Let's Build It Together: Center for Black Innovation announces recipients of their Ecosystem Builders Fellowship.

Clayton Gutzmore

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Courtesy of The Center For Black Innovation

The Center For Black Innovation (CFBI) is an entity that has assisted South Florida Black entrepreneurs for years. Formerly known as Black Tech Week and Code Fever, the organization has brought resources to the locals who are serious about starting and scaling a business. Now CFBI's latest project is ready to make changes across the country. CFBI has selected its first cohort of entrepreneurs for its Ecosystem Builders Fellowship.

The fellowship is an eight-week program that will train and mentor entrepreneurs from around the nation to develop their local tech scene. The program will provide the recipients the right resources to make a difference in several Black tech ecosystems in the United States,” CFBI has a record of building its ecosystem. The team is ready to share what they know to shorten the learning curve for emerging leaders like me and the other fellows,” said Lori Ruffin, founder of The COO Team and recipient of the Ecosystem Builders Fellowship.

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Lori Ruffin, founder of The COO TeamCourtesy of Center For Black Innovation

CFBI announced the first cohort of the Ecosystem Builders Fellowship in June. The organization selected 15 black entrepreneurs out of hundreds of applications nationwide. The qualifying trait that the 15 fellows have in common is the work they are currently doing in their cities to advance the black tech and entrepreneurship scene.

Some fellows are in cities that CFBI considers innovation desserts. CFBI defines these locations as spaces that do not cultivate innovation for Black and brown communities, “There are no forms of coding boot camps or no tech alliance. The people within those communities are bootstrapping it with whatever funding they have to make something happen,” said Christine Joseph, program manager for CFBI’s Ecosystem Builder Fellowship.

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Temante Leary, Co-founder of Class UpdatesCourtesy of Center For Black Innovation

Within the eight weeks, the program will equip the fellows with the skills necessary to tackle the challenge. First, the fellows will create an asset map of their locations. Asset mapping involves taking inventory of a community's strengths and resources. From there, they can identify any problems the area may be facing. Next, the fellows will collect data from their locations that will support the existence of the problem in the area. Finally, fellows will learn storytelling.

Joseph explains how this is essential because how the message is conveyed to the community within the ecosystem will determine if they get behind the fellows’ effort. “Storytelling is helping your community rally behind the problem you identified. You can’t get funding or help if you can't explain why this is a problem in the first place,” said Joseph.

CFBI chose a diverse group of fellows. Each fellow has a unique problem they have identified and ready to solve after the eight weeks. Temante Leary is the Co-founder of Class updates and the founder of the Black Men Talk Tech conference. Leary is peeled and ready to solve the problem of mentorship in the tech community. “One of the key ingredients of a thriving Black tech ecosystem is mentorship. I identified this factor is missing, and it reinforces why I belong in the fellowship,” said Leary.

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Nicelle Cook, CEO of Practegy, LLCCourtesy of The Center of Black Innovation

Nicelle Cook is an award-winning educator from Kentwood, Louisiana. She created her own educational consulting company, Practegy, LLC. Cook aims to use what she learns in the fellowship to create a platform that will combine the disciplines of mental health and education to serve the needs of the youth. “People in those disciplines work in silos. We need to collaborate to design classrooms that will nurture neurodiversity,” said Cook.

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Rose LeJiste, Executive Director Black Orlando TechCourtesy of Center for Black Innovation

Rose LeJiste is a fellow in Orlando, Florida. She is the executive director of Black Orlando Tech. Lejiste plans on applying what she learned in fellowship to cultivate more partnerships now that more awareness is brought to what's lacking in Orlando’s tech space, “The tech scene in Orlando is still a work in progress. Good thing is that there is more attention being given to the gaps in the ecosystem overall and leaders from the local community, local organizations, and the local governments are now being proactive instead of reactive,” said Lejiste.

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Courtesy of Center For Black Innovation

The Fellowship is scheduled to end on August 9. Joseph shares it is too early to describe what the finished product will look like from each entrepreneur in the program. However, one thing she and CFBI are expecting from the fellows is how well they formed a team behind their mission so they are not doing this by themselves,” Community building breeds exhaustion. You can't do it alone, it is not sustainable. Working with these builders, we want to give them the exposure and the support they need so they do not burn out,” said Joseph. CFBI is working diligently with the 15 fellows to bring the ideas to life. Joseph and everyone in the organization are excited to reveal the results of the work in August.

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Clayton Gutzmore is a freelance journalist in South Florida. His work has been published in several print outlets including The Miami Times, The Miami Herald, The Atlanta Voice, and Variety Magazine. Gutzmore is a 2016 graduate of Florida International University. He is also a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, The Online News Association and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc.

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