Chicago food tech entreprenuer Riana Lynn is harvesting influential support for her latest venture.
Lynn, 29, founder of FoodTrace, is one of three entreprenuers getting a $40,000 stipend, office space for a year and other resources through a new Google-backed program designed to support underrepresented minorities in the tech industry. The award comes just as Lynn is wrapping up participation as a fellow at the Good Food Business Accelerator program, based at Chicago’s 1871 tech incubator.
She’ll be back at 1871 for the Google-backed Entrepreneur in Residence program, a new initiative from CODE2040, a San Franciso-based nonprofit that aims to see more minorities working in tech. Google For Entrepreneurs funds the program through a grant. Major tech companies such as Google and Facebook have released reports that show they lack workforce diversity. Google last May said 2 percent of its U.S. workers were African American and 3 percent were Hispanic.
Lynn’s FoodTrace, which she founded in 2014, connects the food supply chain — farmers, wholesalers and buyers — via software and allows them to share traceable information with consumers.
“We get a lot of perks from Google to help our companies,” Lynn said about the Entreprenuer in Residence program. “We’ll be traveling quite often to conferences and to Google to get training, as well as tap into their mentor and investor networks.”
As an Entrepreneur in Residence, Lynn, beginning in May, will get rent-free office space at 1871. In addition, she said, she’ll get access to the venture capitalists on CODE2040’s board. “It’s going to give us a chance to tap into a really large tech investor network that can really help push our companies forward,” Lynn said of her and two other entrepreneurs in residence. “I’m really excited about that, as well as to learn about the tech industry and be tied into the bigger movement and have a fresher engagement.” To get into the program, about 225 entrepreneurs applied for single spots at three tech hubs — the others are at Capital Factory in Austin, Texas, and American Underground in Durham, N.C. — said Jason Towns, director of the CODE2040 residency program.
Lynn’s work around healthy foods intrigued program administrators, and her experience advocating for more inclusion in STEM made her a good fit for the pilot program, he said.
“We were working to make sure we found individuals who are running really interesting and growing startup ventures — but, almost more importantly, that the person we selected in each city had a real passion and capacity to help build a more inclusive tech ecosystem, with the help of the hub and CODE2040,” Towns said.
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Lynn, also the founder of Rivive Consulting Group, will be required to work with 1871 management on diversity initiatives. That’s a welcome responsibility for the Edgewater resident, who advocates for diversity in STEM fields.
As a White House intern, she worked at the Office of Public Engagement on projects involving women and girls in STEM, job initiatives and food and nutrition. “If I am a black woman-led tech company that does well, that’s a big inspiration for these groups,” said Lynn, who says she learned to code on the side while studying biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “I get a lot of energy out of speaking and inspiring leaders.”