When I think of someone who has founded a tech start-up, my brain conjures an image of a geeky white or Asian college boy. You know, some wavy-haired, wiry 20-something of Zuckerbergian extraction or his lanky and bespectacled Indian, Chinese or Japanese counterpart.
It wouldn’t have occurred to me to think of a fellow Hispanic in this role. And that’s probably because our visible presence in the tech start-up space is virtually nonexistent.
That must be why Latinos didn’t even make it into last year’s Venture Capital Human Report, which puts the percentage of white start-up founders who get venture capital in the US at 87%. Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders come in second with 12% and African-Americans 1%. Hispanics: nada.
In February of 2011, Ana Roca-Castro, programmer and founder of Latinos in Social Media, or LATISM, tried to kickstart a national conversation on this topic with a blog post last year after hearing a venture capitalist friend state: “there are no Latinos in tech start-ups.”
That’s a troubling statement. I’m sure the dearth of Hispanics in the country’s start-up scene stems in large part from the fact that, last year, only 57% of Latino (as well as African-American) high-school students graduated, as opposed to 78% of white and 80% of Asian-American students.
Of course there are other factors. But when you consider how fast technology is changing our world, the conspicuous absence of Hispanics in tech makes those statistics scarier.
But that‘s starting to change. In June earlier this year, a group of tech-loving Latinos descended on Google’s New York City offices for the first Latino2 Tech Startup Conference, founded by Roca-Castro and the LATISM team. The conference brought together a large group of Hispanic tech entrepreneurs with venture capitalists and angel investors from Google Ventures, Comcast Ventures, Needham & Co., and many more.
This is great news. Perhaps it will inspire other groups of Hispanic tech entrepreneurs to start their own, even bigger conferences, drawing more investors willing to take a chance on the innovation and creativity I know is plentiful among Latinos. One great example: Open English, an online language school created in 2006 by Venezuelan-born Andres Moreno and headquartered here in Miami. It’s been a huge success, with offices in Bogotá, Caracas, São Paulo and Panama City. The company recently got a fresh round of funding – $43 million.
So, kudos to the techies of LATISM! Let’s hope their conference is the start of a strong Latino presence in tech. Our future progress depends on it and my start-up stereotype could really use a makeover.