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by guest columnist Justin Roberti

The BWTT conference is back for its 5th year and bigger than ever -- with the goal of empowering women entrepreneurs in tech and closing the gap in funding.

The 5th annual Black Women Talk Tech (BWTT) Roadmap to Billions 2021 conference is “designed for (women like) you, by women like you.”

In a tech industry traditionally dominated by men -- at the product and coding level and among founders and leadership -- BWTT is helping to balance the inequity in funding and basic encouragement to create opportunities for brilliant minds in tech no matter who they are. To that end, this year’s conference will host a national pitch competition with $50,000 worth of cash and prizes.

The conference has grown quite a bit this year, with speakers for the 2-day virtual conference (August 12th and 13th) drawn from both tech and venture capital, to help attendees develop their ideas and bridge the gap around funding.

We took a few moments to interview the co-founders of the show Esosa Ighodaro and Regina Gwynn, about equality of funding and opportunity, in tech at large and in the blockchain community.

Esosa Ighodaro & Regina Gwynn, Co-founders of BWTT

Do we have institutional inequality of funding in the U.S.? Globally?

“There is definitely a clear division in funding between minority-driven organizations and their counterparts. Last year, during the height of the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement the staggering numbers were made available to the masses. There was a brief highlight but not the significant amount of attention needed to make a difference in the racial injustices and social inequalities that have gone on for decades worldwide.”

Is funding the latest frontier for entrepreneurs who are women of color? What challenges do they have specifically?

“Black women are starting businesses faster than any other group. Statistics show that nearly half of all women-owned businesses in the US are controlled by minority women. There are still clear discriminatory practices by some banks when black women apply for loans. A huge challenge is that most of these entrepreneurs do not already have established relationships when going to apply. So much about these institutions is who you know, or for some who your lineage knows. The world of venture capital and banking is largely comprised if white, cis males.”

What are the origins of the conference? How has it changed over the last 5 years?

“We actually kept seeing each other at the same events in the city. One thing we noticed was that many of the times we were the only black people in the room.

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We decided one day to do a girls’ retreat to get to know each other more and discuss our businesses. It was important to us for the weekend to be a mix about both business and self care. This was in 2015 at a small Airbnb in Connecticut, and that’s truly how our story began.

We found that our fellowship, and sharing our businesses with each other, were really empowering. It was so meaningful. So, we said, “we have to try and do this again.” Our mission is to inspire and support black women to build the next billion-dollar tech company. We decided to put it out there to see if we could find more black women tech founders and create a conference just for them. Our mission is to inspire and support black women to build the next billion-dollar tech company. At the time, I don’t think we realized that we just created the first-ever conference for black women technology founders.”

How is greater diversity in leadership and funding impacting the tech projects we are seeing and will see (in blockchain and beyond?)

“There are already statistics that prove that diversity in leadership yields a better return on investment and product/innovative solutions for the marketplace. It will inherently increase the quality of life for more people if this happens more often. Blockchain is proving to be a new frontier and a great equalizer for the tech community and the world as more technologies are built on it. With the entrance of cryptocurrencies serving so many economic advantages for funding and investing alike, it makes for an interesting future.”

Is inclusion a big issue particularly for blockchain vs. other tech?

“Blockchain has vehemently expressed that inclusion for all is at their core. If there have been notes of discrimination in blockchain, it has been through geographic disparity versus direct racism that has been seen in other tech spaces.”

The Blockchain community is out to change the world with decentralization, democratization, transparency, and access to financial services on blockchain. Is this goal even attainable without considering inclusion?

“I love dreamers & entrepreneurs, I believe they are Utopian in nature! They make the world a better place by creating solutions that didn't exist before. However, I think inclusion is always necessary in order to create the best solutions for our ever-growing and changing world. Inclusion of all irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation, people living with disabilities, economic class, or age is important. Blockchain and crypto entrepreneurs are off to a great start but we need to constantly challenge ourselves to ensure we are creating inclusive solutions.”

What ultimately is the goal? When will you know you have achieved at least some of what you set out to do?

“We would love to see chapters worldwide and take the conference beyond a global stage. We are constantly evolving, so there is no endpoint to where we feel the goal has been fully achieved.

The Roadmap to Billions is a conference built from the perspective of Black women that Black Women Talk Tech organizes. The organization empowers black women who are driving innovation worldwide within untapped markets that can unlock billion-dollar opportunities. Roadmap to Billions is the only tech conference created by Black female founders for Black female founders and supporters of the community. It showcases the brilliance of Black women building scalable companies while building deep connections and creating real funding opportunities. Attendees gain insight and learn valuable lessons from those that are paving the way to success.”

The event projects over 2,500 attendees, with keynote speakers including Mellody Hobson, Chairwoman of Starbucks Corporation and Co-CEO of Ariel Investments; Dr. Toyin Ajayi, Founder Cityblock Health; and Songe LaRon and Dave Salvant, Founders of Squire.

Sponsors include Microsoft, Netflix, Roku, Visa, PayPal, AARP, Samsung/Next, LockstepVentures, Davis Wright Tremaine, Google, JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, Balsamiq, and Sephora. There are over 40 other notable speakers from brands like Verizon and Twitter.

New this year, BWTT is offering job recruiting, high-profile entertainment, and virtual tech activations with big brands. Programming will also include a performance by DJ Olivia Dope and guided meditation by Black Girl Magik.