Fitzpatrick, who has garnered national recognition for her startup MentorMe, and serves as an evangelist for 100 Girls of Code, says that the call for diversity in business, and the tech world specifically, is more than just a nice idea — it’s a necessity.
“It’s important for us to stop thinking of diversity as a social good endeavor or a marketing strategy. Diversity is actually just smart business and essential to economic development, especially for Memphis,” said Fitzpatrick.
The idea for Geeked Memphis first occurred to Fitzpatrick in 2011 while she was a graduate student at the University of Memphis and considering starting a tech-based venture.
“I noticed that in a minority-majority city like Memphis, there were no public conversations happening around diversity and inclusion within the innovation ecosystem. And it was generally hard for me to connect with other women and minority entrepreneurs, especially in tech. ”
Fitzpatrick says that most of the focus on diversifying tech has been on doing so in Silicon Valley, but it’s nontraditional tech communities like Memphis, she believes, that will offer the greatest potential to actually move the needle.
Visits to other startup hubs around the country inspired Fitzpatrick to consider how best to leverage her relationships and experiences to bring resources to Memphis in support of gender parity and cultural diversity. While Memphis has seen increasing opportunities for entrepreneurs to get a boost in their beginning stages, Geeked Memphis is not another incubator or accelerator, but an ongoing supportive community post-launch.
“I’m not looking to start a nonprofit with 24/7 operations, nor am I looking to reinvent the wheel. Many of the partnerships we’ve formed will allow us to expand existing programs and events into Memphis. We’re also working locally through a network of partner organizations.”
Fitzpatrick is not doing this alone either. She has a diverse advisory board comprised of 18 members who have a wide range of expertise from civic engagement to small business, to tech, to creatives and makers.
“We’re very focused on collaborative impact. Geeked Memphis is not and will not be about me, it will be driven by our community. I’d like for Geeked Memphis to be a catalyst not only for connections and expanded networks, but also for opportunity.”
Currently in the works is a networking and informal peer mentorship community for entrepreneurial and professional women in the Mid-South. Fitzpatrick says the community will launch in April. Geeked Memphis has also organized a citywide initiative of local nonprofits that will collaborate to help train 1,000 high-potential Memphis youth in low-opportunity settings to code by 2020.
Geeked Memphis’ largest undertaking will be a regional tech conference that will take place in early 2017. Fitzpatrick says the conference will be a game changer for the southeast. While she “can’t give too much away right now” she tells us it will be “open to all and unapologetically intentional in making sure that the conference is reflective of the mission.”
Other specific programs and events will be announced throughout 2016.
“Beyond diversity, I’m more focused on and interested in inclusion. We all know the stats. We’ve read and heard them repeatedly over the last several years. I once read a quote that ‘Diversity is being asked to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.’ Through Geeked Memphis, I want to make sure more women and minorities, and not just those within tech, have the opportunity to actually join the dance floor and participate in our innovation ecosystem.”
Geeked Memphis will formally kickoff with an intimate launch party sponsored by the New Dizzy on Thursday, March 31st. You can RSVP and grab a free ticket here.