When Deldelp Medina talks about Silicon Valley, it’s like she’s talking about the neighborhood kids she grew up with. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Medina shares some of Silicon Valley’s quirks, appreciates its strengths, but also isn’t afraid to call it out on its failures, since she became acquainted with the center of the technology universe — before anyone knew it would become that.
Medina says it’s time for Silicon Valley to evolve beyond its origins to embrace a larger pool of talent, not only to better reflect the makeup of the country but also to make better products that cater to more diverse markets.
Medina grew up with an interest in technology at the right place and time. Right after high school in the early 90s, she worked at a bulletin board service company. This was pre-Internet: “You had to dial in,” she explained. “I learned HTML 1 two years later.”
At the time, Medina said, no one thought her nerdy interests were a career path, much less the nascent phases of a multibillion dollar industry, so Medina spent her time hacking, creating and playing — no doubt at the same time some of the future titans of technology were doing the same.
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“This idea that this would become an industry in which people would become multimillionaires; that this would somehow change the world. … That was not the conversation we were having back then,” she explained. “Back then, we were just nerds, nerding out.”
Of course, that’s what happened, and the nerds — most of them white males — ended up at the helm of an extremely important piece of the 21st century American dream.
While so much has changed about the industry that grew up at the same time as Medina, the culture hasn’t. It’s still like the after-school computer club made up of nearly all boys.
As Silicon Valley blew up, so did the technology job market, explained Medina.
“But guess what? The numbers haven’t gotten better,” said Medina. “Opportunities definitely haven’t gotten better for people. … The barrier for entry has gotten higher. … If you don’t go to one of the top four schools, a lot of places won’t even look at you.”
The computer club, while becoming more powerful, has only become more insular. “I go into a room of tech CEOs, and I will often be the only woman, the only person of color, the only multilingual person. … And that’s just not a healthy ecosystem to continue.”
But Medina believes it won’t continue to be the case — not if she and her Latina-focused startup accelerator Avion Ventures have a say in it.
Medina built Avion Ventures, a startup accelerator built for Latina entrepreneurs.
Much like any other startup accelerator, Avion provides the resources, mentoring, business training and support to help entrepreneurs tune up their startups and find the right market for their products. The program, like other accelerators, culminates in a demo day in front of investors.
But Avion Ventures isn’t just any startup accelerator. It was designed with Latinas in mind, using feedback from prospective clients from the earliest stages of its development to address their specific needs.
One reason for Silicon Valley’s lack of diversity comes from the practical, structural barriers that face outsiders. As Dr. Angelica Perez-Litwin — a colleague of Medina’s whom we previously profiled for Marketplace — has mentioned before, the simple facts of scheduling and location precludes many Latinas from benefiting from startup programs.
Indeed, noted Medina, in planning Avion’s timetable, “Originally, I was thinking 90 days, at one place, at one time. … That’s the definition of an accelerator. Anything else is not considered an accelerator,” by startup accelerator industry groups.
Avion doesn’t follow the standard schedule. Early on, Medina said, “I started calling up all these Latinas that I knew were building products, and were looking for help, and I said to them, ‘First question: Will you come to San Francisco for 90 days?'”
No. That was the overwhelming response Medina got. “I interviewed almost 100 women! And they all said no. None of them would come, not one of them!” she laughed.
But she also found out that many could only do the program if it lasted two weeks. “Two weeks is all I can get off of work,” Medina recounted from one of her interviewees. “The reality is that I’m making this on my weekends and after work.”
Eight weeks in total, the program starts with two weeks of intensive in-person training, followed by five weeks online, ending with one last week in person, followed by demo day.
Feedback from Latinas also affected the types of support Avion offers its clients: Because San Francisco has become prohibitively expensive, for example, during those two weeks on location, Avion provides housing and meals for its startup class. Payment for Avion’s program is based on its graduates’ success. Avion gets 3 percent of the resulting company.
One more recent aspect of training that’s been incorporated into Avion’s startup program is personal coaching — preparing Latina entrepreneurs to have a dauntless mindset.
“I think you have to have a certain type of personality to do this,” said Medina on her job and entrepreneurship in general. “You have to have a certain tenacity to do this work, a certain fortitude. It is my job to be told no all the time … because when you are trying to create something out of nothing and bring something new into this world, people sometimes don’t get what you’re trying to do.”
But whether it’s through startups, working in IT, marketing, or any other position, Medina wants to see more Latinas in Silicon Valley.
“I think there should be more of us in general working in these positions… at every level,” said Medina.
“It’s going to change because it has no choice but to change.”
Avion is calling for applicants to its second round of Latina startups. The deadline is June 19th.
“Marketplace” is a @LatinPost feature profile series about Latino entrepreneurs who have successfully turned their ideas into thriving enterprises. From unsung startups to prominent businesses, we spotlight the dynamic men and women who founded them.
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