Rock climbing. A jazz evening. Generative AI. Recession investing tips. Breweries. Esports activations. A Tech Crawl. A Hackathon. All are held in different locations around the city. Newark Tech Week promises to be anything but ordinary.
This free, one-of-a-kind civic technology-based conference is hosted by the intersectional and multicultural visionaries =Space, a brave space for Black and Brown startups, women-led, and LGBTQIA enterprises based in Newark, New Jersey, that provides space, access to opportunities, and expansion of the startup ecosystem.
Leading up to Newark Tech Week, the digitalundivided marketing team had a chance to sit down with founder CITI Medina and community manager Kelly Outing to discuss the unique offerings this incredible event offers, its multicultural focus on creating economic growth for the city of Newark, and the astonishing way this organization is bringing diverse industries together to build. Check out this incredible interview below:
digitalundivided: Why did =Space decide to launch Newark Tech Week?
Kelly Outing (They/Them): We are dedicated to multicultural founders, LGBTQ-plus enterprises, and women’s ventures. As we progressed in developing =Space, we noticed that community programming was needed within our startup community. We ended up refounding Newark Tech Week after getting the amazing blessing from Emily Manz — the original creator who developed it in 2015. We brought it back in 2017 and started developing a slew of different programs collaborating with civic influencers and civic technology conversations, including our city’s mayor and other prolific political figures within our city. We also collaborated with corporate individuals, such as Panasonic and other major corporate organizations, highlighting technology within our city, and also nationally and internationally.
digitalundivided: When you say civic technology, what exactly does that mean?
Kelly Outing (They/Them): Civic technology focuses on how technology is impacting the day-to-day citizen. There are only a few opportunities for many community members to have equal access or equitable access to the internet and equitable access to technologies like computers and other tech-based things. Civic technology connects to the government’s capability of including technology to make things easier for the community members. It also includes technical and technological literacy, including relating to the tech industry.
digitalundivided: There are a lot of components that make Newark Tech Week unique from other tech conferences. Can you explain what Newark Tech Week looks like to our audience?
Kelly Outing (They/Them): At other tech experiences, you attend a single event or panel to receive and learn. There is no one focal point or one specific building in Newark we are holding our conference at. We usually host about 10 to 15 activations throughout the entire city. It’s events happening in other people’s and other partners’ spaces. Attendees get to experience the work that other people are doing because people need to understand Newark’s power in the technology ecosystem. As the largest city in New Jersey, we are ensuring that we’re stepping up to answer the call and help people answer why Newark and why tech in New Jersey.
Because of this event style, attendees can network with individuals normally in different rooms. You meet C-suite individuals from Audible, North Alliance and other major anchor institutions within our city. These organizations will be able to connect with startups, changing the scope of technology daily. It’s a fantastic nexus of community passion and technological effort.
digitalundivided: Why is the multicultural focus of Techweek important?
CITI Medina (He/Him): So for myself and my co-founder, Ralphie Roman, we feel that Black, Brown, and immigrant voices lead in so many verticals of technology and innovation. We move differently. We speak differently. We approach problem-solving differently. So many startups we lead directly address obstructions, issues, and challenges diverse people face daily. It’s a real pride point for us to be as authentic to the voice of our ecosystem as possible and not get waylaid by any colloquialisms.
We’re also really proud to be headquartered in a city like Newark, which is a multicultural city. It’s evident in the leadership helping to grow our ecosystem. The city itself is creating solutions that are multiculturally-led and, foremost, democratizing access to the internet. I think it is beautiful to see this growth being helmed by investing in work by City Hall. Mayor Ras Baraka is emphatic that every resident should have access to the internet just as the landscape changes. He wants to set up youth and family units in Newark to advance themselves. There’s real merit to that. Intentions and resources are being allocated to that specific function.
digitalundivided: You mentioned various companies based in Newark are heavily involved. Can you speak more about that?
CITI Medina (He/Him): This can be more than just solutions from the public sector. The private sector has to be great corporate citizens. Audible has an entire startup acceleration grant accessible to multicultural founders with ten employees or more to relocate to Newark. They will receive a commission of up to $250,000 and a living stipend for each employee above $500 a month. That intention is what’s growing our ecosystem at an exponentially faster rate. It’s those kinds of startup attractions and civic empowerment.
digitalundivided: Who is the startup ecosystem in or outside of Newark is Newark’s Tech Week for?
CITI Medina (He/Him): Often, when we talk about technology and in theory, inclusivity, and diversity are spoken about in view, and it’s not actualized. The problem is when we have real-life problems, like AI and other technologies used by police systems, and wrongly. You can only discuss those conversations if you have those community members in these rooms when people talk about machine learning and AI.
How can we bring in not only diversity of ethnicity but diversity of thought? That’s important for our community members, so we highlight that it’s a multicultural experience. And that’s like multicultural doesn’t just mean you have to be Black, Brown, or queer. It means everyone needs to participate in these conversations to be fruitful.
digitalundivided: Where do you see yourselves in this larger, national tech ecosystem?
CITI Medina (He/Him): That’s a great question; I think the vision we always have is the way that we stand up for our activations is reflective of the need in our community for these kinds of genuine moments where they get to showcase themselves and learn at the same time — =Space as the organizer and architect. There needs to be this kind of activation in the urban centers across the country. You’ll find all these brilliant pockets and communities innovative and using technology to enable that vision. They would want to be showcased and want to grow their networks. At scale, our version of Tech Week is something that we would love and envision growing. =Space is just the foundation. I want our community to be able to share space because our story can have a ripple effect to inspire so many others.
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