Mike Green and son Josiah at Noble Coffee in Ashland. “I organize events and manage strategic relationships in between changing dirty diapers and watching impromptu dance routines,” he says.
// Photo by Jamie Lusch
For his part, Langeler says he recently was appointed to the Oregon Growth Board, a new umbrella group designed to coordinate activity at the state level to promote business growth and development. The urban innovation group “should absolutely have a place at the table,” he says.
Six months after the roundtable was first proposed, funding challenges have already led a number of community leaders to suggest Green define his objectives more clearly and consider separating out the education and entrepreneurship aspects of the project to better target and attract potential donors and participants, including foundations, universities and investors.
The roundtable “is very novel and worthy of pursuit,” says Jaymes Winters, CEO of Blue Leopard Capital, Oregon’s first minority-owned private-equity fund. “But it’s a tough row to hoe if you’re expecting the investment community to invest in something that is a matter of public policy or a think tank.”
Green says he is open to different options. “The mission is so important, we cannot allow the lack of funding to undermine or restrict our progress,” he says. “Between the time we started and now, we have exploded. We are drinking from a fire hose of opportunity across the nation.”
So back in Medford, where seeing another black person “is an unusual sighting,” he is going about the business of connecting the disconnected, working with Womack and Holifield on a second Minority Gathering of Angels event this fall, this time in Silicon Valley, and hooking up Montgomery to a FundingPost.com pitching event. And when New York-based television production company Al Roker Entertainment was looking for an African-American entrepreneur and family guy to feature, Green put them in touch with Ben Berry, CEO of AirShip Technologies Group, a Lake Oswego startup developing drones for the commercial market.
Green does have a long-term plan in mind for the roundtable, one that includes a clear organizational structure — a governing board and three working groups — and a national launch party, the National Urban Innovation Conference and STEM Expo that would be held in Portland and feature thought leaders from all over the country, including the White House, Silicon Valley and Silicon Forest.
Eventually the urban innovation roundtable pilot would be replicated in cities across the country, resulting in a nation transformed. “We see an innovation nation connecting an entire community: investors, innovators, all the way down to high schools,” Green says.
If that vision comes true, America21 will be an Oregon story for the ages, about an African-American man in Medford, a white city and the 21st-century black tech revolution.
Correction: This article has been revised to reflect the following correction. Between 2002 and 2007, 1.9 million black-owned businesses produced less than one percent of the gross domestic product and 1.8 million were sole proprietors. In the original article, those figures were reversed.