What’s in Common Between Silicon Valley and Urban America?

Posted by Anthony Worku
(@Anthony Worku)

Successful startup founders, such as JayZ and Mark Zuckerberg, found their initial spark by being able to use technology in ways other people had not yet envisioned. Of course, their tunnel vision as insider/outsiders and their comfort working under uncertain conditions came into play, allowing them to plunge forward into an unknown world where everyone else sees darkness. These entrepreneurs were able to innovate a way of using technologies that already exist to create new products, services and platforms no one else saw, and also had the mindset and willingness to pursue their visions under conditions of extreme uncertainty.

Knowing this, we know that when technology is made widely accessible even basic technologies that already exist like the boombox and the mixtape major innovators and entrepreneurial disruptors emerge from the shadows. What we also know is that access to those technologies and information is incredibly high in Silicon Valley and elite universities, but it is incredibly low in Urban America, where we know that creative, powerful and unique minds also emerge from the shadows.

Just think of it: hip hop was a startup in Urban America that at first was accessible only to insiders who went to rap battles (aka “Meetup” or “Demo Day” in Silicon Valley lingo) and limited to basic boom box technology along with popup style street performances. Today, hip hop is more than music. It is at the center of popular cultural narratives from NY to Tokyo and back. It is a way of life for millennials of different backgrounds and social class. Its influential reach ranges from the campus grounds of Ivy League schools to the playlists of tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. An entire generation’s cultural narrative (and the way that narrative is delivered) completely changed by a startup from Urban America.

If these basic technologies like the boombox and the mixtape recorder were not available, this entire cultural genre would not have been adopted by such a massive audience, and JayZ’s vision and talent would have been swallowed by the status quo cadre of music industry honchos. What a shame that would have been. The same would be true for Mark Zuckerberg had he not had the technology knowhow and access to create Facebook in the dormitories of Harvard. Again, what a shame that would have been.