I met Tosan Arueyingho, a software developer & consultant, late summer of 2018 when he was planning his inaugural “Black is Tech” conference. A techie friend recommended me to moderate one of the panels at the conference, “The Rise of Black Creatives,” which I did when the conference took place last month. (The panel explored the role of Black Creatives within New York City’s creative community – whether in the corporate workplace or as company founders.)
What was notable to me from the time I met him up until the day of the conference was his tenacity.
The conference was originally supposed to take place in the fall of 2018, but due to financial issues, Arueyingho told all parties involved that the conference would be postponed until April. He kept his word, and worked around the clock to make it happen. I can’t speak for my fellow event speakers, but I had been so looking forward to showcasing my panel, which consisted of Shani Sandy of IBM; Joanes Prosper of Prosper Digital TV; and Gregory Nesmith, founder & CEO of UnderdogStuff.
Thanks to Arueyingho, whose event partners included Intersection and PlanetMcNair, I, along with my panelists, had a stage on which to discuss inspiring cultural institutions and spaces in New York City that feature the work of Black Creatives; the idea of sticking to one’s creatives pursuits by any means necessary; and the different avenues in 2019 through which Creatives can sustain themselves financially. So glad Arueyingho followed through with the launch – in New York City, no less, where the price to execute damn near anything is sky high.
The conference, which was sponsored by Google, Amazon, DropBox, Adobe, FlatIron Health and Ultimate Software and held at Metropolitan West, was a big success. There were two-days of sessions featuring numerous speakers who brought to a packed audience valuable information on social media, tech diversity, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, fund raising and so much more. There were fireside chats, lightning talks and even a Pitch Competition.
We caught up with Arueyingho to get his perspective on the planning, the outcome and the future of the conference.
TNJ.com: Tell me a bit about your work as a software developer & consultant.
Tosan Arueyingho: As a consultant and software developer, I usually do freelance or consulting work for tech startups looking to build new systems or products for their companies. I have also lately been providing some business strategy and marketing advice to some companies.
Aside from that, I am focused even more towards providing avenues and resources for growth for black professionals, entrepreneurs and students.
TNJ.com: What compelled you to launch “Black is Tech,” and when did you start planning it?
Tosan Arueyingho: I’ve always looked for ways to bring black and minority professionals to connect on a larger scale. In 2016, I launched YBP (Young Black Professionals) to act as a networking resource for these large scale connections. We started in NYC and 3 years later, we were in 13 cities with over 38,000 members in our network. Today, we organize networking events across these cities and bring between 200 – 350 people to each of our events.
I’ve always believed in creating new milestones on any project I’m working on. So I started looking for other ways to provide value. Being a software developer made it easier for me to think towards the line of technology. I didn’t like that I couldn’t easily connect with other tech professionals that looked like me because anytime I got a position at a company, I was the only Black employee on the team. I also had other friends with similar experiences. So I figured something had to change. At the time, I saw what amazing companies like Blavity were doing with Afrotech and wanted to bring something similar to the East Coast.
We officially started planning for the Conference in February 2018. So approximately planning took about a year with some breaks in between.
TNJ.com: How did you get the majority of the speakers? Word of mouth, or did you contact people?
Tosan Arueyingho: We reached out to the majority of speakers either through their agents or directly on social media. Some were also from our sponsor companies. Other speakers were selected from the speaker submissions we received on our website.
TNJ.com: Did you have to turn down speakers? I would imagine you had a lot of requests from people who wanted to present.
Tosan Arueyingho: We didn’t necessarily turn down speakers. We had a ton of speaker submissions. However, we had to choose speakers that had topics that were a good fit for what we were trying to achieve for Year 1. We only had a total of 15 sessions for both days and we already locked in up to 8 with speakers we reached out to. So we had only 7 slots to fill from over 100 speaker submissions.
TNJ.com: What challenges did you encounter in getting the event off the ground?
Tosan Arueyingho: A lot. First is finances. Organizing a conference is a very expensive task. Conferences easily go into 6-figure costs, even with the most budget-conscious events. Usually ticket sales alone do not necessarily cover those expenses. That’s where the sponsorships come in.
However, being a first-year event, sponsors are very skeptical – and understandably so. And when very few sponsors commit, they come in at a very safe contribution level for Year 1. We experienced a lot of companies that wanted to see what our first year would look like before committing.
The challenges don’t end with sponsorship: dealing with potential speakers, vendors, team members and every part of the planning process become more complex during the first year’s project. You are trying to sell a vision that is yet to generate any real traction, so it just takes more work to get off the ground.
I believe that with the first year completed, things will get a lot easier for Year 2.
TNJ.com: Were you pleased with the outcome?
Tosan Arueyingho: Yes, I was. Turnout was great and we created value. There are definitely areas that we need to work on moving forward but this is the beginning of a movement that will provide even more value and resources for tech professionals, students and entrepreneurs in the future. Being able to get this off the ground was gratifying for me. I believe that the Black Is Tech Conference is so big a movement that it transcends beyond what I or my team can do. This is a communal project and I look forward to seeing it take off on a very large scale years and decades in the future.
TNJ.com: Who won the Pitch Competition and was the company awarded funds to help their business?
Tosan Arueyingho: The Pitch Competition was won by a startup called Drofika Labs. The founders were awarded $10,000. Funds have yet to be disbursed as of time of writing, but should be taken care of in the month of May.
TNJ.com: Have you begun planning next year’s conference and what, if anything, will you do differently?
Tosan Arueyingho: Yes, we are already in the works for the Black Is Tech Conference 2020. With the just-concluded event being our first year, we do believe that we have areas that we can work on to provide a better experience for attendees next year. We sent out a survey to our attendees and are taking every piece of feedback from that survey to apply to plans for next year.