Naji H. Kelley is the founder and CEO of BLNDED Media, a leading platform for the voices of diverse and underrepresented founders, working toward providing a voice for underrepresented entrepreneurs in tech and highlighting organizations that support diversity, in order to build a more inclusive startup ecosystem. We interviewed Naji to learn more about his thoughts on entrepreneurial ecosystem building, as well as his hopes for SCN.
How do you define ecosystem building?
Developers of relationships and opportunity that leads to the development of culture, resources, and opportunities for how our cities, and communities will function, look, and feel.
What is your primary role as an ecosystem builder in your community?
My primary role is helping create a platform to showcase the stories of startups, people, and organizations supporting diversity and inclusion throughout media, tech, and business ecosystems. Additionally, bringing entrepreneurs and different ecosystem stakeholders together to help build relationships that yield positive impact for entrepreneurial community, especially entrepreneurs of color.
Why are you part of SCN?
I was interested in joining SCN because of the ability to connect with people who have more experience than myself around the Nation building ecosystems in the tech space and beyond. A great opportunity to learn from others and broaden my resources and access to help others.
Which SCN committee(s) are you a member in or interested in, and why? What do you hope to contribute?
I want to act as a conduit for the voices from communities often overlooked in larger ecosystem conversations that deal with how capital, education, resources, tech, etc. are used to help create more inclusive business ecosystems.
In terms of professionalizing the role of Ecosystem Builders, what (issue, improvement, change) has your highest priority? What needs to happen NOW?
Equal opportunity to connect Ecosystem Builders to educational opportunities, including fellowships across multiple disciples and geolocations to further understand globalization. Connecting the have nots to the haves, to inspire human potential, providing new innovations to the world’s toughest problems we face now and in the near future.
Imagine Marvel is creating a new superhero, the "Ecosystem Builder." What would be her/his superpowers? Her/his appearance? Character? What is her/his one flaw?
Ecosystem Builder brings perspective and communities from all walks of life to the table in new and innovative ways that speaks to the human condition. One flaw of the Ecosystem Builder would be his weight. Eats good and needs to work out twice as hard to keep off the excess weight. Lol :)
What is your ecosystem known for?
Austin is known as one of the best places to start a business in the Nation. Tech companies all over and tech positions in abundance, great weather, opportunities, and friendly community. Internally, Austin is known by many for the challenges it faces around its inequalities.
What are your biggest challenges?
Biggest challenge for me is balancing, taking care of myself and serving the community. Juggling multiple hats across multiple companies and organizations, including my own media startup, all while serving in the U.S. Navy Reserves.
What is the craziest/scariest/worst/best thing that has happened in your ecosystem building career?
One of the biggest challenges to me is the city’s infrastructure because it’s not designed to handle the volume of people moving here. Traffic is one of the best visual examples of frustration in action. There are a lot of issues around inequality the city faces but with these challenges also comes opportunity to solve them in new ways.
What do you hope SCN becomes in five years?
More initiatives and programs focused on helping communities of color reach their fullest potential is a high priority for me. Bringing entrepreneurs stories to the forefront to people and organizations who have the capital and resources to make a difference need to be engaged and often to connect the dots and disprove any misconceptions.
I believe ecosystem builders can act as shepherds for their respective communities in order to blend the overall city ecosystem. Creating opportunities, building relationships, and bringing in new resources that can be felt across the entire city.