Black Tech Week kicks off next week on July 18 in Cincinnati.
Ahead of the annual event, we caught up with organizer Candice Matthews Brackeen. She is a general partner of Lightship Capital and the CEO of Lightship Foundation, a venture capital fund that is driving innovation and investment in the Midwest. Candice has always been at home in the Midwest, having grown up in Toledo and attended the University of Cincinnati where she earned a BA in economics.
Check out our interview with Candice, condensed and edited for clarity.
Q&A With Candice Matthews Brackeen
Q: What is Black Tech Week?
Black Tech Week is a culture curated event where startup founders and tech professionals of color connect with investors, corporations, and one another.
Q: Can you explain the relationship between Lightship Foundation and Black Tech Week?
Years ago I started a meetup group of black founders in Cincinnati and we started meeting monthly. It was a place for us to have a safe space because at that point in time, there was not a place in the ecosystem for some of us. We needed each other during our second year and actually the second year of the conference nine of us traveled down to Miami, Florida, to Black Tech Week. That was my first entry point into the Black Tech Week conference. Then in the fifth year I actually met my husband Brian, but I also met some of the most amazing VCs in the business. I started to create a relationship with Felicia Hatcher and Derek Pearson, the founders of Black Tech Week.
We had a conversation with her about acquiring the business so we continually have on-ramps for black founders. We didn't want to lose that asset as a community. I sat down with my board and asked them if it was something that they would consider acquiring. It was our second acquisition and the first one went really well, so they were happy to do it. Lightship Foundation, which is our nonprofit, actually made the acquisition. We moved the event to Cincinnati because we believed with the number of Fortune 500 businesses in the middle of downtown, it is well suited to do business.
Q: How have you seen Black Tech Week benefit founders and VC/ corporations?
Founders have raised money. Last year we added an event that was VC founder matchmaking. There were 200-ish meetings that happened throughout the week. There was an application process for VCs and founders to come in and find the right fit. We sped them through that process over one day. This year we're doing three full days of matchmaking, so funds can be raised. We also last year, on a very small scale, did corporate connections with the sponsors that we had. We shared with them in many sessions who was coming and who we believed they could match with. This year, we go beyond that with something called Biz Dev Day. Right now we have about 18 corporations signed up to meet with founders that fit within the sectors that they either invest in or are looking to partner with the tech company in.
I know people have met their co-founders at Black Tech Week. So, there is a social component, but this is definitely a place where business is done just like at any big conference. If you're going to really any big conference like South By Southwest or CES, you are going there and meeting with people who are going to help expand your business, and that's how we treat Black Tech Week.
Q: What has Lightship Foundation gained from being involved and what has Black Tech Week gained, how has that changed since your involvement?
It was a smaller conference before in Miami, and the corporate partners that we've brought to the table have helped it to expand. I also think we brought in a new energy and some new ideas. I put it in terms of any startup. We found product market fit when we made this acquisition, and then we were able to really have a brand to hang our hat on that people understood. When you hear Black Tech Week, you know exactly what that is.
And so once we connected Black Tech Week with Lightship, everybody understood this is what Lightship does. We've been able to raise more for Lightship Foundation which we've been able to expand. Last year we were in three cities around the country on the foundation side, and this year we're in 11 cities. We've seen significant growth and we will see some additional growth to the conference, running it not only here in Cincinnati, but in other locations around the country as a Black Tech Weekend.
Black Tech Week 2022, Keynote Speaker Serena Williams. Image source: Black Tech Week
Q: Can you speak on AI’s impact in the tech community? We also heard there’s an AI rap battle taking place at Black Tech Week this year, can you speak on that?
Hajj Flemings, who runs Rebrand Cities in Detroit, has created a wonderful partnership with Microsoft. It's great to connect what AI does with what people do and what the culture does. There's a part of black culture that is super involved with hip hop, r&b and rap. He's bringing those two things together and doing a rap battle between people and the robot, which is going to be super, super cool. Sometimes people have to see how things work so they feel more comfortable with it. I think that the narrative amongst all people around the world is that AI is coming for our jobs and our lives, but there are lots of ways where it's going to improve our lives, not only professionally, but personally.
Candice will be speaking at Black Tech Week.
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