The city of Detroit has served as an innovation epicenter for a long time. It’s the heart of the automotive industry for its historical significance in being the birthplace of the mass-production techniques — such as assembly lines — that are now used everywhere, regardless of industry. Still today, Detroit is an innovative city in many ways, thanks to passionate and hard-working residents. Major companies including Google and Microsoft are in Detroit and tapping into the rich resource of local talent.
However, there are several leading tech innovators from Detroit who are creating opportunities on their own in corporate, startup and education spaces. And each space serves its own individual purpose and impacts the community in their own way. Education is necessary to sustain the tech industry in the city. Teaching the next generation sets the precedent for the next round of potential tech employees. Startups are redefining the kind of problems that can be solved through apps and more. For these leaders to speak out about their experience in the startup space opens the doors for new companies to form and grow. And corporate leaders are opening doors that have been locked or closed for so long and making sure that even larger and older companies work to improve their diversity and inclusion.
Through uplifting and shining a light on these leaders, we’re one step closer to getting even more black people involved in tech. Bringing exposure to the important work that leaders in Detroit and beyond are doing opens the door for future generations who will continue to innovate the city and the world.
Check out some of the most innovative and impactful leaders in the Detroit tech scene below:
Trailblazers Leading In Corporate Environments
Renee Hudson, Software Quality Assurance Engineer on the mobile/web team at Amrock
Renee has used her corporate job working as a software quality assurance engineer to learn skills that have allowed her to team up with others in the tech space to build her own company and app. Her role in quality assurance will always be needed because no matter how the industry changes, business will need to be tested. That job security provides her with a platform to launch her entrepreneurship in the space.
Shola Salako, Founder and CEO of Optimal Business Systems, President/CEO of The Sholex Group and Founder and Executive Director of Agents of Hope
Shola has experience working with well-known accounts such as the US Army, General Motors and Chrysler. He serves as the CEO of Optimal Business Systems, which is an IT solutions provider with specialty in software development, IT consulting and staffing and more. In his role as President and CEO of The Sholex Group, he manages various tech-based ventures, and as a serial entrepreneur, he also founded and is the executive director of Agents of Hope, which is a non-profit that provides financial literacy and personal development. On top of it all he has a wife and three kids and manages to keep up his hobbies of playing soccer, tennis and golf, proving that working in the corporate space doesn’t mean giving up autonomy and variety in your personal life.
The Startup Leaders Paving The Way
Ashley M. Williams, Founder and CEO of RIZZARR, Founder of Millennials Change, host of “The Ripple Effect” and Co-creator of the podcast “Pardon My Tech.”
Williams is a millennial strategist, spokesperson, consultant and speaker for brands that want to reach millennials. Through her work at RIZZARR, she helps brands find and connect with content creators and micro-influencers. Her expertise with millennials also extends to ‘Millennials Change,’ an event series she founded that inspires change through taking action that has a positive impact on our world. Prior to joining the startup world, Williams was an active and award-winning journalist who worked for companies such as USA TODAY Network’s Nation Now, WBAL Radio, NBC News, Africa.com and more.
Shelby Tinsley, Founder & CEO of iShallBe Daily Affirmation App
Tinsley’s app is a powerful platform that helps people to channel and affirm purposeful thoughts and ideas into existence behind the idea that our thoughts become our reality. Before launching iShallBe Daily Affirmation App, her experience was in educating diverse populations about best practices and different company structures for everything from government agencies to healthcare providers. She grew up on the Eastside of Detroit and has been growing through leadership and active learning experiences to support and uplift those around her through the power of positive thinking and affirmations to reach their potential and find their true purpose.
Ray Batra, Founder and Executive Director of Shift_Up
Batra founded and serves as executive director at Shift_Up, which is a startup on a mission to make digital skills training super affordable and accessible to more people. It provides the backbone of the process — coaching, structure and accountability — which are tools that motivated learners can thrive with. It’s a program that can close the accessibility gap for many, especially considering so many software developers are self-taught and don’t have formal computer science degrees before diving into the industry.
BackStreet Bites team
Left: Keenan Black and Lauren King, Right: Britney and Jaired Epps
The team behind BackStreet Bites makes keeping up with your favorite food trucks easier than ever. If you’ve ever wanted to know where that food truck you tried and loved was the next day, BackStreet Bites is helping people in the Detroit metro area reconnect with the businesses they love. As food trucks move, the app will update with their new locations and will provide customers with directions. You can also use the app if you’re looking for what trucks are close by. Apps like BackStreet Bites provide a useful service for locals while also supporting local small businesses.
Leading The Charge Through Education
Richard Grundy, Cofounder and CEO of JOURNi
Richard is the cofounder and CEO of JOURNi, a non-profit that focuses on decentralizing tech education for Detroit residents. As a native Detroit resident himself, he knows the importance of providing opportunity to the almost 200 youth that JOURNi has been able to train so far in web development and entrepreneurship. The work JOURNi does aims to close the digital divide in the city of Detroit.
Miesha Williamson, Founder & Business Manager of the STEM Girl Academy
Dr. Robin Brewer, Head of Brave Initiatives – Detroit
Brave Initiatives was founded in 2015 in Chicago to empower girls to see themselves as being capable of coding and to keep them aware and engaged with community issues they were passionate about. It includes five-day camps and half-day workshops filled with activities that teach girls valuable skills including public speaking, design-thinking, leadership and even coding. The program has since expanded to help girls in Jamaica and Detroit. Robin led development of the initial technical curriculum for the program’s camps. She is still innovating and creating new content for students to engage with in these workshops across all locations.
So, how can you help to make an impact? Support local businesses! Invest your time and or money into local leaders who are pouring their heart and soul into organizations like those above. Contributing financially to the local economy grows the resource pool for tech in Detroit. It can be as simple as spreading the word and bridging the access gap for those around you to help these leaders impact their communities. There are many paths to take in order to continue the growth and innovation Detroit is having in the tech space. Through all of us dedicating our efforts into seeking out and supporting these people and organizations, we’re taking important steps to highlight not only Detroit, but our entire black tech community.
There’s something for everyone brewing in the growing tech scene in Detroit. And by supporting the leaders above and those you’ll meet at the conference, we’ll make it easier for the next generation to get their foot in the door and create new systems to drive the culture forward.
Come join us at AfroTech Detroit Saturday, August 18th as we collaborate and build together. Purchase your tickets here.
Brought to you by Venture Catalysts.