To kick off the 2023 US Equity Summit, Hala Hanna, Managing Director of MIT Solve asked attendees to look one another in the eye and repeat, “I hear you, I see you, I support you.” This activity laid the foundation for an impactful summit filled with new partnerships, deepened relationships, vulnerability, and shared recognition.
This year’s US Equity Summit was intentionally hosted in Tulsa for its historical significance and proximity to the communities, including 39 sovereign nations, which Solve hopes to strengthen relationships with in addition to other Indigenous, Black, and Brown peoples who have been historically underserved in the entrepreneurial space.
The event featured three plenaries: Building a Just Future; Partnerships for Lasting Change; and Arts, Culture, and Technology for Equity. Attendees also took The Real Black Wall Street Tour, led by Chief Egunwale Amusan, a descendant of survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
During Building a Just Future, panelists were asked about their work and how it is fortifying the region as well as underestimated communities. Managing Director of Build in Tulsa, Ashli Sims, provoked discussion by asking, “How do you live in a paradox where you see it’s not doing as well as it could be, but no one is doing it better [elsewhere]?”
Panelists Ashley Harris Philippsen, Interim Executive Director at ImpactTulsa and Te'Ata Loper, Executive Director at the Oklahoma Indian Child Welfare Association (OICWA) are both leaning into data to help children, underserved peoples, and to promote Indigenous sovereignty. “We want to dissolve system inequities, not just manage or solve them,” said Harris Phillippsen.
Tré Baker, Managing Director at Techstars shared that although his organization has over 3,000 alumni and 6,000 individuals in its network, there is still exponential work to be done to close the $10+ trillion racial wealth gap. “I’m here because I don't want my son to be here in 30 years to talk about the [same] racial wealth gap,” Baker shared.
A core theme of the event was to offer more than you ask. Partnerships for Lasting Change zeroed in on this practice. Dr. Valerie Blue Bird Jernigan, Director of the Center for Indigenous Health Research and Policy at Oklahoma State University, advised everyone to be transparent about intentions from the onset of partnership discussions. She shared, “You need to be honest with your limitations and your agenda driving your work.”
Founder and Managing Director at Tulsa Innovation Labs, Nicholas Lalla, called for collaboration between public, private, and social sectors. Andrea Delgado Olsen, Associate Director of Community Partnerships at Indigitize, suggested working in unison versus siloes. “There needs to be a repository and a space to learn from one another…I learned this early on at a conference where I saw language revitalization projects that were already duplicated,” shared Delgado-Olsen.
Founder and Executive Director at Black Tech Street, Tyrance Billingsley II, echoed similar sentiments about collaboration in his fireside chat with Adele Weaver, Managing Partner at Atento Pre-Seed. “There’s a saying: What you do for me, without me, you do to me,” Billingsley shared.
Setting itself apart from typical conferences, the US Equity Summit found power and connectivity through the arts. Osage singer and songwriter, Marca Cassity commenced dinner Thursday evening with a self-composed song, which inspired Indigenous Fellows and an elder to share their music and heartfelt gratitude for being in community at the event and for being recognized as a key part of the innovation ecosystem.
On the final day of the event, Tiffany Warren, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Sony Music Group shared that she is Sony Music Group’s first in the role and one of three in the entire music industry. Warren asked panelists to talk about how arts and culture in technology have been used as a mechanism for storytelling and to advance social change.
Jennifer Loren, Senior Director at the Cherokee Nation Film Office and Original Content, shared the role that film plays, “Reclaiming our narrative is my everyday work. When you hear the word Cherokee you might think of a jeep or teepee, which are absolutely not Cherokee in nature.”
Overall, the US Equity Summit celebrated and connected entrepreneurs in the 2022 Solver Class with individuals who would uplift their work and help them scale.
Genesis Garcia, Officer of US Community at Solve shared, “When we view the state of technology today, we’re reframing what it means to be [Black, Brown, and Indigenous] and building a larger community. Our innovators are an example of this with their human-centered approach to language translation, a repository of ancestral knowledge, and using tech as a platform for safe community gatherings and storytelling.”
Solve is seeking applicants for the Indigenous Communities Fellowship, which has expanded to Canada for the first time, as well as our 2023 Global Challenges. Apply now and share the opportunity for funding, in-kind support, and more with the entrepreneurs and innovators in your network. Learn how to support our US Equity work here.