The Blackstone Charitable Foundation is joining forces with Syracuse University Libraries’ Blackstone LaunchPad (LaunchPad) to host Tulsa Juneteenth Festival’s Black Tech Panel on Friday, June 17. Powered by CLLCTVE, a company founded by Syracuse University alumna Kelsey Davis ’19, G’20, the event will be hosted by Atento Capital, a Tulsa-based investment firm focused on underrepresented minorities and women, and funded through a relationship with the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
The Black Tech Panel will feature three renowned Black business owners who are alumni of Syracuse University and the Blackstone LaunchPad and Techstars networks. Together, they have raised more than $25 million in venture capital to commercialize the ideas they launched as students.
Along with Davis, panelists will include Joshua Aviv ’15, G’17, founder and CEO of SparkCharge, and Shawn Gaetano ’21, founder and CEO of Solace Vision. Syracuse University alumna Dayanna Torres ’06, G’09, director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, will serve as the moderator.
Separately, the Blackstone LaunchPad at Syracuse University is sponsoring College of Law student Zebedayo Masongo L’23, founder of the Grnwood, a digital media platform inspired by the historic Greenwood district, to participate in Black media programming as part of Tulsa’s Juneteenth Festival. The Greenwood district was part of America’s ‘Black Wall Street’ in Tulsa where Black businesses thrived in the early 1900s.
Linda Dickerson Hartsock, executive director of Syracuse University Libraries’ Blackstone LaunchPad (LaunchPad), curated and will attend the Black Tech Panel event. The program is another example of the LaunchPad’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), along with several other ongoing programs, such as Todd B. Rubin LaunchPad DEI Scholars and Afropreneur programming. The LaunchPad focuses on impact entrepreneurship and inclusion that reflects the rich diversity of the global world.
“The LaunchPad is excited to support this event showcasing inspiring Black founders who are alumni of our program,” says Hartsock. “It will be an engaging conversation with actionable ideas about how to leverage resources to catalyze innovation in life, career and community. Kudos to CLLCTVE for driving partnerships, empowerment and entrepreneurial spirit that are at the heart of a new economic boom in Tulsa.”
“‘The legacy of Black Wall Street presented opportunities for entrepreneurs a hundred years ago in the name of freedom. They had an ecosystem. Belonging. Economy. My mission is to reignite that alongside the work that’s already happening here,” says Davis.
“Quite simply being a Black leader in clean tech means you must hustle harder, and do so with 10 times the tenacity of those around you,” says Aviv. “That tenacity creates a path for others to follow. The more of us that push through the hurdles in front of us, the wider that path becomes for those that follow us. It’s an honor to be a part of the Tulsa Juneteenth Festival Black Tech Panel. To take the stage with other leaders of color and share our stories will help us all blaze more paths forward.”
“I’m ecstatic to be speaking on the Black Tech Panel,” adds Gaetano. “As a Black founder of a technology startup, I know first-hand how difficult it is to build a company in a space where I look different from my counterparts. My goal for the panel is to motivate and assist other Black entrepreneurs breaking into the technology industry by sharing my personal insights, experiences and resources that have helped me navigate the space and build a venture-backed, Black-led technology company. Tulsa’s minority-led startup ecosystem is growing at an unprecedented rate, and I’m grateful to take part in this pivotal moment in history.”
The panel is part of a larger Tulsa Juneteenth Festival, from June 16-19, designed to help identify systems, structures, policies and gaps that are in place that widen the economic gap for Black Americans. It is largest Juneteenth celebration in the nation and is expected to attract more than 50,000 people to Tulsa. Juneteenth was established in 2021 as a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery and celebrating African American culture. It originated in Galveston, Texas, and was informally celebrated in various communities until the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act was enacted into law.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Greenwood district in Tulsa, Oklahoma was a Black economic and cultural mecca, proudly known as Black Wall Street. In 1921, a 40-square-block area was destroyed in what is considered one of the most horrific acts of racial violence in American history. After the massacre, Black business owners focused on education and entrepreneurship as tools for recovery and resilience, as they rebuilt the 1,000 homes and businesses that had been destroyed. A 2021 Forbes feature story describes the “revival of Black entrepreneurial spirit” as part of Tulsa’s New Black Wall Street.