SISTEM one-on-one from the Bronx, New York with Ms. Majora Carter, President of the Majora Carter Group, LLC and co-Founder of StartUp Box: A social enterprise designed to increase opportunities for South Bronx community members through technology and entrepreneurship.
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SISTEM one-on-one from the Bronx, New York with Ms. Majora Carter, President of the Majora Carter Group, LLC and co-Founder of StartUp Box: A social enterprise designed to increase opportunities for South Bronx community members through technology and entrepreneurship.

Majora Carter

Majora is a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, and an Advisory Board member of the Bronx Academy of Software Engineering High School . After Co-Founding StartUp Box #SouthBronx as a social enterprise to seed diverse participation through entry level jobs in the knowledge economy, she launched StartUp Box #QA (Quality Assurance testing services) which was proud to assist in the launch of Mayor Bill DeBlasio'sDigital.NYC in 2014. She is a ‘Silicon Alley 100', one of Goldman-Sachs ‘100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs’, and her 2006 TEDtalkwas one of 6 to launch that groundbreaking site. Majora Carter has helped connect tech industry pioneers such as Etsy, Gust, FreshDirect, Google, and Cisco to diverse communities at all levels, and continues to drive financial resources that value diversity for its ability to leverage innovation, into the communities left out of previous economic growth trends. Majora is a co-founder of the 400+ member Bronx Tech Meetup, which co-hosted NYC's Digital Roadmap convening in the Bronx. She served as a judge for the NYC Office of Digital Media's "Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge." In 2007, while running Sustainable South Bronx, Majora Carter introduced MIT’s first ever Mobile Fab-Lab(digital fabrication laboratory) to the South Bronx - where it served as an early iteration of the “Maker-Spaces” found elsewhere today. The project drew residents and visitors together for guided and creative collaborations. This experience helped inspire the FabLab Project Leader, Jon Santiago, to launch
twitter: @MajoraCarter

Q:   Please tell us about yourself and your career path that led you to StartUP box.

Carter: I run my own urban revitalization strategy consulting company that was born out of my non-profit work in the South Bronx about a decade and a half ago. At that time I was looking for creative ways to accomplish the kind of economic development that could benefit the people from my community. I had been very fortunate to receive special tutoring that enabled me to get into the Bronx High School of Science. From there I went on to Wesleyan University and got a really really good education. 

I only came back to my South Bronx community because I was in graduate school at NYU and needed to stay with my parents in order to afford tuition. What I saw a troubled to me now that I had had some time away.  Matching accessible jobs to environmental and climate adaptation work proved to be a useful vehicle for accomplishing multiple goals.

That work took me around the world after I launched the consulting company.  In the process, we learned a lot about what was working and what was not working out there.  It was our clients in the Seattle and SF Bay Area that clued us into the diversity gap in the tech sector.  I didn't want to see another economic boom pass by low-status communities, so we go to work on the R&D phase of StartUp Box immediately.  

That was 2011.   A lot of research went into how best to address the issues of low educational attainment, where entry-level jobs were, hiring biases, and other factors.  Eventually we landed on Quality Assurance (QA) testing services in a B2B arrangement.

Q:     Can you elaborate on StartUp Box: Who created it and why? What services and programs does Startup Box provide and who does it serve?

Carter: My team created StartUp Box to serve regional software developers who are not satisfied with the off-shored services that dominate the testing sector currently.  Globally, QA is a $35B+ market.  We are looking at only that portion which is most sensitive to quick turn around times, cultural vernacular, and the potential to bring our employees into client companies.  We provide an elastic, on-demand service that removes some of the headaches we detected though our extensive industry survey.

We also serve people from low-status communities like the South Bronx who either don't even believe there is a place for them in the tech sector, and those who have invested time and money into their education and training, but are still victims of hiring bias in the marketplace.  The former was expected, but the latter was a surprise that was both good and bad in my opinion - good, in that we get incredibly well qualified people for our business, but obviously bad in that our business is not in a position to pay them or challenge them at a level for which they are qualified.

Q:     Tell us about the importance of organizations such as StartUp Box for the South Bronx community in terms of being a space where technology and entrepreneurship come together?

Carter: As a cultural example, it is very powerful to have a day-to-day example of people working in tech that is visible to thousands of pedestrians.  Our testing facility is in a corner store front with big windows.  It's also good for the people who dig a little deeper to know that this business was started by a local girl, and not just another training program led by outsiders.  Don't get me wrong, any help is welcome.  But in my opinion, many well-meaning training programs serve the unintended purpose of fueling the brain-drain that is constantly removing income generating potential out of low-status communities, and keeping them in a depressed economic cycle.

Another innovation we developed in order to survive was using personality driven hiring filters instead of educational attainment or past work experience.  We do this with gaming tournaments that a give us a great cross-section of people and that "try, fail, repeat until you win..." mentality that makes for great software testers.

Q:  What is next for StartUp Box?

Carter: We are providing customer care services for some clients now, and we just signed Sesame Workshop on as a client, so we want to nurture those relationships, and grow new lines of business.

Q:     Finally, what advice do you have for young technologists who desire to start a tech business?

Carter: Look around and study the competition very carefully - even if it is only indirect competition.  Build a network of people in similar and adjacent fields.  They will tell you what is missing out there, and you can use that info to refine your product.  It may lead to greater success, or earlier acquisition by a larger company - both good for you!


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