FOCUS100: A Tech Conference Where Women and People of Color Take Center Stage



Oct. 21 2014, Published 5:44 a.m. ET

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At a recent tech conference the question was posed “Why do you stay even when it’s hard?” The speaker, Anil Dash and co-founder of ThinkUp and Activate responded, “I show up because it is hard.”

Entrepreneurship is hard, working in the ever evolving constantly changing field of tech is hard, and it’s even harder when you feel alone or like you are the “only one” because you are a person of color or a woman. To help provide resources and a sense of community for those who need more of a voice in tech, Kathryn Finney started FOCUS100, the most diverse tech conference in the world.

Kathryn Finney

The conference took place earlier this month in New York City featuring presentations and one-on-one conversations from the top entrepreneurs, techies, and venture capitalists. Headlining the weekend was actor and venture capitalist Omar Epps. The conference also featured talks from “Awkward Black Girl” creator Issa Rae, Global Head of Diversity for Facebook Maxine Williams, New York’s Chief Digital Officer Rachel Haot and the commissioner of the FCC just to name a few!

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Lauren M. Bias and Global Head of Diversity for Facebook's Maxine Williams

Lauren M. Bias and Global Head of Diversity for Facebook’s Maxine Williams

While it seems like creating the most diverse tech conference in the world might be a major task, the lack of diversity at most tech events and conferences actually makes creating a truly diverse conference a rare yet doable task.  Simply put, instead of filling the panels with people who all look the same, this conference takes a different approach and invites people of all colors. Over eighty percent of the conference speakers and presenters were either a woman and or a person of color.

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“Diversity is not only essential to innovation, it is critical to ensuring that your product or service will meet the needs of today’s general market that we all know is not just straight, white males,” said Finney. “FOCUS is not your typical conference where there is just a lot of talk. We are focused like a laser beam on helping entrepreneurs take their ideas and companies to the next level, while connecting tech professionals of color to the funders, companies, and innovators that need their talent and expertise.”

The resources shared along with the sense of community and camaraderie in a room of people connected by their love of tech and their desire for more diversity was truly invaluable and special.

If you couldn’t be there, check out this amazing summary told through tweets on Storify:

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By: Rhonesha Byng

Rhonesha Byng is the founder and CEO of Her Agenda— a digital media platform bridging the gap between ambition and achievement for millennial women. The site provides access to content and community that gives millennial women access to information and inspiration to help them get started or to move to the next level of their career. Rhonesha is an Emmy award-winning journalist and entrepreneur whose philosophy in life is established by her acronym of N.E.S.H.A. No one Ever Slows Her Agenda. This motto served as the inspiration for Her Agenda. Rhonesha was named to the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list and ESSENCE magazine named her among 50 Founders To Watch. Rhonesha is also the co-founder of the newly formed nonprofit org The Black Owned Media Equity and Sustainability Institute (BOMESI).

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