It is easy to divide and analyze the landscape of Charlotte's technology and entrepreneurship community for all that it is not.
For Northerners and/or Westerners like myself hailing from tech meccas like Seattle, San Francisco and New York, finding ourselves in the land of Cheerwine and Bojangles' biscuits paints the picture of a market not quite ready to join the big leagues, at least as far as building a thriving and exciting entrepreneurial community is concerned. Where hospitality and personal relationships take center stage, the culture isn't necessarily keeping up with the speed of an industry that values quick connections and quick hires.
Like many millennials hoping to develop strong careers outside of traditional corporate banking environments, my moves in this sector and in this city are limited. I'm forced to vacillate between a traditional corporate job or a prayer that the hot new startup that managed to raise a little bit of money has an opening. Thus, my moves in this sector in this city are limited.
By contrast, where Silicon Valley builds rapidly and takes the risk to fund new ideas or provide a bevy of interesting jobs in the workforce, the South stalls its output when would-be innovators, frustrated with the long process of climbing the ranks, jump ship to greener pastures.
Within the first few days of the new year, I sat down with friends, a few who are founders of startup technology companies or serve at national venture capital firms, to get their take on what Charlotte needs to pull ahead. Without hesitation, they mentioned the need for investors and fund leaders to decrease their aversion to risk.
Despite their strong criticisms of the difficulty to get funding in the city, or having to source money from larger markets, their take on the climate was also met with optimism.
Talented business leaders like Patrick Hill, founder of mobile app development company A Cultivated Mindset, refuse to leave the Queen City despite having to regularly run to Atlanta to garner financial support for his products from investors.
True to the nature of a technologist programmed to solve problems, Hill has focused his company's attention on developing products for niche markets that answer critical challenges in our city and beyond. Within the next few weeks, he plans to launch an app connecting black women to tech jobs within their city.
The regionalized app will debut in Charlotte and eventually expand to Atlanta. Users will be able to scroll through job opportunities like an Instagram feed and swipe left or right to apply or reject the job opportunity.
The most important ingredient to the equation will be in the quality and frequency of job postings by local companies that will engage a demographic often missing in large numbers within the industry.
"I'd initially designed the app back in 2012 to the growing immigrant community to help them find jobs in tech," Hill shared. "Now we've relaunched the app and pivoted it to address the needs of an often neglected demographic. We're launching Charlotte in the first quarter of the year and then Atlanta."
Local artist Lo'Vonia Parks is an ideal target for Hill's new app. She was laid off last year and has sold art while job hunting. She currently works a temp job while looking for more career-based work.
"[The app] could be beneficial for black women as long it's not just black women viewing it," Parks said. "I understand the challenges we face in the job market — hair, tone of voice, name pronouncing, being viewed as equal, etc. — but hiring managers are of all different nationalities, so it's beneficial if it's not just black hiring managers viewing it too," she says.
Personally, I'm particularly excited about the potential effect niche-specific products will have on our local market and the eventual data it will provide as we think about where Charlotte must work to address its gaps.
We're still grossly unclear as to who is represented in our current entrepreneurial landscape, the products they're building and the data behind how using their technology is developing greater connections to the larger technology community.
Perhaps these insights, driven by makers like Hill, will navigate our trajectories to tangible outcomes. An environment where investors aren't afraid to lead in new spaces and we accelerate our bias toward action to usurp our slow climb to the bottom tier of national tech leadership assessments.