Q&A with Colorintech's co-founder Ashleigh Ainsley.
To celebrate Black History Month this October, we have been working closely with our friends over at Colorintech to advocate for a more inclusive and fair tech economy. To kickstart this month, we got chatting with co-founder Ashleigh Ainsley to learn more about the nonprofit, how it aims to increase the number of ethnic minorities entering the UK tech workforce and their flagship event Black Tech Fest.
Colorintech is a non-profit aiming to improve access, awareness and opportunities for ethnic minorities to enter the tech industry. Co-founded by ex-Googler Ashleigh Ainsley and Silicon Valley tech executive Dion McKenzie, they work with a number of the world's leading tech companies to run programs to enable students and working professionals to access career opportunities. As a testament to their work in late 2018, Colorintech was the recipient of Google.org's biggest diversity grant (>$250k) for ethnicity-focused D&I work outside of North America.
Tell us a little bit about your background before starting Colorintech.
My background played an important role in why I started Colorintech. I grew up in south east London, a very diverse part of London. The communities around me always inspired me to improve and grow, and I learned the importance of experiencing that diversity for the broad spectrum of perspectives it offered. I started my career at Google, then moved to a UK-based startup called Qubit. I also worked as a consultant for a while, before moving to Colorintech full time.
Sadly, when I joined the tech industry, I couldn't say the same diversity that had inspired me in m my community was present, so I wanted to do something about that. One of the main reasons I set up Colorintech was because I wanted to give better access and more opportunities to people who came from a similar background to myself or didn't have the same opportunity to succeed in the technology industry.
What gave you the idea for Colorintech?
For years we heard companies talk about how they wanted to build a more diverse workforce, and profess the benefits of diversity. However, from my personal experience, I was seeing and hearing colleagues, friends, and peers of mine say that they struggled to break into the industry. I started to think about how we could build something scalable to address that problem.
How are you helping founders of colour?
Colorintech's mission is to support underrepresented backgrounds who are often overlooked and help them become successful in the tech industry. This also extends to underrepresented founders. For example, we have a program we call Rise which enables a group of founders to accelerate their businesses through a series of workshops and mentoring with working professionals in the industry. The program aims to help participants get a step ahead. We've also launched Traction Club, with the help of Forward, to support the underrepresented founders that are further along in their journey by helping them close their first clients. The aim was to help them consistently identify and develop their first client relationships, and build meaningful traction, in order to secure their early successes.
What have been some standout moments for you over the last 12 months?
We've had a few really exciting moments this year that highlighted the importance and impact of the work we do with underrepresented founders. We had a fantastic showcase event in May, giving our Rise founders a chance to pitch their businesses to a room of investors, which received great feedback and recognition. We also launched Traction Club, which we had been in the making for quite some time, the idea gradually evolved over the span of a year.
Tell us about some superstar founders in your network.
We have a lot of founders that have gone on to do amazing things. Some of the following are really inspiring to us and are doing great things and having lots of success, and we're excited to see where they go next. .
- Richard Robinson of RobinAI
- Sahil Sethi of Maji
- Erika Clifford of Just Recruit
- Dami Hastrup of Moonhub
- Prudence Presson of Manje Health
- Jinesh Vohra of Sprive
With Black Tech Fest coming up in early October, we also wanted to learn more about this exciting event that brings together a diverse group of tech industry-leaders, operators and enthusiasts to create better access and opportunities for black talent.
What is Black Tech Fest and why was it started?
Black Tech Fest started as a response to the community who were asking for more ways to celebrate and gather together. Fundamentally, we had a lot of organisations talk about how they wanted to support the black community but for years had not taken initiative. We wanted to develop a way that we could convene, champion and showcase excellence whilst bringing organisations to the fore of the conversations about what they were doing to make inclusion a reality.
What can we expect at Black Tech Fest 2022
2022 is going to be our biggest year yet. We are going live in London over two full days. We will have three stages, a food court, a VIP lounge area, a buy black section, a hardware expo, and over 20 different exhibitors.
“With headliners such as Michelle Williams and Steven Bartlett, it really isn't one you can miss. It will be the biggest festival of its kind in Europe and we are really excited to make that happen.”
What is next for Colorintech and Black Tech Fest?
This year will see us launch the biggest Black Tech Fest ever, and we're excited to see what impact we can have off the back of it. At Colorintech, we also have a huge amount coming up to support founders next year. This includes a comprehensive online programme, a revamped Rise accelerator programme, and other new pilots to try out. You can keep up to date with those updates and programmes through our new founder newsletter here.
Join Europe's diversity festival of the year from the 11th to 13th of October . You can get your free ticket here.
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