By Nicole D. Miller
This October, the east bank of the flats in Cleveland was swarmed with innovators, creatives, leaders, and tech gurus donning their best business attire and genius mindsets. But what made this picture of dynamite entrepreneurs even more unique was that it was comprised of almost 100% minorities. What brought such a vast number of Black and Brown folks together? Cleveland’s first annual Futureland Conference.
In partnership with Jumpstart Inc., Futureland was spearheaded by six local entrepreneurs: Alysha Ellis, director of education, Camille Genise, director of events, Aaron Marks, director of finance, Charron Leeper, creative director, Kumar Arora, director of marketing, and Musa Hakim Jr., director of web 3 & internet technology.
The purpose of Futureland was to create a tech/innovation ecosystem to support and showcase the diverse talent of Cleveland and to cast a vision for the city’s future. The conference was a bundle of workshops, concerts, speakers, business pitches, fashion shows, panel discussions, and much more!
The need for a tech conference geared explicitly toward minorities is great. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), this field is dominated by 83% whites in comparison to 2% Blacks (at minimum), 3% Hispanics (at minimum), and up to 20% Asians (at most).
Maestro Stevens, owner of The Iconic Expressions, led the Brand Startup 101 workshop at Futureland and can attest to these numbers. “There is a lack of education, features, and opportunities in my community for the tech industry,” he said when interviewed. “There is also a lack of representation of Black Americans within the tech space.”
Futureland is a solution to that lack by providing knowledge, guidance, and resources to improve successful small business rates—and the best part was that it was curated by and for the minority community.
Alysha Ellis, a serial entrepreneur, shares what she took from her experience hosting Futureland “…we must be a part of the decision-making process. We can’t continue to build things without people and expect them to show up. In order for us to have sustainable growth, we must co-create together!”
It is that mindset and energy that is vibrantly shaking this community’s business sector, and organizations such as Jumpstart Inc. recognize it. Jumpstart’s mission “to unlock the full potential of entrepreneurs in the Northeast Ohio region by delivering capital services and connections” perfectly aligned with the need to assist minorities in the tech industry.
Camille Genise, the Entrepreneur in Residence at Jumpstart, shared that one of the major goals of Futureland was to reach the right people. Often, conferences and workshops can be missed by the people who need them most, but that was not the case this time.
Although planning started in August, which is late for most conferences, the event did not appear rushed, featuring celebrities such as Rich Paul and Cleveland’s own Mayor Justin Bibb. Many workshops were even held at global accounting powerhouse Ernst & Young.
The encouragement to Cleveland’s innovators has been long-awaited and eagerly received. “We need to see that it’s possible,” says Jay R. Fogle, a member of Futureland’s planning committee. “We need to see there are movers and shakers moving to know it can happen.” And “it” IS happening.
So, what can the community expect from the next Futureland? Camille, also the owner of FELOH, a marketplace for beauty lovers, advises that there will be less emphasis on small businesses and more on futurism. Get ready for topics of e-com businesses, loan-based capital, and emerging industries. Get ready for Cleveland to be positioned as a power player in the current Black Renaissance.
The good news is that Cleveland will not have to wait a whole year for the next conference. There will be a mix of networking events and panel discussions starting in early 2023 leading up to the major conference next October. Be on the lookout for announcements regarding these mixers. They just might be the opportunity for scaling, prosperity, and creating generational wealth. Additional information can be found at futurelandcle.com.
Nicole D. Miller is a self-published author, tenured blogger, and serial entrepreneur in Cleveland. Owner of ND Miller Publishing, where she provides aspiring authors with affordable resources to manifest quality content. Learn more at nicoledmiller.com.