Tech808 Merges The Worlds Of Hip-Hop And Entrepreneurship

This past Saturday in Oakland, CA, about 120 underrepresented people in tech — ranging from aspiring entrepreneurs to BlackGirlsCODE students to tech leaders — gathered inside ImpactHub Oakland for Tech808, an intimate startup conference inspired by hip-hop.

“From the very beginning of hip-hop’s evolution as a culture and a music, it’s been entrepreneurial, it’s been innovative, it’s been creative, so it absolutely makes sense that there’s an overlap between hip-hop and entrepreneurship,” Cedric Brown, managing partner at the Kapor Center for Social Impact, said on stage.

The day-long conference, put on by The Phat Startup, featured a series of talks around creating a startup, raising money and the mashup of hip-hop, technology and entrepreneurship. With speakers like Y Combinator Partner Mike Seibel, Poshmark Co-Founder Tracy Sun, Blavity Founder Morgan DeBaun and rapper-turned-entrepreneur Divine (also known as the official A16Z rapper), Tech808 resulted in a diverse mix of talks — talks that you don’t typically hear at Silicon Valley tech conferences.

Divine’s story, for example, is unlike any other story I’ve ever heard in the tech industry, having gone from selling crack on the streets of New York, to winding up in prison, and now founding a tech startup. Divine first went to prison when he was 19 years old and ended up spending about a decade’s worth of time there. Toward the end of his last incarceration, Divine said on stage, he came across an article on Andreessen Horowitz Co-Founder and Partner Ben Horowitz. Fascinated by Horowitz, Divine read more and eventually learned about Horowitz’s interest in hip-hop. It was Horowitz’s blog post, “The Legend of the Blind MC,” that Divine said compelled him to reach out to Horowitz.

Divine and Tech808 Co-Founder James Lopez during the “Building with Divine: From Crack to Rap to Tech” discussion.

Divine and Tech808 Co-Founder James Lopez during the “Building with Divine: From Crack to Rap to Tech” discussion.

It’s now been a year since Divine and Horowitz have known each other, and in that time, Divine said Horowitz has helped him raise money on Kickstarter to produce his debut album, flown him out to Silicon Valley for dinner and inspired him to create a song called, “I’m on my Venture Capitalist like Ben Horowitz.”

Divine has also started working on a financial tech product called the BLAK Group. BLAK, which stands for “Building Leverage Acquiring Knowledge,” aims to provide low-income African-Americans affordable access to financial and banking services. The company’s first tech product is called the BLAK Card, a pre-paid Visa debit card attached to a real bank account.

“The number one thing, don’t let fear deter you,” Divine said to the crowd. “Fear’s going to be there. Don’t let it hinder you, don’t let it stop you. Let fear propel you, and excel you even that much higher. My life is a testimony to that. I embody the reality that you can go from nothing to something over night.”

Divine’s story was just one of the many shared at the Tech808 Oakland conference. For more stories on the intersection of hip-hop and tech entrepreneurship, you can check out The Phat Startup’s featured interviews or attend the Tech808 NYC conference coming up in November.