

Eric Ries from Lean Startups, who I just learned about a week ago from Elsa Chang and AndesBeat Co-Curator Carlos Leiva Burotto, contributed a guest post about race and meritocracy on TechCrunch. It’s a topic that has come up for me, having been a black woman working in entrepreneurship, wireless/technology since the early 1990’s. And of course it surfaces now being that I am based here in Chile (where in the 14 mos I have been here, I have only met 2 people of color from the U.S.). It is estimated that less than 1% of the people in Chile are people of color (overall).

Race and meritocracy in Silicon Valley is a hot topic these days with part of it being connected to a wee bit of controversy swirling around the CNN TV Documentary – Black in America 4- Silicon Valley: The New Promised Land.  While I did not watch any of the Black in America series (don’t own a TV), I have no plans to watch the 4th one either. Not to mention, the name seems ‘dated’ to me. I was thinking about going to Silicon Valley back in the mid 1990’s! Instead I decided to go to Raleigh, NC (Research Triangle Park) back in 1995 and as a result ended up launching my first company which taught preschoolers how to use the computer. It was a successful move for me, having developed my own experiential teaching methodology. Professors from MIT Media Lab (Human and Computer Interaction Division) learned about my program after I received some media coverage in a magazine in London. They attended some of my classes and made observations, documentation and invited me to spend some time with them at their Media Lab located at the University of Maryland (College Park) back in the spring of 1997. I also wrote my first book based on that experience, Double Click on This: Preschoolers and Computers. And somewhere in there, the Digital Sista, probably through some forum or chatboard (long before the days of Twitter, lol) and we remain in contact to date.

I believe if anyone working in the areas of technology and innovation wants to truly be on the cutting edge of innovation, they need to look at trends of what is going on now (around the world) and guess what might happen as a result and ultimately what place (city and/or country) could be the next  ‘IT’ spot. Then take a risk and go there (if the situation allows). Otherwise leverage social networks to make connections there and try to build opportunity. In November 2009 is when I discovered Chile, via Facebook, from a young Chilean who saw a greater vision for his country back then. It was before the current Government Administration took office and before Start Up Chile existed and it is why I am living here now and working in the startup and technology ecosystem.  I came after the current administration took office because historically speaking, private dollars usually follow public dollars. So if someone was wondering about making a move to another part of the country or world, I would suggest looking at which governments are aggressively putting money towards entrepreneurship, innovation and technology related programs.

And yes,  even here in Chile at the end of the earth, 5,000 miles away from the U.S.A. they know about Silicon Valley (imagine that).  And yes, Silicon Valley knows about Chile and top startup founders, investors and thought leaders recently have started coming here and speaking and taking part in the development of the startup culture and ecosystem here. If you attend their events and talks, you will find they are extremely accessible and are open to collaboration, sharing resources and opening networks. At any rate, what I interpreted from Eric Ries post was that Silicon Valley has to remember to clearly remain #1 in the world in terms of entrepreneurship and innovation, is that it has to constantly re-invent and disrupt itself.

As for my perspective on the whole racism/sexism argument in terms of business and creating opportunity and building networks in the world of business and entrepreneurship and so forth….

The U.S. is a free market economy. 

And access to the internet and technology has leveled the playing field – regardless of where you are located in the world. At the same time the last half of the century has seen most industries we buy our goods and services from, become concentrated in the hands of fewer, larger, often global companies. Employment has migrated to these companies. However, individual people, regardless of age, socioeconomic status or gender are creating their own small business to build self-sufficiency and fill the voids left by these large businesses. The situation we are currently experiencing is both a global phenomenon and opportunity for any person that enters the marketplace.

The best funding you can raise is from your next customer you close and when you do that enough times to the point you start hurting somebody’s pockets, you don’t need to worry about finding the ‘important’ people because they will find you first….trust and believe!