Black Tech Street: The Rebirth of Greenwood’s Black Wall Street

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

It’s an exciting time for Tulsa! Tulsa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is becoming a forerunner in tech. Greenwood native Tyrance Billingsley II, inspired by Black Wall Street’s innovation in the early 1900’s, has founded a new initiative called “Black Tech Street“. Currently, less than 30% of the tech industry are people of color and Billingsley is passionate about raising that number. By partnering with organizations like Holberton Coding School and Urban Coders Guild, Black Tech Street aims to encourage African-Americans interested in pursuing tech, specifically within the entrepreneurship space. Other companies such as 36 Degrees North and Tulsa Innovation Labs as well as investment companies such as Atento Capital and i2e are coming alongside to support Black Tech Street.

The future of work is rooted in tech, and Billingsley knows it. Understanding that tech is in high demand means fostering opportunities for the upcoming generations to become knowledgeable in this area to become a leader in the industry. But Billinglsley also recognizes that in the present age, being an expert in tech creates unique opportunities for career advancement.

Why aren’t there more Black workers in the tech industry? This infographic lays it out.

In a 2020 interview with Pod 4 Good, Tyrance Billingsley II shares his vision for Black Tech Street. In the podcast, he lists the 4 pillars that Black Tech Street is founded on:

1. Relocation of African-American startups, VC firms, and those working remotely for major tech companies.

To introduce a massive pool of talent into Tulsa’s ecosystem, Tulsa Remote is offering grants and free services for people working remotely to move to Tulsa. By doing so, Tulsa leverages its low cost of living combined with resources and connections, in turn gaining access to phenomenal talent from anywhere across the United States.

2. The inheriting of African-American businesses that are not inherently stock growth companies.

Black Wall Street is partnering with Quickbooks, Salesforce, and Google Analytics to offer a package of services to black businesses for free. This will provide value to current, traditional businesses in the Tulsa area by showing them how immersing themselves in the tech industry can enhance and make more resilient.

3. Weaving tech and entrepreneurship in black community in schools.

The Kapor Center, located in the Bay Area of California, has expressed immense willingness to help Tulsa in its tech pursuits. They desire to build a more inclusive and diverse tech space, and Billingsley’s vision perfectly lines up with their mission.

One of the areas that Billingsley is passionate about improving is Tulsa’s education system. He is lobbying for K-12th programs to including coding. Moreover, he desires to create a program that acts as an appendage to public school systems for learning about tech entrepreneurship and coding. By going through the Tulsa Public School system, Billingsley aspires to see kids graduate with a knowledge of software development that can lead them to become certified as software engineers right out of high school. For students interested in pursuing higher education in the tech space, already having a solid foundation of tech will give them an upper edge to apply to schools such as Holberton Coding School. Ultimately, becoming will verse in tech provides a viable alternative to going to a trade school/university because students will graduate with marketable skills that they can immediately apply when starting work immediately following graduating from high school. Billingsley hopes that re-visioning of the Tulsa Public School system will inspire young leaders to build their own tech companies, leading to job creation and economic growth within the Tulsa community.

4. Advocating at the state and local level for minority and tech family policy.

Having graduated with a degree in political science and interning in Tulsa’s mayor’s office, Billingsley notes the importance of public policy within the tech industry. Billingsley looks at the policies that other cities have put into place to see how tech industries in Tulsa can implement something similar to help them flourish. Oklahoma even passed a new software tech act to help foster the tech industry within the state.

Billingsley’s plan for the next 10 years is to facilitate 1 billion dollars worth of investment in the African-American community via tech development. While Greenwood was known as “Black Wall Street” 100 years ago, Billingsley dreams of a Greenwood that will be branded as “Black Tech Street” for the next hundred years. Billingsley aspires to see a shift in the association of Black Wall Street as being a hub of innovation and wealth creation at the forefront of the tech industry

Part of coordinating the tech ecosystem in Tulsa is showing black children that they are more than capable of pursuing tech. By implementing programs developed for African-American children specifically, they will be able to better embrace their confidence within the tech space. Tech is the upcoming premier industry of the world, both in measures of it being the richest industry as well as having the biggest impact. That’s why changing the narrative that tech is for the white elite, as has been modeled in Silicon Valley, is so important.

“Tech is the water we live in now.”

Tyrance Billingsley II

Covid-19 showed us, more than ever, that in the 21st century, tech isn’t just “one of the industries”. Rather, as the baseline for everything, it’s all-encompassing. Kids cannot be in school without certain software tools and businesses are losing out without tech, especially during covid times. Billingsley wants to take businesses that are not necessarily technologically savvy and make them more resilient due to technological innovation. Soon, a press release will be released nationwide to appeal to Silicon Valley to invest in the Black tech industry in Tulsa.

Second Muse, the entity that happened Lightship capital fund, has embraced Black Tech Street. They are allowing Billingsley to utilize their resources, like operational staff, legal service, and access to globally recognized consulting groups, such as McKinsey. This giant resource will help in leaps and bounds empower Tulsa’s Black Tech Street. We see how Black Tech Street is able to pool help from all over the world because of the nature of tech. Billingsley highlighted that the beauty of tech, inherently, is that it is not confined to a physical space.

“What better way to build something that was obliterated than to build it in a way that you cannot obliterate?”

– Tyrance Billingsley II

As a boy, Billingsley’s father made him read Forbes magazine and Billingsley always aspired to be a billionaire. However, he never wanted to compromise on his core values and business ethics. My favorite quote from the podcast was, “We don’t have to build an economy at the expense of human dignity.”

Black Tech Street is a concept of innovation shining through in Greenwood and the Black community within Tulsa. There are several ways that you can get involved in this exciting new initiative. The website lists the following three as the primary ones:

Build
If you are a business owner, incentivize your Black employees to work remotely from Tulsa. By doing so, you are not only engaging with Black Tech Street, but you are co-designing Tulsa’s tech and innovation economy. You may also want to consider opening a second office in Tulsa.

Invest
Tulsa has numerous experiential and educational opportunities to support the development of a Black Tech pipeline that is seeking to be funded. Get in touch with a local venture capital firm, such as Atento Capital, to see how you can benefit from investing in Tulsa’s entrepreneurial tech space.

Influence
Leverage your resources to endorse the emergence of Tulsa’s Black Tech Ecosystem as the new hub for Black Economic Development by spreading the word on your social media and sharing this blog with a friend.

Be part of this historical movement by taking a pledge to elevate the narrative of Black Wall Street’s rebirth as Black Tech Street and learn how you can contribute in a variety of ways by clicking the link below.

CLICK TO TAKE THE PLEDGE!

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