Photo courtesy of Black Tech Mecca

Fabian Elliott is the founder and CEO of Black Tech Mecca. Elliott recently spoke with rolling out about Chicago’s Black tech industry, his biggest challenge, and past experiences that prepared him to launch a tech company.

How would you describe the tech industry in Chicago in the Black community?

It is vibrant. I have seen tremendous growth in activity and progress since I moved to the city four years ago. We have a mixture of both budding and more established organizations along with wide range of talented individuals.The people that make up the community are also amazing. I think we are building something special, a culture and environment that will help breed collective success. We just need to continue to strive to be more and more deliberate about putting the pieces in place for us to thrive for the long run.

What does a healthy tech ecosystem look like?

For the Black tech community, it really comes down to a more liberated ecosystem, mobility and access. A place where there is a collaborative culture, aligned resources, and guidance to go from zero to hero if you are willing to dedicate yourself. A space where Blacks are able to leverage technology to improve their lives whether it is to solve community issues or obtain financial gain. To do this, we must simplify navigation and destroy the geographical, social, and cultural barriers that interfere with our community’s progress.

What has been your biggest hurdle?

Imposter’s syndrome was my first biggest hurdle and has not been easy to overcome. Tech is an industry where sometimes as a minority you can feel like you don’t belong or the need to apologize for your presence. As I moved into more technical roles over the years, I began to be tapped to lead client meetings with data scientists and analytics experts. I recall deliberately wearing non-prescription glasses to those meetings especially if I was making a first impression just to overcome any potential bias of my capabilities based on my appearance. We all find different ways to cope, but I feel the industry is moving in the right direction.

What past experiences prepared you to launch a tech company?

I actually come from a pretty entrepreneurial family. My older brother is a full-time fitness personality and my parents were involved in several ventures when I was growing up. On top of that, I have always just been enterprising from running a lucrative cafeteria sauce ring in high school to executing an elaborate marketing campaign for my apartment complex to help them take advantage of my title as the university’s homecoming king. I was always up to something. My extensive experiences of working with the Black community who is my target audience for Black Tech Mecca has been huge. I started an organization for Black professionals in college, spearheaded the revamp of Google’s Black employee group, and now am building Black tech ecosystems with BTM. There were a lot of transferrable leadership principles going from campus, company, to cities. All in all, every founder knows that nothing can really prepare you, but some experiences certainly do help you find a way when things get tough. I have learned a lot and continue to learn more and more each day.

What formal education have you had?

Marketing degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte

What insights have you gained working as an Ad-tech consultant at Google?

The major insights that stand out revolve around concepts like moonshot thinking, deeper appreciation of data, and the incredible power of technology. Being immersed in an environment of endless possibilities, allowed me to see and experience the mechanics of executing on big ideas first hand. My realization of the vital importance of data has grown due to my day to day interactions helping my clients to harness gigantic pools of data to better reach the right consumer. Overall, I have come to believe that with the right idea, data, and people, any problem can be solved [by] leveraging technology.

How do you use technology in your personal life?

Almost in every facet. I leverage a host of tools and productivity apps to keep myself organized and one step ahead. Growing up, I was the annoying kid that asked why in response to every answer so I also really leverage technology and access to information it to feed my never-ending intellectual curiosity. Sometimes I find myself researching for hours on my tablet based on a random idea or burning question. On a lighter note, my family and I even have weekly Google Hangouts to video chat with each other.

Can you elaborate on Black Tech Mecca’s products? 

Our main goal is to simplify the navigation of local tech ecosystems for the Black tech community. We provide data-driven solutions and execute specialize initiatives to accomplish this through a “Connect- Measure-Direct” framework.

To facilitate connections, we are releasing our Ecosystem Network platform this year, which is an interactive resource network that streamlines  access to local tech resources for the Black tech community. To provide measurement, we are also conducting the State of the Black Tech Ecosystem (SBTE) research study in partnership with the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology. This study is scheduled for release in January and will be a comprehensive research report intended to provide thought leadership on the current state and future trends of the Black Tech Ecosystem across three key verticals; academics, corporate and entrepreneurship.

We are focused on placing just the right pieces into the ecosystem to catalyze and sustain growth for generations to come. The vision that we have for thriving Black tech ecosystems around the world requires a very strong infrastructure.

What needs to change to ensure that Black-owned tech businesses continue to thrive and grow in the city?  

Money. Our businesses need investment and we’re just not getting it. The data shows it and I can tell you personal stories of amazing Black tech founders that have had a way tougher time compared to similar counterparts. Culture. We still have a big opportunity to develop an even more supportive culture for Black founders and allies to be there for each other.

What advice would you offer to millennials who want to break into the tech field?

Open your mind. Explore the possibilities. There are a lot of ways to break into the field that don’t require you to be highly technical. It is possible to work in technology participating in non-tech functions like sales, finance, human resources and others. Identify what you are already passionate about and explore any intersections with technology. Then leverage your strengths and start somewhere. It is never too late to learn something new or reinvent yourself.

Theo Daniels

I am a writer, designer, and entrepreneur.