Detroit Regional Chamber > Racial Justice & Economic Equity > Detroit’s Black Tech Revolution as Google Invests in Darren Riley’s AI Startup JustAir

Detroit’s Black Tech Revolution as Google Invests in Darren Riley’s AI Startup JustAir

June 27, 2024

Michigan Chronicle
Ebony JJ Curry

June 25, 2024

Google has announced the 20 recipients of its 2024 Google for Startups Founders Funds for Black and Latino entrepreneurs, a prestigious award given to only 20 people in the country. Among these celebrated innovators is Darren Riley, the visionary founder of Detroit-based JustAir. This groundbreaking platform provides essential air quality insights, crucial for addressing the detrimental effects of local air pollution on community health. Riley’s achievement is not just a win for him and his team; it’s a beacon of hope and progress for the Black tech community in Detroit and beyond.

The significance of Black people in technology cannot be overstated. Black tech entrepreneurs bring unique perspectives and solutions to the table, addressing issues that mainstream technology often overlooks. In Detroit, a city with a rich history of resilience and innovation, the rise of Black tech represents a new era of empowerment and opportunity. This thriving ecosystem is fueled by individuals who, despite facing systemic barriers, continue to drive technological advancements that have profound societal impacts.

Detroit has long been a cradle of ingenuity, from the assembly lines of the automotive industry to today’s cutting-edge developments in AI and tech. The city’s spirit of innovation persists, and Black tech entrepreneurs are at the forefront of this new wave. These innovators are not only creating revolutionary technologies but also addressing critical issues that disproportionately affect Black communities. Their work ensures that the benefits of technology are equitably distributed, fostering a more inclusive future.

The 2024 cohort of the Google for Startups Founders Fund, exclusively focused on AI-driven startups, marks a pivotal moment in Google’s commitment to fostering inclusivity in AI and enabling diverse founders to access vital capital. Each recipient will benefit from $150,000 in non-dilutive cash awards, $100,000 in Google Cloud credits, and invaluable mentorship from Google experts in AI and sales. Additionally, the program offers mental health resources, ensuring that these entrepreneurs have the comprehensive support they need to succeed.

Darren Riley’s words reflect the profound impact of this recognition. “The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund validates so many things for us. It validates the technology we are bringing to our communities who demand a healthier environment, and it validates the community of support that has been with us throughout our journey,” Riley states. “Our team is excited to use Google’s support to accelerate our advances in air quality insights by leveraging AI to detect local sources of pollution and recommend air quality improvement solutions.”

The recipients of the 2024 Black and Latino Founders Fund are utilizing AI to tackle significant business and societal challenges. This includes preventing wildfires, diverting fast fashion from landfills, and aiding community college learners in successfully transferring and acquiring four-year degrees. The diverse applications of AI among these founders illustrate the technology’s transformative potential when harnessed by underrepresented communities.

Maya Kulycky, Vice President of Google Research, underscores this potential. “AI can enable startups to build transformative products and solve complex challenges, but founders need access to capital to realize this potential,” Kulycky remarks. “Through the Google for Startups Founders Funds, we are proud to invest in promising Black and Latino founders who are leveraging AI technology to help address some of today’s most pressing issues. We are inspired by the groundbreaking work of these founders and their potential to shape the future of AI.”

The importance of Black people in tech cannot be overstated. Technology is shaping every facet of modern life, and ensuring that Black voices and perspectives are part of this evolution is critical. Historically, Black entrepreneurs have faced systemic barriers to accessing early-stage capital. Programs like Google’s Founders Funds are crucial in leveling the playing field, providing the necessary resources for these innovators to thrive and drive economic growth within their communities.

Detroit’s tech scene is a vibrant ecosystem where Black entrepreneurs are making significant strides. These innovators are not only creating cutting-edge technologies but also addressing societal issues that disproportionately affect Black communities. By doing so, they are fostering a more inclusive and equitable tech industry.

Google’s commitment to racial equity through economic opportunity is evident in the success of the Founders Funds program. Since its inception in 2020, Google has deployed over $50 million to Black and Latino founders globally. These entrepreneurs have collectively raised more than $590 million in follow-on funding, demonstrating the profound impact of such initiatives.

Racial equity and economic opportunity are inextricably linked. Providing Black and Latino entrepreneurs with access to capital, mentorship, and resources is not just a moral imperative; it is an economic necessity. Diverse perspectives drive innovation, and ensuring that underrepresented communities have the tools to succeed benefits everyone. As these entrepreneurs thrive, they create jobs, stimulate local economies, and contribute to a more vibrant and inclusive tech industry.

The city’s history of overcoming adversity and reinventing itself is mirrored in the stories of its Black tech entrepreneurs. These individuals are harnessing the power of technology to create solutions for their communities, driving progress and change in meaningful ways.

The journey of Darren Riley and JustAir is emblematic of the broader narrative of Black excellence in tech. Through determination, innovation, and community support, Riley is not only advancing air quality insights but also paving the way for future generations of Black tech entrepreneurs. His success is a reminder of the limitless potential that exists within the Black community when given the opportunity to thrive.

The impact of Black people in tech, particularly those from Detroit, is profound and far-reaching. Google’s investment in Darren Riley and JustAir is a powerful affirmation of this impact. As we celebrate these achievements, we must continue to support and amplify the voices of Black tech entrepreneurs, ensuring that their contributions are recognized and valued. The future of tech is diverse, inclusive, and driven by the creativity and resilience of innovators like Darren Riley.