We talked to Felecia Hatcher, Executive Director of Code Fever, Blacktech Week and Space Called Tribe — a coworking and urban innovation lab, about entrepreneurship, ending innovation deserts and staying hungry for change.
Code Fever has been introducing kids and adults to coding and resources in the tech space since 2012. The organization is bridging the gaps between technology and minority communities. Blacktech Week provides that inclusive environment in the form of a week-long national conference supporting entrepreneurs of color. And the newly-opened Space Called Tribe is one of two coworking spaces in Miami in historically black communities and/or run by black entrepreneurs according to South Florida Carribean News.
Check out what Felecia had to say below, and keep an eye out for the Blacktech Week Roadshow, coming to a city near you.
AfroTech: When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur? Did you always know it was in the cards for you?
Felicia Hatcher: I don’t know if its something that I always wanted in the sense of understanding exactly what that is or does, but everything that entrepreneurship embodies are the things I wanted. My dad has been an entrepreneur my whole life, but I didn’t know what he really did. He owns a construction development business, but I just knew he worked long hours and came home tired every day. It wasn’t the ideal image of entrepreneurship that is glamorized now.
And I wasn’t a great employee, it wasn’t a fit for me. I knew what my lane was going to be. Looking back, my path led to me being an entrepreneur, but i can’t always say I knew what that was.
Where did you get the inspiration to start Blacktech Week?
FH: Prior to starting Blacktech Week and Code Fever, I ran Feverish Pops for seven years. It was a big brand manufacturing custom pops that did business nationwide with companies like Wholefoods, Google and West Elm. We also received VC funding to expand what we were doing. We knew what it was, but there’s a process to getting the funding, conversations, negotiating a term sheet, and I didn’t have a community to bounce the idea off of as we were going through the process. My dad is an entrepreneur and even he wondered if it was a scam.
With the history of predatory lending toward our community, it was hard for people to understand why someone would want to give money for others to run their businesses. Most people in my circle were skeptical.
And that’s part of it — we didn’t have a community around us, especially that looked like us, that went through this and we wanted to create that. Also, the resources within my family were limited, I had no lawyer cousin to negotiate my term sheets.
But the bigger part is that Miami’s startup ecosystem was just starting to sprout up in 2013 and was not inclusive of the black community. Me and my husband Derick were in the room at these events, but there weren’t any other people that looked like us. We knew really cool people who had their heads down working and building, that could benefit from all the recourses that this new startup movement was bringing to our city
How did you zero in on the creative mission to fight to end innovation deserts and stay hungry for substantive change and delicious food?
We have a team of 11, so we’re a small and mighty tribe.
There is no one that accelerates faster than a black entrepreneur because you have to. We, by nature, are human accelerators. From a historical concept, these things aren’t new regarding us as tech innovators, but the narrative that we don’t exist isn’t true. You look at large startups like Kickstarter, Air Bnb and Uber we are the originators of crowdfunding. There was crowdfunding in Africa for generations called Susu, we crowdfund every Sunday in the black church in the Caribbean it’s called “Partner”. If you look at the utility of Uber pool, we’ve been doing this with the Jitney taxi in Little Haiti in Miami for 30 years. That’s the Juta taxi in Jamaica — these ideas aren’t new the technological overlay so that it reaches a global audience is new and with the right deal flow and resources in our community innovation can continue to happen in our communities because we have solved these problems out of necessity.
We solve these problems from a lack of government and institutional support out of necessity that brings everything together. We opened a coworking space, an innovation lab. We run a VC in residence program as well. We’re all about equipping the community with tools we need in order to grow.
These things have come out of the conference to build black communities into smart cities that are talent and asset rich.
What has been the most rewarding part of Blacktech Week?
FH: It’s a lot. We’ve built Miami into the most robust black startup community in Florida. But It’s been a lot of work, but it’s also been really rewarding. As far as having the idea, getting the funding and having funders like Knight Foundation support this vision that we didn’t know if it was gonna be successful or not. But this hasn’t come without challenges.
I was at a Black Enterprise conference last year when a young girl came up to me, saying “I was one of your first Code Fever students and I’m graduating college this year with a degree in cybersecurity. She was also a team finalist for the HBCU pitch competition. She said she had more job offers than she knew what to do with. Among other things that moment was one of the biggest successes — someone we taught four years ago when we were trying to figure out what we were doing is graduating with more job offers then she knows what to do with.
Also, the emails we get from founders who have raised funding, got accepted into accelerators, and started companies or social good causes are incredibly rewarding to our entire team.
How has the Blacktech weekend roadshow been going? Has it offered you a chance to connect with entrepreneurs and innovators in less popular tech cities?
FH: It has been awesome. It has been a goal of ours for two years. We didn’t know how it was going to happen then, but we knew we wanted to do it and the cities we are going to could benefit from these kinds of convenings. The support in the cities came together thanks to partners like Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Knight Foundation, Barclays, Samsung and Etsy, local partners and the founders. Also, it was just the right time. Blacktech Week is four years old now, and everything kind of came together in Miami and allowed us to go across the country.
The full week will always remain in Miami. We want people to come to Miami, see what Black Miami is about, look at opportunities that exist there, know a different story and know about the black innovators and entrepreneurs in Miami but also know that Miami would not have gotten its charter to become a city if it was not for black pastors and entrepreneurs. Also, we have a commitment to The Knight Foundation who is a founding sponsor.
Blacktech Weekend is what we take on the road, a 2-day version of the real deal. It started as a 10-city tour, but we were able to expand to 13 cities because the demand has been so great. It’s stressful to plan a national tour to the magnitude of what we were doing, but I couldn’t be more appreciative of my team. What we’ve been able to do other than hitting major markets is going to places like Tulsa, Kansas City, Charlotte, Boston, those that are not usually a part of black tech startup convos but absolutely be. We don’t all live in the Bay Area nor do we have to, it’s expensive. so when you talk about what it takes to build a robust black startup ecosystem these cities are starting to do that.. The quality of living is extremely important, these things can be accomplished in these other cities.
Miami is diverse by default but not intention — we can be a resource to other cities that have different kinds of diversity problems and understand what works and what doesn’t.
What’s your favorite part about working with start-ups and entrepreneurs?
FH: There’s such pure genius in our community. It’s amazing. Being able to see that and be a part of that every day is the part that I absolutely love.