How A Unique SXSW Experience Inspired Me To Take My Tech Career To New Heights

How A Unique SXSW Experience Inspired Me To Take My Tech Career To New Heights

I, like most of my peers, have been noticing the lack of diversity in the workplace, but especially in tech, for years. According to recent data, blacks and Latinos make up less than 5 percent of the tech workforce, and it’s white men who mainly comprise the sector. In light of this data, programs like Opportunity Hub’s (OHUB) HBCU@SXSW aim to disrupt these statistics by offering students like me early exposure and recruitment opportunities in tech, entrepreneurship, and investment. Here’s a look at my first experience at SXSW during the interactive week.

Why we need to advance opportunities for black collegians in tech and business

Why we need to advance opportunities for black collegians in tech and business

Hosted by the Metropolitan Policy Program (Metro), opening remarks from Andre Perry, David M. Rubenstein Fellow at Brookings, and Rodney Sampson, nonresident senior fellow at Brookings and Chairman and CEO of The Opportunity Hub, set the tone for two panels of lively conversation around opportunities for black students in the tech space, as well as how HBCUs can be a catalyst for black students’ entrepreneurial success. Mark Muro, Senior Fellow and Policy Director for Metro, also presented new research related to the opportunities and challenges present for black Americans in the digital economy, and Nicol Turner-Lee, Fellow for Governance Studies, discussed salient points on how the skills gap can be closed in her concluding remarks.

A Recap of HBCU@SXSW 2017

A Recap of HBCU@SXSW 2017

In preparation of HBCU@SXSW 2018, we want to do a quick recap of our 2017 installation, which, with 100 students sponsored, had a great turnout. It has definitely laid the foundation for our work in making tech more accessible for minorities.

Let’s first start by sharing the impetus for this program. In case you haven’t heard, the tech world is not an oasis for diversity. Yes, a mecca for innovative ideas it is, yet when it comes to diversity, tech has some work to do.

A few stats:

Do the math, and it’s clear that the numbers just don’t add up. Or in basic HTML, just don’t add up .

How do we solve the problem? By exposing Generation Next and Generation Now to the tech opportunities that exist and support their training. In this way—by taking a real-world approach—we will increase these numbers. The program is led by tech entrepreneur Rodney Sampson, who founded Opportunity Hub and is the Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Atlanta startup hub TechSquare Labs.

Starting in 2016, Opportunity Ecosystem and Huddle Ventures partnered with the media, music and interactive festival SXSW in Austin, Texas to expose African American students to the possibilities that exist in the world of technology.

Our inaugural year included 50 students, and last year, out of 456 applications, we selected 100 students for the HBCU@SXSW program for a weekend of networking, mentorship, and exposure within one of the biggest tech-centric events in the nation.

The program accepted underrepresented students from major universities across the nation, with the majority of attendees from historically-black colleges (HBCUs).  We accepted students from HBCUs large and small, well-known and not so well-known. From the Atlanta-University Center and Howard to Medgar Evers College and Allen University, we worked with students across the country who want to pursue careers in tech, whether pursuing a tech or non-tech major, within technical and non-technical roles.

And companies took notice. We have over 30 companies that support the program, with big names that include Snapchat, Google, Microsoft, Booz Allen Hamilton, Delta Airlines, Mailchimp, PwC, and more.

Have you ever met an owner of a billion-dollar company?

Our students were afforded the opportunity during a presentation by Janice Bryant Howroyd, the Founder and CEO of Act-1, a global leader in temp staffing, consulting and HR services. Participants of HBCU@SXSW were able to meet leading entrepreneurs and envision themselves one day in their shoes. Janice Bryant Howroyd, by the way, has a net worth of $420 million.

The trending hashtag? #DiversitySXSW.

At a cost of $3,000 per student, participants pay nothing with program fees and housing covered through sponsors.

We took 50 students to Austin our first year (2016), 100 our second (2017). This year we are aiming for 500 students for HBCU@SXSW 2018, led by Corey Smith, Head of Early Exposure at Opportunity Ecosystem. The application will be rigorous, but the opportunity well worth it.

Are you a student interested in a career in tech, in either a technical or non-technical role? Apply for HBCU@SXSW 2018 today.

Are you interested in partnering and sponsoring students for this amazing opportunity? Visit our sponsor page.

If you have any specific questions, please send them to



Student Testimonials

Student Testimonials

It’s not every day that a student gets the opportunity to attend SXSW without spending a

dime. When you’re worried about tuition, food, housing, and the unknown expenses that

college undoubtedly incurs, who has $1,000+ to spend on a ticket?


It’s for this reason that HBCU@SXSW works with companies and organizations to

sponsor the next generation of leaders, so they can dream without strings attached.

Giving their time and being open to new possibilities in tech is all that is asked.

SXSW is the premier festival for music, media, and the interactive, and last year for

HBCU@SXSW 2017, Opportunity Ecosystem sponsored 100 students to attend the

event, filled with speakers, tech leaders, investors, and influencers. For many, it was a

whole new world.


Here’s what some of our attendees of the 2017 program had to say about their experience.


Imani Ward

School: Spelman College

Major: Comparative Women’s Studies with a Focus on Hip Hop Feminism

On what she gained from the program:

“I made a lot of good connections and gained a lot of experience. Now I can articulate what I want to do better. I was kind of scared going in because I wasn’t like everyone else. I wasn’t a STEM major. I’m one of the artsiest people around. They definitely made me feel really comfortable, and it showed me that there are more opportunities out there. I don’t have to go and stay within my field—there are other things that I can do.”

