A warm, autumn sun beamed across the clear blue skies of Oakland on Sunday afternoon as dozens of budding entrepreneurs made their way to rows of seats in the basement of Kapor Center, awaiting their chance to pitch their new business ventures. Grazing off plastic white plates of pork, roasted chicken and an avocado and tomato salad, they reviewed their presentations and gabbed about their weekend activities. The final leg of the 54-hour team challenge to build technology that solves an issue affecting Latin communities inched closer.
Mack Kolarich, the facilitator of the first ever Startup Weekend Oakland: Latinx Tech Edition grabbed a microphone and congratulated the room for working on such a beautiful day. Smiles and laughter filled the air as he played a slideshow of photos from the weekend: participants in white name tags huddling together in breakout sessions, team members posing with their sheets of hand drawn prototype ideas, and a group conducting surveys outside.
With a booming voice and great energy, Kolarich introduced the three judges – Laura Gomez, founder and CEO of Atipica, Monique Woodard, venture partner at 500 Startups and Mitch Kapor, Co-Chair of the Kapor Center.
At Kolarich’s urging, the audience stamped their feet and cheered as the first team plugged in their laptop. One of them projected a PowerPoint mock-up of Perspective, a workplace training program that teaches empathy through virtual reality. They played a short video clip featuring a transgender person trying to navigate male and female restrooms at the office. It demonstrated how an immersive platform like VR could put employees in the shoes of another coworker’s situation. The next eight teams repeated the flow: a wild cheer by the audience followed by a three-minute pitch with PowerPoints, prototypes and multimedia followed by questions from judges.
Each idea solved a specific issue effecting Latino communities across the US and abroad, from lending money to small-business owners in Mexico to increasing diversity in the workplace and finding mentors to help young Latinos.
“We’re trying to change the face of tech,” said a young Latino man representing the team that pitched Tie-In, a business idea that would outsource social media campaign creations to minority students. “This country is going to look as diverse as this room.”