When most people hear “immigrants in Silicon Valley,” they most likely think of Indian or Chinese engineers or entrepreneurs at big tech companies and startups across the region. Seldom do they think of Latinos as being a significant force in the technology world.
Edward Avila, co-founder and CEO of Manos Accelerator, is looking to change that perception. Avila created Manos Accelerator to be the first organization of its kind to appeal to Latin American entrepreneurs who are focusing on technology startups.
On Tuesday, Manos held its inaugural Demo Day event at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, supported by the Google for Entrepreneurs team. Seven startups from across the Valley — five of them with female co-founders — pitched their ideas to a panel of judges including VCs and other prominent Latin American entrepreneurs and business leaders.
Google is supporting Manos Accelerator as part of its initiative to grow diversity in the entrepreneur and tech sectors, said Mary Grove, head of Google for Entrepreneurs, which is the Mountain View company’s program to support entrepreneurs by providing financial sponsorships, networking events, workshops and training sessions. The group also provides discounts to startups on premium versions of Google products like its Maps API.
“Building communities is one of the core tenets of our mission,” Grove said. “Google believes in accelerating diversity in entrepreneurship.”
For Google, the partnership with Manos and other accelerators is a smart strategic move as well. By keeping startups close, the search giant has easy access to a strong pipeline of talent and cutting edge technology.
For Avila and Manos Accelerator, partnering with Google may help amplify the call for more diversity in Silicon Valley’s tech economy, which is dominated by white and Asian workers.
According to the Index of Silicon Valley by Joint Venture and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Hispanic population in Silicon Valley experienced a five percent decrease in per capita income between 2009 and 2011. That’s compared to a four percent increase for the white population and a one percent increase for Asians. Per capita income in the African American population fell 18 percent during the same time period.
Avila said he shares Google’s goal to accelerate diversity in the technology field.
“We definitely had it in mind to target Latino entrepreneurs in the high tech area,” Avila said. “If you look at entrepreneurship in general, a lot of Latinos are doing stuff in the space but they’re more service oriented. We wanted to focus on high tech early stage ventures.”
Avila said that the seven startups that were chosen to take part in the first ever Manos Demo Day captured the range of opportunities in the technology space today.
The startups, all led by Latino/a entrepreneurs, range from SaaS platforms for audience engagement, cloud offerings, e-commerce solutions, social media-driven discovery and feedback series and an education technology app.
“We’re really happy with this first batch,” Avila said. “We’re hoping it leads to more in 2014.”
Avila also emphasized the importance of the accelerator’s location: downtown San Jose. He deliberately chose San Jose because he wanted to “put a mark on the city” with a budding entrepreneurial community to rival neighboring startup hubs on the Peninsula.
“You have Mountain View with Castro Street and University Avenue in Palo Alto,” Avila said. “For San Jose, I think the right infrastructure is there but the startup community is missing.”
Avila said he hopes that San Jose can attract tech talent from nearby Santa Clara University and San Jose State University to establish a home base in the city.
“San Jose may not be very sexy, but there’s a buzz here,” he said. “We’re trying to create an environment that startups can launch in. They’re bootstrapping here, so they’re not going to pay $13 to $20 a square foot to rent a space. When they get funded, they may go elsewhere but hopefully they establish roots in San Jose.”
Originally published at Silicon Valley Business Journal.