BlackInTech: The Founder’s Series will give aspiring CEOs the chance to ask established CEOs for advice. Credit: (Courtesy of BlackInTech)

As the tech industry struggles to diversify its workforce, Chicago is hosting an event that organizers say is the first of its kind for entrepreneurs of color to address the problem. 

BlackInTech: The Founder’s Series will offer aspiring “tech-preneuers” the chance to ask a panel of established black entrepreneurs and company founders for their tips for success. The second installment of the yearlong series of panels and workshops takes place Wednesday night at 1871.

Founders will share stories of key turning points in their companies’ lives, ranging from building their first products and closing major contracts to generating their first dollar of revenue. After that, attendees can query panelists during a 90-minute “Get Unstuck: Ask the Panel Anything” forum.

Panelists includes Rodney Williams, founder of the Cincinnati-based Bluetooth-disrupting sound technology company Lisnr; Dawn Dickenson, whose Miami company Flat Out of Heels makes rollable ballet flats that can be purchased online or from a vending machine; and Jason Caston, founder of digital strategy company Caston Digital, based in Frisco, Texas.

Series founder Thomas K.R. Stovall wants other black “tech-preneurs” to benefit from expert advice.Credit: (Courtesy of BlackInTech)

“With each panel, I try to choose people that have very different backgrounds,” said series creator Thomas K.R. Stovall. “They’re not all app-y or kinda techy. . . . I want our people to understand that tech can look a lot of different ways.”

Stovall came up with the idea for BlackInTech after a three-hour dinner with Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt.

Stovall is the founder and president of Chicago-based CandidCup, a Web and mobile software company that specializes in customer and employee feedback and market research. A colleague arranged his meeting with Schmidt. Now Stovall wants to give other aspiring black entrepreneurs this same kind of access to influential tech moguls.

“To be able to take council with a billionaire and understand from his perspective the way I need to be looking at my business—where it was strong and weak—you can’t pay for that,” Stovall said. “I want everyone to see the importance of that and to actually go about developing a network.”

Stovall said the panelists have also been asked to address “pattern matching,” an unconscious bias that can cause investors to identify and support entrepreneurs who share similar traits to established entrepreneurs—traits such as gender, race, or educational background—to the detriment of anyone who doesn’t share those traits. Because aspiring black entrepreneurs may not fit those established patterns, they may face unforeseen obstacles, Stovall said.

“With people of color, we may not have the same background,” Stovall said. “We may have a different set of skills or a different college that we went to.”

Still, Stovall said, those obstacles can be overcome if black entrepreneurs come prepared and exceed investors’ expectations.

“Our unique set of experiences really set us apart and many times give us a unique advantage,” he said.

That advantage could help future black-led tech companies thrive; currently less than 1 percent of venture-backed tech firms are run by minority founders.

BlackInTech: The Founder’s Series takes place Wednesday, October 7, from 6 to 9 PM at the 1871 Auditorium, 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza. General admission passes are sold out. “TechMoguls” pay $20, which includes admission, priority seating, and a private meet-and-greet with the panelists. The event will also be streamed via Periscope.