By Charles DeBow, III and Larry Ivory of the National Black Chamber of Commerce

Since our country’s founding, Black innovators have played a critical role in accelerating America’s growth and development in every field, especially in advanced technologies. As we celebrate Black History Month, we honor some of the Black innovators who have helped America become the global technology leader. 

  • Philip Emeagwali was critical to the development of the Internet. Using bees as inspiration, Emeagwali developed an inexpensive way to allow computers to speak with each other and collaborate all around the world. His work with simultaneous calculations on connected microprocessors earned the Gordon Bell Prize, considered the Nobel Prize of computing.
  • Roy Clay Sr. is called the “Godfather of Silicon Valley.” Hewlett Packard recruited him to run their computer development division and helped bring the original HP computer to market in 1966. In the 1970s, he started his own company, Rod-L Electronics, which some call Silicon Valley’s first technology start-up.
  • Lisa Gelobter was integrally involved with the creation and growth of Shockwave. The technology formed the beginning of web animation, which performed 3.1 billion calculations per second.
  • Alan Emtage is called the “Father of the Internet Search Engine” for having created Archie, the first search engine. Released in 1990, Archie allowed users to search for files stored on remote servers. This search engine revolutionized the way people access and search for information on the Internet.
  • Mark Dean was one of the lead engineers responsible for designing a number of the IBM PC’s components, including the first one gigahertz computer processor in 1999 and the industry-standard ISA bus. He holds three of the nine original patents for the personal computer.
  • Shirley Ann Jackson is a physicist and the first Black woman to earn a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her research in theoretical physics focused on surface physics and quantum theory. 
  • Donna Auguste was the first African American woman accepted in the PhD program at Carnegie Mellon University. She was part of the engineering team at IntelliCorp that introduced some of the world’s first commercial artificial intelligence knowledge.

These innovators helped America become the global technology leader. Tech is not just another sector of our economy; rather, it is the very backbone of our national security, our economic prosperity, and the advancement of our shared values at home and across the globe. 

America’s 9.7 million Black and minority-owned small businesses benefit greatly from the technology tools these innovation pioneers helped create. Employing more than 10 million people and adding an estimated $1.5 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2018, minority businesses are leveraging free and low-cost technology tools to tap new markets, create new jobs, and build generational wealth. These tools include email; social media; advertising platforms; cloud, data, and customer management tools; and much more.

U.S. tech companies are also partnering closely with minority businesses and communities, providing seed capital and building special tools to connect underserved communities to resources and opportunities, including free digital workshops, coding camps, digital skills trainings, and small business accelerators.

Unfortunately, legislative proposals are being considered in Congress that would undermine innovators, undercut these tech tools, and make it harder for minority startups to secure the capital they need to growth and scale. Rather than making it harder for minority small businesses and innovators to succeed, Congress needs accelerate U.S. technology leadership so that we all win and that everyone can benefit from America’s promise.

Charles DeBow, III is President/CEO of The National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC); Larry Ivory is NBCC Board Chairman and is President/CEO at Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce.