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The Upload: Silicon Harlem

JET, which recently went all digital after 60-plus years as an iconic print magazine, is highlighting Black entrepreneurs, executives and innovators in the technology space.  Meet our contributing writer, Emile Cambry Jr., and be sure to send us the names of those you believe deserve similar shine.  Send more Upload ideas to him via digitalpitches@ebony.com and put “Upload” in the subject line.  

This week, he talks to founders Bruce Lincoln and Clayton Banks of Silicon Harlem to get their background and thoughts on the future of African Americans in tech.

JET: Let’s jump right into it because I know you two have a lot to share.  Tell us about Silicon Harlem? How did you get started?

Silicon Harlem, is a social enterprise dedicated to transforming Harlem into a hub for technology and innovation. What started as a meetup on Feb. 26, 2013 rapidly grew from a meetup to a movement. We have four pillars upon which our mission rests:

1. Gigabit Harlem. Ensuring that Harlem as a model for other urban centers are platforms with high speed broadband Internet similar to what Google Fiber did in Kansa City.

2. Creating an Uptown Innovation Economy. Supporting the growth of the technology startup and social venture sector as a part of advancing economic and social development in Upper Manhattan. What we know is that for every tech job, five other ancillary jobs are created in the service sector.

3. Increasing STEM Literacy. Beginning as early as middle school to ensure that the schoolchildren of Harlem are proficient in science, technology, engineering and mathematics as well as computer programming.

4. Exposure to STEM entrepreneurship. Building upon the STEM proficiency of our young people, teaching them how to build smartphone applications and develop tech startups.

 JET: What are some of the early highlights from Silicon Harlem?

On October 16, we had our first major Silicon Harlem Technology Conference. The theme was “Envisioning the Technological Future”. We had 50 first ranked speakers and over 150 participants who spent a day sharing information from “How Broadband Impacts the Community” to “Where is the Money” to “Exciting Companies on the Rise”.

JET: Do you have any other future events/projects that we should know about?

We piloted this past summer the Apps Youth Leadership Academy (AYLA). AYLA is a STEM incubator where 20 students were trained in how to build smart phone apps and develop tech startups to commercialize their applications. The program was a joint collaboration between Silicon Harlem, the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, the Harlem Community Development Corporation and the City College of New York where it was housed. We are also beginning the process of developing a state-of-the art Silicon Harlem Innovation Center where we will support the rapid development of technology companies and social ventures who are committed to the creation of technological applications targeted to the development of the Upton Innovation economy.

JET: What’s needed so we can have greater numbers of Blacks in tech?

Two things need to happen. One, the industry needs to revamp its historical hiring practices and methods. The tech companies cite the reason for the low diversity numbers as being the dearth of computer science grads of color. However, USA Today presented evidence that shows that the top schools graduate computer science students of color at twice the rate at which the major tech companies employ them. The culture of solely hiring white males has to be changed.

Two, communities of color have to begin to support the development of STEM educated students as early as elementary school. The curriculum should include coding, entrepreneurial development and how to pitch to investors. Our ultimate goal should be the advancement of our local communities through innovation.

Final Note: If you have an organization or know of an individual in tech that you feel should be covered in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me via digitalpitches@ebony.com.  Make sure your subject line mentions Upload.

About Emile Cambry Jr.

Emile Cambry Jr. is the founder and CEO of BLUE1647, a technology and entrepreneurship incubator focused on professional development, workforce development, and business acceleration. Emile was recognized as Crains Chicago Tech 50 in 2014 and was appointed to the first-ever Technology Diversity Council for the City of Chicago and is the STEM Chairman to the 2nd District of Illinois.