Comcast brings black innovators to Philly for tech talk

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Blogger and tech entrepreneur Luvvie Ajayi, NewME Accelerator Founder and CEO Angela Benton and Maker's Row Co-Founder Matthew Burnett talk with MSNBC's Touré. (Courtesy photo)

Comcast’s involvement in the African-American community doesn’t end with the company's involvement in West Philadelphia entrepreneur Candace V. Mitchell’s natural hair profile and product business, Myavana.

On Wednesday Feb. 25, Comcast wrapped its celebration of Black History Month, which included special Xfinity programming like “Malcolm X” and “The Great Debaters.” Comcast also expanded its “His Dream Our Stories” series which launched in 2013 honoring the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington.

Xfinity hosted a two-part live-stream online talk show at the Comcast Center (1701 JFK Blvd.) moderated by MSNBC’s Touré and featuring popular blogger and business owner Luvvie Ajayi; Maker’s Row founder Matthew Burnett; Eunique Jones Gibson, founder of “Because of Them We Can"; and “Power” Showrunner Courtney Kemp-Agboh, among others. In two separate panels, the innovators discussed what it means to be black and brown in the tech and entertainment industries as well as what’s next for the two industries.

“No matter what [black people] do,” said Ajayi, “we drive trends,” and black people are utilizing tech, largely through social media, to make their voices heard. Kemp-Agboh echoed this idea while discussing the smash hit new show “Empire.”

"Empire" is the first show with a primarily black cast to breach the Top 10 most-watched shows based on Nielsen ratings since 1991, Touré said, which exemplifies the opportunities for diversity in content creation.

“To some extent ‘Empire’ is a pair of Jordans,” Kemp-Agboh said. Like with Air Jordan sneakers, the panel discussed, African Americans launched the frenzy over “Empire” and the rest of the country followed.

Comcast has not overlooked the moneymaking potential in minority communities, as evident in its Catalyst Fund, which seeks to invest in and foster opportunities for startups with diverse founding teams, and partnership with Philadelphia’s Dreamit Ventures Access program.

Dreamit Ventures Access is a three-month accelerator program that aims to take startups to higher levels in a condensed amount of time, said Dreamit Access Managing Director William Crowder. Through Dreamit, Comcast works to find minority-owned startups for investments and partnerships. One company that has directly benefited from this program is Myavana. Mitchell moved her company idea from Atlanta to Philadelphia after participating in Dreamit Access and hired some local engineers to help take her business to the next level. Cloudamize, a cloud-infrastructure and planning-optimization company, started and is still based in Philly after participating in Dreamit Access.

“If you look at the demographic makeup of the country and what we will see for the next 25 years,” said Crowder, “the country’s only becoming more and more diverse.” That means the consumer base will become more diverse and their changing wants and needs are going to be all the more important.

“To the extent that we have companies that naturally understand the consumer set, I think [more diverse companies] are going to have a competitive advantage.”

With the innovative program, Comcast is directly involved in the nurturing of minority-owned startup companies whose longevity may be directly linked to the diversity of their original team.

With the next Dreamit Access accelerator program taking place in New York, applications are open until March 20 and available on the website for startups with minority teams.

“I think the startups that are diverse from the very beginning ultimately are going to be the ones that win out,” Crowder said.

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