Black Women + Tech Disrupting the Status Quo: A Conversation About Inclusion, Accessibility, and Community



In celebration of Black History Month, the Zahn Center along with the Black Studies Program at CCNY hosted a Fireside Chat with two amazing founders: Dr. Quincy Brown of blackcomputeHER and Regina Gwynn of Black Women Talk Tech. They discussed representation in tech entrepreneurship, as well as why we should invest in Black communities and see entrepreneurship as a path to wealth. We asked some of our own Black founders who attended the panel to share their thoughts as well.

Both Dr. Quincy Brown and Regina Gwynn create spaces for Black women in their work. Black Women Talk Tech is a collective of Black women tech founders who understand both the challenges they face and the advantages they bring to the tech industry. Their goal is to support and encourage Black women to build the next billion dollar businesses. Regina Gwynn believes that “success is when preparation meets opportunity.” However, she noticed that while “Black women have the most advanced degrees, highest levels of education, and are starting businesses faster than any other group in the country, they still receive less than a percent of venture capital.” Along with her co-founders, Gwynn created Black Women Talk Tech to ensure Black women have a seat at the table. “Black and Brown people influence culture and consume high levels of technology….we wanted to be able to own the technology we consume.” 

Dr. Quincy Brown and her graduate school classmates noticed that they themselves were excluded from the table. They went to conference after conference and noticed that other’s research (often lacking compared to theirs) was being published, and they were not being offered the same opportunities. They started having “conferences after the conference,” where they were finally allowed to have the conversations they needed. Brown and her co-founders created blackcomputeHER as a safe place for Black women to discuss what they need for their community. The organization is dedicated to supporting tech education and workforce development for Black women and girls. She adds, “Ee wear a mask that’s heavy, and there’s no place where you can just let it go and talk about the things that hurt you.” Her events give Black women the chance to take off the mask.

Both Brown and Gwynn actively invest in Black communities through their work. Gwynn notes, “White families on average hold ten times more wealth than the average Black family, but if one Black family starts a business, that multiple lowers to only three times.” That’s why she believes that everyone, especially those in the Black community, should start looking at entrepreneurship as a path to wealth. For Gwynn, entrepreneurship was a part of her upbringing. Her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all entrepreneurs, so she grew up with entrepreneurship on the table. 

In contrast, Brown admits that she didn’t learn this stuff, and entrepreneurship didn’t always come naturally to her. Now she’s learning along the way, and noticed that finding people who have both a technical background and also know the community is so important. That’s why representation is important to her. Gwynn adds that creating spaces is the first step to building representation. She shared, “It’s interesting to see how easy it is to wash over us--it’s very easy to do, but it’s felt--when you’re in certain spaces but you don’t feel comfortable enough, you don’t ask the questions that you need to ask.”

Many of our own Zahn Center Black founders agree with the panelists. Anna-kay Ellis, founder of I Am My Health and a competitor for the 2021 Standard Chartered prize noted that, “Representation in tech entrepreneurship is important in order to create culturally appropriate technologies that account for diversity and inclusiveness.” 

Her sentiments are echoed by Johnoy Gordon, co-founder of Team UV and a current competitor for the 2021 Kaylie prize. He states that representation is important to him because “it shows that creators and innovators are just as diverse as the products we create.” 

Daniel Gaston, co-founder of STEM Hive, the 2019 first place Standard Chartered prize winner agrees. He says that to him, representation is a jigsaw puzzle where everyone only has one piece: “alone, one person would not be enough to solve it, but by collaborating with others who have different pieces, they are able to think of new strategies and eventually solve the problem. That's why I feel as we get more representation, we are gaining access to new pieces and are able to create new solutions that we haven't thought of before.”

Mahutin Paul, co-founder of FitKO, first place winner of the 2019 Kaylie prize adds, “Representation to me means putting a spotlight on the people who have been there all along….It’s making the industry and workplace reflect reality.”

Through their respective organizations, Brown and Gwynn hope that they’ll increase the amount of Black women tech founders. They’re also helping to make Black women feel like the powerful founders they are, even if sometimes Brown and Gwynn themselves experience imposter syndrome! Brown admits that although she sometimes doesn’t see herself as a “powerful woman in entrepreneurship,” she finds peace in knowing that she “creates time and space for others to be themselves.” That is her favorite part of being an entrepreneur.

Some of our own founders have similar thoughts, like Marvel Delva of Periodic Skin, a startup competing for the 2021 Standard Chartered prize. “My favorite aspect of being a Black individual in tech and entrepreneurship is the freedom to solve problems that can elevate my community.” He’s taking the knowledge he gained from this panel and is planning to reach out more to his own community. “I think it is important to develop a better relationship with people and understand their viewpoints,” he shared, “then, use that information to improve my business.”

Mhegan Alexander-Lee, co-founder of Nailerz and another competitor in the 2021 Standard Chartered track, took so much from hearing Dr. Quincy Brown and Regina Gwynn speak. “My favorite aspect of being a first generation Caribbean African American individual in entrepreneurship is that I get to create the life that I want while gaining financial freedom for myself and others. I also get the opportunity to see my unique ideas and my visions turn into reality that can one day make a change in the world, just like Dr. Quincy Brown and Regina Gwynn.”

As entrepreneurs, both Brown and Gwynn agree that they would not have made any changes to the world without taking on the risk of failing. Gwynn stresses that if you aren’t putting yourself in the position to let failure happen, then you’re not improving your business. “I never lose,” she says, “I either win, or I learn.” 

Brown has taken an engineer’s approach to failure. She prefers to reframe it as iterating, and looks at failure as step one, and step two is learning and growing--it’s a cycle that moves in a new direction. However, she realizes that for some, failure is a huge risk to take on. We rest easy knowing that at blackcomputeHER, Black Women Talk Tech, and even at the Zahn Center, the community will catch you when you fall, and raise you back up to reach your dreams.


Thank you to all who attended last week’s Fireside Chat with Dr. Quincy Brown and Regina Gwynn. The event would not have been possible without our sponsors at Standard Chartered. If you missed the event, we’re giving you a chance to watch the video recap here for a limited time. The link will expire on April 1, 2021. 

Watch the video via YouTube here.

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