We caught up with McKeever E. Conwell to discuss his new role at TEDCO, a funding institution that invests state funds. Conwell joins as the Deal Team Coordinator, a position created to leverage his entrepreneurial and networking skills.
Conwell’s journey started as a computer science student at Morgan State University. During his sophomore year, he worked for the Department of Defense (DoD), dropping out during his junior year to start his career as a developer at Northrop Grumman. He went on to found and exit three startups before landing at TEDCO.
While at the DoD he met Patrick Jackson, currently CTO of Disconnect, whose success in the startup world inspired him. “He was the first person from a technology standpoint that started talking about what we can do with our skillsets. It started churning my wheels…I could use the skillset I use everyday at work to build a website that could make money for me”
With the help of two friends, he built his first startup. But simply developing a site wasn’t enough, they needed marketing and investors. “What I realized, especially as a black person trying to navigate this tech space, was I didn’t have a built in network day one, and that was my initial hurdle.” So he set out to build his network, navigating tech events and setting up coffee meetings with every person he met, which led to opportunities for his startups and professional growth.
It was this networking acumen that got him to TEDCO. When he got an email saying TEDCO was hiring that same week, he reached out to his network. “I got business owners to vouch for me, I reached out to the black TEDCO board members. The community at large was behind me on this.”
TEDCO also was trying to change their perception in the black community. Few investment applicants were black, even though the ones who applied got funded at the same rate as others. “One of the biggest challenge for minority companies in the early stage is having that network to get plugged in faster.” says Conwell. “I’d like to create additional resources for minority groups and possibly resources for groups who don’t have access to a friends and family round. I have been very intentional about building a presence at HBCUs and sourcing minority entrepreneurs.”
Conwell has a greater vision for his role at TEDCO, telling us “They put me in the perfect position to get my foot in the door of institutionalized investing, which is where my career is headed…my goal is to be this generation’s Whitney Young” referring to the civil rights leader who championed socioeconomic development.
Conwell advises current students to plug into their local tech communities. He recommends going to meetups, reading tech blogs, researching jobs and startups, and reaching out to people. “Start reaching out to CEOs or CTOs on linkedin and twitter…You’ll be surprised at how many reach back to you. You’ll have people who know you and have seen your growth so when you want to join or start a company, you already have a pool of resources. And really I’d say that to any student from any discipline…It’s amazing how easy it is to navigate trying to get a job or advice or getting started when you already have people in your corner and network.”