Austin’s startup scene is exploding. It has been for years. Yet hundreds of interesting stories aren’t being told. That’s especially true when it comes to founders of color, women, and veterans who already face more challenges in getting funding and media coverage than most of their peers.
With that in mind, Austin Inno is teaming up with diversity-focused BLNDED Media to spotlight Austin’s diverse founders and organizations and tell many of the stories we might not otherwise capture on this page and in our daily newsletter, The Beat. This will include profiles, analysis of emerging trends and Q&A sessions with the leaders helping make Austin tech a more inclusive space.
To get a sense of BLNDED’s past coverage, check out this profile of Love Intently Founder and CEO Sophie Kwok or this post about the lack of diversity on nonprofit boards.
There’s no money involved in this news partnership. BLNDED Media Founder Naji H. Kelley and I simply connected on the idea, saw it as a mutually-beneficial way to amplify diverse voices and agreed that BLNDED Media would share a couple stories each month on Austin Inno’s site.
You’ll also want to check BLNDED’s site on a regular basis for their expanding coverage of Austin. Kelley is joined by two co-founders — Chief Digital Officer Alexis M. Davis, who wrote the first story in this series, and Chief Technology Officer Jonathan Hackworth. They also recently added Art Director Nakevia Miller to the team.
Check out the first post, a Q&A with Diversity Fund Founder Charlie Jackson. And stay tuned with BLNDED and Inno for more in coming weeks and months…
If you have a story idea or want to reach out, reach BLNDED Media CEO Naji H. Kelley at firstname.lastname@example.org or Austin Inno Staff Writer Brent Wistrom at email@example.com.
Now, let’s get to know Naji H. Kelley and BLNDED a little better.
Inno: Let’s start at the beginning. Why did you create BLNDED Media?
Kelley: I noticed entrepreneurial stories of founders of color, women, and veterans weren’t really being shown throughout mass media when I was conducting research before I left my corporate job back in 2012. I believe media plays an important role in our lives in showing humanity the possibilities of who we can become and what we can do through storytelling and images. To me, media has the responsibility of reporting the whole story, not just one side of it. It cannot cover the story from the same perspective or narrative as it leaves many people out and only focuses on a few.
Entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds are missing from the popular business, tech, and media conversation. I see BLNDED Media as a platform that can help change that narrative. It’s important for us to hear and see the realities of the entrepreneurial journey from entrepreneurs of all walks of life. In the end, this can help inspire and inform us all to build better companies.
“Diversity and inclusion affects us all and the sooner we acknowledge that fact, the better.”
Inno: How has BLNDED evolved since its founding? And where do you see it going?
Kelley: BLNDED started as a documentary web series back in November 2015 which eventually fell apart. Soon after, BLNDED Media was born and I decided to pivot it to a Humans of New York-style approach by featuring diverse entrepreneurs around Austin via our “why” series which we now refer to as our BLNDED Founders Series. Today, we focus on telling stories of diverse entrepreneurs through digital content in editorial and video formats. We primarily share our stories on social media and via our newsletter.
I see BLNDED Media as a digital network for multicultural audiences with an interest in business. It will be the go-to media platform that highlights the stories and resources of entrepreneurs of color, women, and veterans. I want the business of BLNDED to be inclusive of our founding team, board of directors, content creators, interns, and include stories that represent a diverse and inclusive organization from the bottom-up.
Inno: Tell me a bit about your time in the U.S. Navy – and a little more about yourself outside of your role at BLNDED.
Kelley: My time in the U.S. Navy Reserves has been like a global education. I’ve been in a little more than six years now and I’ve traveled all around the world, worked with every military branch, met people from different cultures, and developed confidence and a true understanding of teamwork. I’ve developed a global network of relationships with leaders, co-workers, and friends that will last me a lifetime.
My experience interacting with people from different cultures showed me the importance of diversity and inclusion. The willingness to get to know the history of other cultures, way of thought, and business ecosystem helped me to think outside the box, understand the impact of cultural influence, and become more comfortable in my own skin.
I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. I went to a local community college for Information Technology Networking/Software and started my first company at 19 to better understand if technology was a career I wanted to pursue. I ended up working in an IT department for a Corporate REIT company for almost three years after completing an IT internship.
My passion in life is to help create more opportunities of ownership and access for people who look like me in business, tech, and media at the highest levels.
Inno: What are a few things that the Austin tech scene can do to be more inclusive?
Kelley: I believe continuing to have conversations is very important as it brings awareness to the many issues surrounding diversity and inclusion. However, I believe many people from diverse communities are not being invited to contribute to the discussion. Conversations are great, but it’s time for more serious action to be taken. Here are my thoughts:
- Invite more community leaders from diverse Austin communities to the decision making table to help bring political, environmental, educational, technological, media, and startup-related conversations to life.
- Increase conversations between Austin political leaders and diverse entrepreneurs around immigration, lack of access, capital, and partnerships with the city such as Innovation Fellows.
- Have events that highlight People of Color, Women, and Veterans and also include them on panels.
- Help create or recruit to more diverse pipeline programs such as Angel and VC Investing programs (i.e. Pipeline Angels, HBCU.VC,) and leadership programs/fellowships (i.e. MLT, The New Philanthropists,)
Community leaders, entrepreneurs of color, and support organizations around diversity in tech such as Michael Henderson, Meme Styles, Angelica Erazo, Joah Spearman, LevelUp Institute, DivInc, The New Philanthropists, and BunkerLabs ATX should be at the forefront to not only create conversation, but to move Austin forward. As Mayor Steve Adler said at the 2018 SOCA address, “Austin can, must, and will lead.”
Inno: Anything else we ought to know?
Kelley: Diversity and inclusion affects us all and the sooner we acknowledge that fact, the better. Nothing is perfect in this life, but our intentions behind our actions speak volumes. The sooner we acknowledge there’s strength in numbers, the sooner we can start to tackle these issues that affect us all. I would love to see more doors of access for entrepreneurs of color, women and veterans opened and for Austin to become a leading city in how it takes action of making this city more diverse and inclusive.