will.i.am Encourages You to “be Audacious & Spongeable” Because He’s Already Tested Those Waters

Dek: Like BYP, will.i.am envisions a world where Black people are bigger players in STEM. And he’s leading the charge both in business and through his philanthropic work. Here’s how he suggested our Leadership Conference attendees follow the lead.

“Be audacious and fearless.” That was the message artist turned tech entrepreneur will. i. am imparted onto the audience at BYP’s Leadership Conference 3.0. In conversation with our Kike Oniwinde, the Black Eyed Peas frontman shared a bit of his journey into the tech space including the revelation that he was “the third silent partner” behind Beats Electronics, alongside Dr. Dre and Interscope Records co-founder Jimmy Iovine. “Beats was the validation that we can create products,” he says. “We built something gigantic. From there I just realized what Inner City folks can do, what we can build, how big we can grow stuff. And that’s all I needed to set me on this course back in 2007.”

The idea of developing a product was something that came to will.i.am after his band was approached to have a song included in the first TV spot for the launch of the iPod in 2003. From there, he worked with Blackberry, the futurist department at Intel, a 3D printing firm and helped launch Atom bank - all whilst applying his second bit of advice to our audience: “Be spongeable,” he offers. “Go out there in the world and sponge up as much information as possible. And in order to do that, you have to have a welcoming vibration so that people can share that information with you. And if experts are not sharing with you, you have to be patient enough to go on the internet and search for that information.” Although some might be inclined to believe that his celebrity has been a boon in his second career, will.i.am says it was more of a deterrent, explaining that it calls forth more skepticism. But ultimately, “a good idea is a good idea” no matter who brings it, he adds. 

Like BYP, will.i.am envisions a world where Black people are bigger players in STEM careers and businesses. To that end, since 2010 his i.am/Angel foundation has been providing resources and scholarships to children as young as nine, helping them discover the world of science and robotics specifically. An initiative which started with 65 students in his childhood neighborhood of Boyle Heights in East LA, has now grown to serve 11,000 through an association with the LA Unified School District. The idea, for him, is to inspire more inner city kids to become founders in the tech space. And to do so by example, as the force behind three skunkworks - teams which are finding tech solutions in communications, AI and natural language, and for practical daily living, like the Xupermask.

“My mother is 67 years old,” he says in closing. “There’s countries that are not that old, that are booming: Singapore is younger; Dubai is younger. Keep that in mind when you think about the Black community. If we were to start today, what does 67 years from now look like for us as a whole? That’s the type of audacious dreaming we need collectively”

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