This year, eight student leaders were recognized for their work and offered exclusive scholarships from Hilton to attend the AfroTech conference in San Francisco. As Hilton heads into its 100th year in 2019, the company acknowledges the next generation has valuable leadership skills worth investing in.
Hilton, which made the 2018 Fortune Change The World list, recognized the need for students to have access to these opportunities. AfroTech is a yearly conference that unites people of color in tech for one info-packed weekend, full of networking opportunities, potential business partners, chances to learn and opportunities to share the innovative things attendees have been working on all year long.
We spoke with JeanClaude Dorsainvil, a recipient of the Hilton scholarship, about his experience at AfroTech. Check it out below:
AfroTech: How did you find out that you would be able to attend AfroTech with the Hilton scholarship?
JeanClaude Dorsainvil: Several weeks before the conference I reached out to AfroTech Morgan DeBaun, the founder of AfroTech, proposing a sponsorship collaboration. My aim was to send 5-10 highly motivated Black students from UC Berkeley to AfroTech 2018. In my request, I emphasized how impactful the event would be for our students. AfroTech presents a unique opportunity to experience Black innovation, networking and excellence in a comfortable and immersive setting. Several days later I received an email informing us that Hilton wanted to sponsor 10 student-level scholarships to the conference. I was overjoyed. Ultimately, we selected students who demonstrated a desire to innovate, who had a strong understanding of the need for diversity in tech, and who had a hunger to create opportunities for their community.
AfroTech: Can you tell me a bit about your experience?
JCD: From the moment I stepped foot into the conference venue, I was taken aback. The sheer number of people was beyond what I had envisioned. I downloaded the AfroTech app, connected with some of my classmates, and then created a game plan for how I would tackle the day; there were simply too many awesome things to see and not enough time. I was amazed by how open the entire community was. Folks were eager to talk to me and the feeling was mutual. Every booth was excited to share the opportunities that they had and give insight into company culture. I was most impressed by the type of talent that AfroTech organized and attracted. Everywhere that I turned I ran into someone who I had either seen on TV, follow on Twitter, or read about on Crunchbase. The experience was the perfect blend of professional development, cultural diversity and fun.
AfroTech: What were your favorite sessions and speakers at the event?
JCD: My favorite parts of the conference took place primarily at the Entrepreneurship Stage. The highlight of my day on Friday was watching the StartUp pitch competition. There were seven unique companies pitching and the panel of judges was: Erik Moore, Monique Idlett-Mosley and Jewel Burks. The beauty was seeing what these founders had created and the journeys that they took to make their ideas a reality. From BitMari to Remodelmate, each team was unique, hungry and eager to prove that they were the real deal. My favorite session on Saturday was when Everette Taylor gave his talk about “How to make millions without raising capital.” His experience highlighted a very raw form of entrepreneurship, driven by the necessity to create. What resonated the most was when he said, “There is no blueprint to this. You can’t teach people step-by-step how to be successful. Every business is different and every founder is different.” The authenticity and passion of the speakers and facilitators made the experience truly enjoyable.
AfroTech: When did you get interested in tech?
JCD: Last summer I interned with BBVA Compass Bank in San Francisco with their Corporate Responsibility Team. Our office was also home to the New Digital Businesses Unit, which is incubating businesses in BBVA’s Silicon Valley-based fintech lab. At the time, there was one startup whose work and team I truly admired, Azlo. Azlo’s mission is to improve access to core financial services for entrepreneurs from all walks of life by offering transparent business banking services. Despite being a part of a different team, the Azlo group truly made me feel welcome. I had the opportunity to learn about the tech that was driving their platform, as well as the plethora of other processes that factor into creating a product and experience that customers truly enjoy. From that point on I’ve been fascinated by how the integration of technology into essential industries, such as banking, can revolutionize the future.
AfroTech: What do you hope to accomplish in tech?
JCD: At the beginning of summer 2018, I began working on a project called Bold Venture Partners. We are a team dedicated to supporting black and brown student founders in our ecosystem. We aim to increase access to funding opportunities, mentorship and other strategic resources which can help accelerate their start-up growth. It’s clear that technology-powered startups are making the biggest waves throughout entrepreneurial communities and my goal is to make sure that people of color don’t get left out of the picture.
AfroTech: How do you think AfroTech might help you get closer to achieving your goals?
JCD: I hope to run my own venture capital fund someday. I want to be in a position where I can help manifest the ideas of brilliant entrepreneurs. At this year’s AfroTech conference I was starstruck when I met some of the amazing VCs who are making enormous impacts in our community. I had the chance to sit front row as Charles Hudson spoke about founders maximizing their leverage to secure the best deals. I sat right next to Erik Moore as he judged this year’s pitch competition and discussed how he conducts his analysis. I was able to tell the brothers from Harlem Capital, in person, how inspirational they are to me. This all happened over the span of two days and I can’t think of another circumstance under which this would be possible. I had the opportunity to connect face-to-face with people whose stories I had been following online for quite some time. Over the course of the weekend I networked with folks that could very well be my future partners, colleagues and mentors. AfroTech creates synergies that will continue to bring me closer to creating a lasting impact in my community.
AfroTech: What advice do you have for other students who think they might have an interest in tech?
JCD: My advice to any student even remotely interested in tech is to take that enthusiasm and run with it. Tech is on track to impact every aspect of our lives, and the best part is that there is a place for everyone. Whether you’re interested in computer science, business or arts and humanities, you can leverage your experiences to bring value to the team. The most diverse teams are the most successful. Tech is such an enormous world that it comes down to finding which areas of tech are most aligned with your interests and passions. If you think you might want to work in tech, career fairs and networking events are great ways to learn about company philosophies, missions and culture. You have to jump in with both feet and follow your curiosity.
“Dorsainvil’s experience is one that aligns with Hilton’s values of empowering the next generation of leaders as well as our Travel With Purpose initiative and our commitment to the world,” said Andréa Richardson, Director of Multicultural & Diversity Relations at Hilton. “Many of our efforts are focused on leveraging local and global investments of time and resources to create economic opportunities for all people.
The experience of AfroTech provided to Dorsainvil and the other scholarship winners is just one way Hilton demonstrates how travel and purposeful intentionality can connect young people to the world of business and technology in an authentic, diverse way. Students deserve opportunities like this.”
“AfroTech was inspirational to me,” said Dorsainvil. “Seeing so many people dedicated to the success of Black people made me feel as though anything is possible. I left AfroTech even more driven to make an impact. The conference was a manifestation of hard work, dedication, and community. I look forward to taking the resources given to me and reinvesting them in any way that I can.”
This post is brought to you by Hilton.