Faisal Gedi

School: Georgia Institute of Technology

Major: Computer Science

On learning new skills:

The best thing that I learned was more soft skills, learning how to network better. I really enjoyed the group of students that were there. They also had a lot of ambition and were also minorities. I actually don’t attend an HBCU, but I applied regardless. There were actually a decent amount of students from predominantly white institutions. There aren’t a lot of black or Latino students at my school– it was good to be surrounded by others who looked like me who are also striving toward important goals. The entire environment was so inspiring that I became close to people working in the cohort, and now we’re working on a startup together.”

Khrys Hatch

School: Fisk University

Major: Business Administration

On students who might have reservations about applying:

“My view is go for it. If it looks like something that you might not be into, at least apply to it. Being involved in HBCU@SXSW opened my mind to different experiences. It’s a great opportunity to meet other students, and leaders in the field—Rodney Sampson himself, Steve Case, people like that. You can’t beat having an experience like that. Even if you’re not even sure about technology, it’s a great place to understand what the field is about, and get a snapshot of what it’s like.”

Kelsey Gallant, Spelman College

“HBCU@SXSW has set the stage for the rest of my career. I want to thank this program and all of its affiliates for giving me the direction I so needed. I knew my whole life that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I just didn’t know how! Through the different panels HBCU@SXSW setup along with all the resources at the SXSW conference, I now have a more clear picture on how to get the job done. I also now have a network of amazing Black and Latino students who also are aspiring to become the people who change the face of technology! Thank you so much for everything you have done. I can assure you that I will make good use of every ounce of knowledge I have acquired.”

Jordyn Smith, North Carolina A&T University

“HBCUSXSW was an amazing, loaded experience. I am the first and only representative from my school but this is an opportunity that I would love to share with many others from my university. I am grateful for the connections and more importantly the experience.”

Ferrisa Connell, Florida A&M University

“I am so grateful for my experience at HBCU@SXSW! I plan to pursue a career in the tech industry and I feel like this conference exposed me to the people, resources, and knowledge I need to be successful!”

Mariah Cowling, Spelman College

“I was truly honored to be one of 100 HBCU students, who are our brilliant future leaders in tech, to be selected for this life-changing occasion. As a student who is excited by the intersections of STEAM, health, and coding, I was able to gain many invaluable experiences at SXSW. Between learning more about the Internet of Things, AI, and onsite genetic sequencing, I had the opportunity to network with many leading companies in technology including Google, Snapchat, Microsoft, Twitter, and countless others. From this experience and the exposure to numerous entrepreneurs, I am more invigorated than ever to continue and amplify my pursuits towards innovation. Even more, HBCU@SXSW has provided a community and network for brilliant, black students in technology which is one of the most sacred things one could create as we enter a new and exciting phase in technology. I cannot thank the teams at Opportunity Hub, Huddle Ventures, and all of the HBCU@SXSW sponsors enough for this impactful experience!”

Partnership Between Opportunity Ecosystem and Peach State LSAMP Sponsored  Seven Students for HBCU@SXSW 2017, Aims to Sponsor More for 2018

Partnership Between Opportunity Ecosystem and Peach State LSAMP Sponsored Seven Students for HBCU@SXSW 2017, Aims to Sponsor More for 2018

Last year, the Peach State Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP)

partnered with Opportunity Ecosystem to sponsor seven students for the second

installment of HBCU@SXSW 2017. Through HBCU@SXSW, more than 100 students

attended the interactive, media, and music festival to learn more about opportunities in

technology and network with some of the biggest names in tech and business today.

“It was a wonderful opportunity for [the students] to be exposed to tech companies,

businesses, and entrepreneurship,” says Dr. Angela Birkes-Grier, Director of the Peach

State LSAMP. Many were amazingly overwhelmed by the wonderful opportunities that

they were offered by being at the SXSW conference. They were very excited, and they

said that they hope that they can do this conference again next year. It was an amazing

experience and opportunity for them to learn more about technology and integrate it into

the media arena.”.

The partnership between Opportunity Ecosystem and Peach State LSAMP included

working with STEM-focused students (science, technology, engineering and math) in six

institutions within the coalition: University of Georgia, Ft. Valley State University,

Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University-Perimeter College, Kennesaw

State University-Kennesaw Campus, Kennesaw State University—Marietta Campus

(formally Southern Polytechnic State University) and Savannah State University.

With 45 programs nationwide, the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation aims

to diversity the STEM workforce by increasing the number of underrepresented students

who attend and graduate from high caliber training programs. Groups considered

historically underrepresented include African American, Hispanic American, American

Indians, Native Hawaiian, Native Pacific Islander, and Alaska Native.

LSAMP provides funding to schools to develop strategies for retaining high-performing

students to keep them on the paths to graduate school and doctoral programs so that

they ultimately pursue careers in STEM.

Strategies that colleges and universities develop with funds are geared toward

recruitment and retention. Schools assist students in numerous ways. They encourage

students and provide ample research opportunities, assist with financial support, and

provide mentoring, summer bridge programs, and academic enrichment.

The Opportunity Ecosystem and Peach State LSAMP partnership give students a new

reference point for what can be achieved in their lives.

Startups, wealth generation, investing, technology, and endless skies are some of the

life-changing ideas and perspectives that the seven Peach State LSAMP students were

exposed to at HBCU@SXSW 2017.

And HBCU@SXSW 2018 is even more ambitious in working with more LSAMP

students to nurture even more young minds and change lives.

HBCU@SXSW 2018 will be accepting applications in June. Apply!