Year after SXSW, Philadelphia makes good on Project Northstar

As Aniyia Williams stood in the lobby of a pro boxing arena-turned-tech conference venue in South Philadelphia early Friday afternoon, there was no shortage of words to describe her past three days.

“It’s been exhilarating and thrilling, terrifying, calm and crazy,” said Williams, a Philadelphia native and co-founder of nonprofit Black and Brown Founders, the organization behind Project Northstar, a three-day tech conference focused on black and Latinx entrepreneurs and innovators.

“This is a very special time in Philadelphia," Williams said. "It feels like there is a sort of renaissance happening, and that is very much being spurred by technology." That’s the story in a host of other U.S. cities, she said, but Philadelphia stands out, both because it's a majority-minority city and it has a mayor who wants to see those demographics reflected in the city's thriving tech scene.

Mayor Jim Kenney's first trip to SXSW in Austin was in 2017, where he saw the drastic lack of diversity and inclusion in tech on a grand scale. That sparked the idea of a conference focused on underrepresented entrepreneurs. Speaking to the Philadelphia Business Journal just after he got back from the 2017 trip, Kenney said he wanted to have “something here in Philly that could be a more diverse conference and open up these opportunities to our kids of color and other regions.”

A little over a year later, he announced the city partnered with Black and Brown Founders to put together Project Northstar. Last week, it became a reality.

Read the full article by the Philadelphia Business Journal here.

Syreeta Martin