Building Eco-Friendly Instruments, Paths For Women In Tech

Nov 23, 2013
Originally published on December 7, 2013 4:35 pm

The online magazine Ozy covers people, places and trends on the horizon. Co-founder Carlos Watson joins All Things Considered regularly to tell us about the site's latest discoveries.

This week, Watson tells host Arun Rath about a female tech entrepreneur aiming to attract more women of color to the field and a company taking an eco-friendly approach to crafting instruments that usually require endangered wood. Watson, who has stayed in hundreds of hotels in dozens of countries, talks about an unforgettable stay in Hong Kong.

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From NPR West, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Arun Rath. It's time for The New and The Next.


RATH: Carlos Watson is the co-founder of the online magazine Ozy. Each week, he joins us to talk about what's new and what's next. Welcome back, Carlos.

CARLOS WATSON: Arun, always good to be with you.

RATH: Good to have you back. You introduce us to Kathryn Finney this week. She's a black female tech entrepreneur, which is a really rare thing, and she's very discontent for that as a rare thing. Tell us what she's doing about it.

WATSON: So, incredibly interesting woman, a Yale graduate, although she had heard for years that the dearth of women - and particularly women of color - in Silicon Valley companies was due to, quote, unquote, "a pipeline issue," she said that's not true. There are great women out there who want to get involved, and so she launched a conference last year called Focus 100.

Lo and behold, several hundred black women who were interested in launching tech startups showed up. And subsequently, she's built an entire company around it called Digital Undivided that is helping, in a sense, to incubate, mentor and, in some cases, find investment for black female entrepreneurs. And Kathryn's work has taken her to Detroit, to East Palo Alto, to parts of St. Louis, to Harlem, and she's saying there's incredible talent there as well.

RATH: It was something from the piece that I found shocking. I mean, I expected there to be a disparity, but I think the figure was - am I right - 1 percent of venture capital money is going to African-Americans?

WATSON: Sadly. And, by the way, less than 10 percent were women of any color. So part of Kathryn's view was there's a huge opportunity here, but she thought that it needed some coordinated incubating.


RATH: Now, that - that's pretty recognizable as a sound of a ukulele, but this one is designed in a unique way, right?

WATSON: So these wonderful, guitar-like instruments for years have required really fancy woods and other things. If you were building a classic ukulele from the acacia tree on Hawaii, you'd use something called koa. But a guy named Joe Lutwack in San Francisco - who is very environmentally focused - said, is there a way that we could build a premium instrument but do it in a way that was eco friendly, and consequently helped create a number of interesting materials, including one that he calls e-Koa.

And so he won't give us too much on what goes into those ingredients, but what we know is that these beautiful instruments aren't just used by everyday people, but the guy who's known as the Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele space - a guy named Jake Shimabukuro - even uses them himself.


RATH: Finally, Carlos, there's a piece from you this week about this hotel in Hong Kong that - well, why don't you tell us why it's so amazing.

WATSON: Well, Arun, now, I've traveled to over 50 countries, from Iceland to Zimbabwe. I've probably stayed in, by my last count, some 500 hotels. But my favorite hotel in all the world is a space in Hong Kong called the Upper House. Now, this hotel's a couple of years old, an absolutely stunningly designed hotel, with the most magical service ever.

So I love to play basketball, Arun - not a very skilled basketball player - but everywhere in the world I go, I love to play. I was having the hardest time finding a court in Hong Kong, and I had been there no less than 12 hours before they found me a midnight basketball game packed with 50 other Hong Kong natives playing basketball in the steamy heat. And so...

RATH: It's quite a concierge that can hook you up with midnight basketball in Hong Kong.

WATSON: Hey, anytime you can get something like that, especially when you're a guy like me who doesn't like to run or ride the bike, you're certainly appreciative.

RATH: Carlos Watson is the co-founder of the online magazine Ozy. You can explore all the stories we talked about at Carlos, thanks again.

WATSON: Always good to be with you, Arun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.