Backed by music vet Ted Lucas, Florida Memorial University debuts tech innovation center
To prepare Black students and entrepreneurs for their place in the growing Miami tech scene, Florida Memorial University opened its innovation laboratory Thursday in Miami Gardens.
Accomplished music business veteran Ted Lucas and collaborator Chandler Malone are working closely with the lab to support Black tech education and investment through the Technolij Innovation Center on campus. Technolij is a nonprofit Lucas started to help close the racial wealth gap through tech education.
Lucas, a Miami Gardens native, is best known for his work as founder of Slip-N-Slide Records and helping Miami musicians like Trick Daddy and Trina launch their careers. His pivot into tech aligns with the work he did during his entertainment career to find talented individuals in Miami that could help transform their communities for the better.
“My whole life I looked for talented rappers, singers and entertainers,” he said Thursday at the innovation center opening. “Now, I’m just looking for founders, startups that need that same opportunity, but don’t know where to find it. Being born and raised in South Florida, I take that responsibility on to make sure people that look like you and I get that same opportunity to build generational wealth.”
The innovation lab was built to emulate the modern tech workplace — and it has a skyline view of Florida Memorial’s campus. Students will have daily access to tech training and exposure to nationally successful technologists. The focus of the center will be on personal growth and career development.
Software engineer Ariana Waller of Miami could not hide her excitement as she looked at a television display in the lab. “Those are all my friends,” she said, as videos of different startup founders connected to the center flashed across the screen, before finally seeing herself.
Waller, 26, became the fourth Black woman in the world to raise over $1 million in the Web3 arena, when she raised $3.3 million last year for her tech startup Mueshi. The firm is a fine art NFT marketplace that partners with artists, galleries and museums worldwide. She is hopeful the students and community members the lab serves can follow her lead.
“Ted Lucas and Chandler Malone of Technolij are both investors in my company and they believed in me early,” she said. “Because of their investments alongside my entire cap table of investors, I became the fourth Black woman in the world to raise over $1 million dollars in the blockchain space. My round was led by Harlem Capital, one of the world’s largest majority black run and founded venture capital firms.”
Black Men In Tech founder Kham Ward of Fort Lauderdale spoke Thursday about the need for Black and brown people to be educated to work tech jobs from software development to project management. Once that happens, he foresees societal change.
“We want to make tech accessible and inclusive,” he said. “The challenge is for our people to get into tech. Everyone is not going to be a coder, but someone has to sell the product.”
Florida Memorial technology freshman Sayid Muhammad rides a bus four hours a day to attend classes. He was emphatic when talking about how his college plans to support the Miami Gardens community in elevating Black technologists.
“Innovation starts where community begins,” he said.