Q. What is the backstory behind Mainframe? What drove you to start it?
A. For a long time I didn’t think Tampa had a tech scene at all. There were these grand plans of taking trips Silicon Valley to get intel on how the city operated and ultimately bring that back to Tampa. Well the trips didn’t happen, but a lot of research and outreach was done instead. Funny enough, I quickly uncovered that Tampa actually had a growing and thriving tech presence. As I dove more into the local tech startup scene. It became clear that there weren’t many, if any African Americans in attendance for these events. Many times I’d find myself being one of a few or the only African American at tech meet ups, summits, etc. I found that in itself to be strange. So the idea of this passion project, merging my love for the city with my love for technology began to formulate. To start, I needed to know if a black tech scene even existed in the Tampa Bay Area. To be specific, I needed to know who, where and what exactly everyone was doing in this space.
Q. What are some of the obstacles that Mainframe helps black entrepreneurs overcome?
A. This by far is the most important question that I’m often asked. The most glaring in my opinion is that we have the black tech community and then we have the tech community. There’s a real disconnect between the two. Whether it’s a deficit in knowledge on what’s happening in the tech space. That includes familiarity, funding, networking, education and outreach. In many cases there isn’t an understanding as to what’s required or how to start. For some, it’s not understood as to what the opportunity looks like. So most hesitate to pursue any further. In turn that creates legitimate pipeline issues. Which leads many to think or believe that there’s no or very limited interest amongst the African American community in wanting to be involved in the tech entrepreneurial space. That’s never a problem until it’s a problem. And the lack of a profound presence of African American tech entrepreneurs and technologists in our local startup ecosystem is a huge problem. Like many cities, I think we’ve dropped the ball in that regards. Now I don’t say that to be overly critical of the city that I love and live in. Problems just need a solution. Problems lead to opportunities for improvement. Problems led to The Mainframe.
Q. How does Mainframe help overcome these obstacles?
A. The Mainframe will be the conduit that bridges black tech entrepreneurs, technologists and hopefuls to everything needed. Taking their ideas from mind, to pen, to paper and turn it into reality. That includes workshops, funding, mentors, events and all other necessary resources needed in between. Additionally, it gives our corporate partners access to an untapped pool of black tech talent. The Mainframe sets out to be the place to meet and talk tech, the place to work on tech, most importantly, the place to grow in terms of tech and innovation. I have this grand vision for The Mainframe, one that makes Tampa Bay the epicenter for black tech entrepreneurs and innovators.
"I want The Mainframe to be representation to everyone within earshot that Tampa "gets it". That the city genuinely embraces and understands the importance of having an all inclusive and well diverse setting."-James Faison
James Faison, III is the Co-Founder of The Mainframe Inc., a Tampa Bay-based initiative that supports the growth of African-American tech entrepreneurs and innovators throughout Florida. A lifelong lover of all things tech, James’ motivation for The Mainframe came from the realization that Tampa Bay was void of an established ecosystem in the African-American tech community.
In the corporate world, James is a 12-year insurance professional. Working and advising for some of the country’s biggest companies. James has quickly carved out a niche in his entrepreneurial endeavor(s), garnering support on both the East and West coasts. Most notably, his work with The Mainframe has granted him acceptance into the TechConnext x Black Enterprise Fellows Program. To learn more about James Faison and The Mainframe, visit www.themainframeinc.com. JThe St. Pete Catalyst recently interviewed James about his work. Read more of his story here.