‘The Detroit Renaissance is Real’: White House Official Visits Newlab with Detroit Black Tech Saturday Founder

Ebony JJ Curry, Senior Reporter – Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves arrived in Detroit with one mission in mind: to explore the minds of Detroit’s Black entrepreneurs with a highlight on the city’s rising advancement in Black tech. Graves toured Michigan Central Station, a 30-acre campus that symbolizes Detroit’s renaissance and aims to spur the next generation of economic development. Side by side with Johnnie Turnage, CEO of EvenScore and co-founder of Black Tech Saturdays, the group saw firsthand how Michigan Central Station is realizing its goal centered on organizing investments in new technologies. Graves’ trip was more than just a routine check-in. It was a profound exploration of the potential that Detroit holds in shaping the future of technology and entrepreneurship in the United States.

“The work that Johnnie and his entire team here in Detroit is doing to help create opportunities and pathways for entrepreneurs who haven’t had that in the past is fantastic,” Graves shared with the Michigan Chronicle. “It’s exactly the thing that we need to replicate around the country.”

Turnage was proud to be a guest of Graves during his tour, citing the fact that his young company was already buzzing across the country thanks to the massive support and reception from the community.

“We’re under a year old at Black Tech Saturdays, but it’s a dream to see entrepreneurs get that spotlight and get that curiosity and figure out how we can not only get that fostered, but how we can grow it, Turnage said. “Around the country, we all just need to learn from each other.”

Turnage’s involvement in the tour emphasized the importance of local leadership and community-driven initiatives in Detroit’s tech evolution.

A revealing study by McKinsey’s Digital Practice and the Institute for Black Economic Mobility highlights a concerning trend: the initiatives aimed at bridging the racial divide in the tech workforce are not meeting their goals. The data shows that a mere eight percent of tech roles and only three percent of tech leadership positions are occupied by Black professionals. This disparity not only jeopardizes substantial income opportunities for Black individuals and their communities, but it also underscores a critical equity gap in the sector.

According to McKinsey’s findings, this disparity is set to increase in the coming years. While tech roles across various sectors are projected to see a 14 percent increase by 2032, the representation of Black professionals in these fields is expected to rise by just eight percent in the same timeframe.

In Detroit, Turnage and his wife and co-founder, Alexa Turnage, are making significant strides to change this narrative with Black Tech Saturdays. BTS is dedicated to fostering diversity and inclusion within the tech industry, specifically by supporting Black professionals and entrepreneurs. The organization offers a space for skill enhancement, networking, and community engagement, with regular events, workshops, and programs aimed at advancing technical and professional skills.

The challenge of promoting diversity in tech extends beyond traditional diversity efforts, largely due to the specific technical and interpersonal skills required in the field. Our findings suggest that a fragmented approach is currently being taken by various entities, including nonprofits, corporations, government bodies, and educational institutions. There’s a growing need to create a cohesive ecosystem that offers comprehensive support across these different sectors.

Addressing this issue requires a thorough examination of the entire career pipeline for Black tech talent, identifying and addressing the “leak points” from education to executive levels. These gaps often stem from a lack of awareness, support, and mentorship opportunities, which are crucial for career advancement.

Beyond technical abilities, the development of soft skills is equally important for climbing the corporate ladder, yet STEM majors often lack this training. Informal mentorship networks, which play a key role in skill development and understanding of business operations, are less accessible to Black professionals. Enhancing access to these networks could significantly impact the career trajectories of Black individuals in the tech industry.

Understanding that the success of Detroit’s tech renaissance hinges on the active participation of its entrepreneurs, Deputy Secretary Graves hosted a series of roundtables aimed at fostering open dialogue with the local tech community. These discussions were not just about acknowledging the achievements of Detroit’s Black entrepreneurs but also about addressing the real challenges they face in scaling their businesses and making a mark on the national and global stages.

The roundtables served as a platform for entrepreneurs to voice their experiences, aspirations, and the obstacles that hinder their progress. Topics ranged from access to capital and resources to the need for more inclusive policies that recognize and support the unique contributions of Black entrepreneurs to the tech industry.

Graves’ mission during this visit was to align the aspirations of Detroit’s tech community with the broader objectives of the President’s Investing in America Agenda. This agenda, with its focus on revitalizing America’s infrastructure, fostering innovation, and ensuring equitable growth, offers a framework within which Detroit’s tech initiatives can flourish.

Graves emphasized the Department of Commerce’s commitment to supporting Detroit’s economic development through targeted investments, policy support, and the creation of an ecosystem that nurtures innovation and entrepreneurship. The message was clear: the federal government recognizes the potential of cities like Detroit to contribute significantly to America’s tech-led future and is ready to support their journey.

“This city has just grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade and economic inclusion is a critical part of the recipe for Detroit,” Graves said. “It’s why I think the Detroit renaissance is real because of the recognition that there are Black entrepreneurs who have great ideas but haven’t had the support systems that they’ve needed to be able to activate those ideas and turn them into great successful companies but that is exactly what they’re doing here at Black Tech Saturdays to be a model that we can take to other communities across the country.”

The visit of Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves to Detroit is a powerful reminder of the critical role that diversity and inclusion play in driving economic development and innovation. By focusing on the Black tech entrepreneurs of Detroit, Graves’ mission goes beyond mere economic policy; it is about recognizing and empowering the voices and visions that are often marginalized in the tech industry.

As Detroit continues to transform its economic landscape, support from federal entities like the Department of Commerce will be instrumental in ensuring that this growth is sustainable, inclusive, and reflective of the rich diversity that defines the city. The journey of Detroit’s Black tech entrepreneurs is not just their own; it is a vital chapter in the broader story of American innovation and resilience.

“Blach tech is on the rise,” shared Johnnie Turnage. “So, whatever we can do to speed up the success of Black tech is going to be a game changer.

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‘The Detroit Renaissance is Real’: White House Official Visits Newlab with Detroit Black Tech Saturday Founder

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