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Future of Tech in Triangle: Meet Jesica Averhart

DURHAM, NC – Currently, Blacks and Latinos make up a mere 2 percent of the technological workforce in the US.

Technology levels the playing field for future businesses, employment and access to resources. There’sno way around the technological evolution, but there’s a quiet but ever present initiative going on in Durham, North Carolina, to make sure that African Americans and Latinos are front and center of the technological industry and that those minority groups will benefit from it in larger numbers each year.

The first piece of this puzzle of teams to promote diversity is American Underground that was initiated six years ago.

The primary goal of the team is to promote a group of diverse entrepreneurs to build positive relationships with the surrounding community connecting them through technological advances.

American Underground is under the umbrella of the American Tobacco-venture in Durham, a nationally renowned destination for businesses, dining, a professional baseball team and attractions visitors can enjoy.

Capitol Broadcasting is the parent company of American Tobacco. American Underground consists of about 250 startup companies across 100,000 square feet of space—two buildings in Durham and a location in Raleigh, NC. The success of the growing business campus has drawn national media coverage in the past several years.

Jesica Averhart is the Director of Community Partnerships and New Business Development for American Underground.

For American Underground, she plays the important role of growing and facilitating relationships between positive community projects (both public and private) and the innovation and technology projects taking place daily between companies.

Averhart is originally from Evansport, Ohio and received her undergraduate degree from Ohio Northern University. Her strong passion for diversity is seen in her collaboration with the CODE2040 project.

CODE2040 was developed to close gaps for minority led companies with a specific focus on African American and Latino populations. The founders of CODE2040 already had Durham on their radar when the partnership started in 2015, according to Averhart.

Averhart said these individual small companies have the power to shape a corporate culture built around promoting diversity in the field of technology. The initiative is centered around increasing diverse leadership and hiring practices.

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The group’s main purpose is centered around diversity.  The group continues to discuss diversity in leadership, in communication, planning meetings, even down to sending emails.

“We are always thinking about diversity,” Averhart said. “We want to change the narrative,” she added. “We want to be on the right side of history.”

Averhart said large companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google have spent millions of dollars in recent years to change the demographic tide.

She said on the West Coast, Silicon Valley is known for hiring many of its employees directly from Stanford University. She questions any company’s hiring practices if all their employees look the same.

“Do you always go to the people that look like you,” Averhart said. “The people who you went to college with or is a member of your fraternity or sorority?”

Promoting diversity is easier to do in an area like Durham, where you have historically black colleges and universities like North Carolina Central University and North Carolina A&T in your backyard. “That talent pool is already diverse,” she said. “It’s just about recognizing it.”

Averhart said it is easy for companies justify they are doing their civic duty by fulfilling minority hiring quotas by giving contracts to white females.

She said there has to be a specific focus on this issue alone. “Somebody has got to fight the good fight,” she said. “That’s why CODE2040 is so critical.”

This laser focus initiative also ensures that proper resources are allocated to minority businesses. She adds that this method is a driving force for faster growth for these businesses.

Averhart said if these startup companies don’t receive proper funding to stay afloat, then their efforts are all in vain. Averhart also adds that it has been proven that diverse companies have better bottom lines.

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Phyllis Coley
Phyllis D. Coley is CEO/Publisher of Spectacular Magazine and Host of Spectacular Magazine Radio Show. With a B.A. in English from NCCU, the Durham native began her professional career as Promotions/Marketing Director for New York City’s WKTU-FM. While at the radio station, Coley discovered the rap group Kid ‘n Play and managed them for five years, guiding their music and movie careers to success. Moving back to Durham, Coley produced a nationally syndicated television show, The Electric Factory, while working as News Director for FOXY 107/104. In April 2002, recognizing a void in highlighting the achievements of African Americans, she started her own business publishing ACE Magazine. Coley launched Spectacular Magazine in November 2004. Recognizing the lack of pertinent and truthful information, Coley began Spectacular Magazine Radio Show in March 2009. Coley is the organizer of Durham's Annual MLK/Black History Month Parade and the Annual North Carolina Juneteenth Celebration. She currently serves on Central Children’s Home Board of Directors, Raleigh Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Advisors, as Immediate Past Secretary of the Durham Rotary Club Board of Directors and is one of the founding members of the Triangle United Way’s African American Leadership Initiative.

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