The data journalist created 'ThePLUG,' a daily newsletter that reports on tech founders, investors, and innovators of color.
Black-led start-ups are underfunded, especially those helmed by black women. But data journalist Sherrell Dorsey is not worried. She has a solution and it all comes down to how entrepreneurs communicate with investors. In early 2016, Dorsey founded ThePLUG, a daily newsletter that reports on tech founders, investors, and innovators of color. What started as an experiment to illuminate stories of innovation outside of Silicon Valley has turned into a platform that can potentially increase financing for black entrepreneurs by mending what she calls the “data gap.”
“A lot of times investors are looking for patterns in data,” Dorsey told me by phone from Harlem. “So when that information is not shared in public” it can negatively impact investment. Dorsey believes this lack of data around issues affecting the new majority of American consumers may prevent mostly white venture capital investors from understanding the problems solved by black business owners.
By reporting stories of black entrepreneurship in ThePLUG, Dorsey is improving the flow of information that eases conversation—and moves dollars—between founders and investors. “The conversation was veering off to, ‘There’s no black people in tech,’” she said. “But the challenge is, most of the press has been dominated by ‘Mark Zuckerberg this’ and ‘Elon Musk that.’”
In May, the 30-year-old FIT graduate, who worked in fashion before moving onto Uber and Google Fiber, will receive her master’s in data journalism from Columbia University. This year, ThePLUG will dive deeper into original investigative reporting and Dorsey will return to Charlotte, North Carolina, to expand programming for her networking and training event series BLKTECHCLT. Below, Dorsey told me about her work creating a more inclusive tech space for black entrepreneurs.
VICE: Why did you start ThePLUG?
Sherrell Dorsey: I was following the everyday news cycle of tech news and not seeing a great deal of mainstream media prioritizing black and brown contributions to this space. I thought it was an intellectual disservice. And so ThePLUG started out as an experiment. I was like, if I were to put together a daily tech newsletter, could I even find five stories a day from the web that talked about black innovation?
I had just started at Google Fiber. I was up at 5 AM before work pulling together this newsletter, very hack-like. I might have had $5, signed up for a subscription to Goodbits and MailChimp, and just started pushing out this newsletter. A lot of it was anecdotal. I would share, “Oh I’m going to this tech conference,” or, “I had a conversation with this person that I’m working on a story about.”