The Crusader Newspaper Group

Chicago Black investment banker flourishing with technology venture

By Carlos M. Gutierrez, Jr.,

As individuals, organizations, and governments continue to focus on developing new solutions to help solve our world’s most challenging problems, tech incubators have become an important tool to help spur innovation.

Whether it’s Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator or Washington DC’s 1776, incubators have become a necessary component for effectively fostering new startups and developing the next generation of tech talent. In many cases, incubators do not simply provide much needed financing and technical know-how to emerging entrepreneurs, but also serve as gateways for communities and individuals to engage with the world of tech and innovation.

While incubators have helped launch countless startups and helped expose many to opportunities in the tech sector, the diverse nature of American cities is not often reflected in the tech industry. Disappointingly, a 2015 study found that only around four to five percent of the total tech workforce is African-American or Latino. On the financing side, only 22 percent of senior investment professionals are minorities, with women representing only 8 percent of senior investment professionals at top venture capital firms. When it comes to minority entrepreneurship, the statistics do not paint a rosier picture, with data showing that less than 10 percent of tech pitches are made by minority and women entrepreneurs.

Minority inclusion in the tech industry is not just a lofty goal, it can directly contribute to a company’s performance. A 2014 MIT study found workplace diversity can help companies work more efficiently and hence drive bottom line performance. Correspondingly, global consulting firm McKinsey & Company has found that “companies in the top quartiles for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.“ Of particular importance to the tech industry, the Harvard Business Review has highlighted research showing that diversity can be a key factor to “unlocking” innovation within organizations.

While the current state of affairs regarding minority inclusion in the tech sector may sound bleak, we can rest assured efforts are being made to change the status quo. One of these efforts is Chicago headquartered incubator Blue1647.

The brainchild of former investment banker and Northwestern MBA graduate Emile Cambry, Jr., Blue1647 works to foster entrepreneurship, innovation, and economic development within disadvantaged communities. Since launching in 2013, Cambry has expanded his operation not only within Chicago, but also to St. Louis, Missouri, and Compton, California. Thanks to his innovative and impactful work in the field of tech minority inclusion, Emile has been named to the Ebony Magazine Power 100, to Chicago Crain’s Tech 50, as a top 100 Innovator in Chicago by the Chicago Tribune, and as a Top 40 Under 40 Game Changer in Chicago.

I had the opportunity to interview Emile to discuss his work, the tech industry, and his views on entrepreneurship. Hope you enjoy.

CG: Tell me about Blue1647’s mission and why you decided to launch this venture?

EC: BLUE1647 started out as a side project, while I was teaching at a university in Chicago. I noticed how there was so much emphasis in Chicago to make it a hub for technology development. There were reports of over a billion dollars being invested in the ecosystem for our downtown areas. I knew something intentional had to take place in the communities to ensure there wasn’t trickle down innovation. Chicago is a very segregated city, racially and socioeconomically. In order to give everyone a chance, we had to have an outpost in the community, and be a beacon of resources to ensure opportunities weren’t watered down because you’re working with underrepresented folks in technology.


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