Meet 15 Black Tech Innovators Who Are Lending Their Voices to the Conversation About Diversity at SXSW

Top row: Brian Brackeen (courtesy of Brian Brackeen); Sheena Allen (courtesy of Sheena Allen); Jason Towns (courtesy of Jason Towns). Bottom row: Stephanie Lampkin (Twitter); Clarence Wardell III (courtesy of Clarence Wardell III); Sian Morson (courtesy of Sian Morson).
Top row: Brian Brackeen (courtesy of Brian Brackeen); Sheena Allen (courtesy of Sheena Allen); Jason Towns (courtesy of Jason Towns). Bottom row: Stephanie Lampkin (Twitter); Clarence Wardell III (courtesy of Clarence Wardell III); Sian Morson (courtesy of Sian Morson).

There’s no doubt that the growing list of black technologists, founders and entrepreneurs are doing their part to bring diversity and thought leadership to the fast-growing world of startups and technology. Many of these innovators are headed to Austin, Texas, this week for South by Southwest,­ the 10-day festival that highlights the best in interactive, music and movies.

Indeed, this year’s SXSW Interactive, which takes place Friday through Tuesday, is slated to be one of its most diverse, featuring several panel discussions, parties and presentations hosted and/or led by black tech leaders. Whether you’re attending the entire conference or planning to catch a launch party, fill your itinerary with plans to run into these 15 phenomenal black tech entrepreneurs who will be on the ground at SXSW.

Courtesy of Darius Allen
Courtesy of Darius Allen

Darius Allen, Siam Smartphone
Allen is a serial entrepreneur who sharpened his chops after graduating from college in 2003 as an NCAA Division I football player unable to find work. With a degree from the University of Auburn School of Business in information systems management, he launched his first company, an IT consulting firm that wrote proprietary software for small- to medium-sized businesses.

Now Allen has added tech entrepreneur to his C.V., launching the Siam 7X dual-screen phone in January. The 2-in-1 device enhances users’ multitasking abilities by enabling them to use a screen on either side of the phone. The phones retail for $549, come with financing and will soon be available on Amazon.com.

Courtesy of Sheena Allen
Courtesy of Sheena Allen

Sheena Allen, Sheena Allen Apps
Sheena Allen designed the concept for her first app in Microsoft Word while a senior in college at the University of Southern Mississippi in 2011. Her goal: to develop a solution for organizing her money. As CEO of tech company Sheena Allen Apps, Allen, who comes from a nontechnical background, has developed apps ranging from nightlife service to personal finance, which have garnered over 2 million downloads. Allen will be honored at the MVMT50 annual SXSW Welcome Reception. Follow her on Twitter.

Courtesy of Brian Brackeen
Courtesy of Brian Brackeen

Brian Brackeen, Kairos
Brackeen is the founder of facial-biometrics company Kairos. In his role as CEO, Brackeen has raised over $5 million in venture capital. Kairos offers both facial-recognition and emotion-analysis tools for developers and marketers to help companies change the way they interact with their employees, patients and customers. For example, Kairos asks: What if you could pay for a coffee with your smile? What if one glance was enough to skip the line at Kennedy Airport? What if your smartphone knew when you were lonely or frustrated?

Prior to launching Kairos, Brackeen served as senior project manager at Apple, overseeing its international markets. Brackeen will be honored at the MVMT50 annual SXSW Welcome Reception. Follow him on Twitter.

Courtesy of Jewel Burks
Courtesy of Jewel Burks

Jewel Burks, Partpic
Jewel Burks is CEO of tech startup Partpic—a patent-pending technology that allows users to snap a picture and receive the name of the part they are looking for in seconds. Prior to founding Partpic, Burks worked in enterprise sales at Google and in sales management at McMaster-Carr Industrial Supply. Partpic won the SXSW 2015 accelerator competition. Burks will be honored at the MVMT50 annual SXSW Welcome Reception. Follow her on Twitter.

Courtesy of Kathryn Finney
Courtesy of Kathryn Finney

Kathryn Finney, DigitalUndivided
Kathryn Finney is the founder and managing director of DigitalUndivided, an organization that invests in the success of Latina and black female tech founders by providing them with the network, coaching and funding to build, scale and exit their high-growth companies. DID runs the BIG Innovation Center, home to the BIG accelerator program, a 16-week program for high-potential startups led by black and Latina founders. She is also a general partner in the Harriet Fund, the first preseed venture fund focused on investing in the untapped potential of highly prospective black and Latina women-led startups.

DigitalUndivided will host its annual #DIDSXSW party March 13 in conjunction with Mobile Future. Follow her on Twitter.

Courtesy of Bennie King
Courtesy of Bennie King

Bennie King, VenueCenter
“In an age where technology has made everything from booking a flight to catching a cab easier, the process of finding a place to hold an event has been left behind,” Bennie King, founder and CEO of VenueCenter, told The Root. The online platform makes booking and planning an event seamless. The platform offers user-friendly features and reviews that allow customers to filter venues by location, ambience, capacity, food offerings, surrounding amenities and more. Prior to founding VenueCenter, King worked for a pharmaceutical company for seven years while also dabbling in event planning and promotion. Follow him on Twitter.

Courtesy of Sarah Kunst
Courtesy of Sarah Kunst

Sarah Kunst, Proday
Sarah Kunst is a jill-of-all-trades with a background as an investor and entrepreneur who has held posts at Apple, Red Bull, Chanel, Mohr Davidow Ventures and several venture-backed startups. Not to mention, she made the 2015 Forbes magazine 30 Under 30 list, serves as a judge for the 2016 Forbes 30 Under 30 and was named a top 25 innovator in tech by Cool Hunting.

Recently, Kunst founded and holds the title of CEO of Proday, the celebrity personal-training fitness app. Proday offers busy people a way to spice up their workout while using training routines led by fitness celebrities and world-renowned athletes. Users simply watch and work out from their smartphones for a personalized experience. Follow her on Twitter.

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SOURCE: The Root, Sherrell Dorsey