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Entrepreneur finds her niche recruiting tech sector talent

Martin Desmarais
Entrepreneur finds her niche recruiting tech sector talent
Melissa James, founder and CEO of Tech Connection.

Melissa James, founder and CEO of the Dorchester-based Tech Connection, was once in a room full of Boston’s technology hotshots and couldn’t find another face like hers. The lack of diversity shocked her.

“Here I was the only black girl in the room,” James recalled about that eye-opening moment during a Boston event supposedly targeted to promote diversity recruitment in the city’s tech industry. “There were of course people from other backgrounds, but there just wasn’t a strong representation of minority professionals.”

So James started her own recruitment company to help diversify the field by connecting underrepresented technical talent with software and IT companies.

“It was definitely something that I noticed and I thought this is a great field, this is a booming industry,” she said. “They are working on cutting edge problems every day. I would really love to see more people that look like me be a part of this conversation.”

And she isn’t the only one.

In the summer of 2014, tech giants Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Yahoo all came clean on the failed diversity efforts of their companies. The disappointing numbers showed that approximately 70 percent of the employees at these companies were male, and that in the U.S. tech field an estimated 61 percent were Caucasian, 30 percent were Asian, 3 percent were Latino and less than 2 percent were African-American.

Melissa James, founder and CEO of Tech Connection.

While many were surprised by the admission, tech industry leaders said the point was to highlight the problem and call for help on fixing it.

James, already working in diversity recruitment professionally, answered the call with her startup. Though just a handful of years out of college at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and with no entrepreneurial experience to speak of she said she just couldn’t ignore the need and the clear lack of businesses working to address it.

What Tech Connection does is give tech companies a place to turn to find tech workers — specifically entry-level software engineers and IT professionals — through its network of tech job-seeking professionals.

Having worked on diversity recruitment at Boston technology company Sample6 Technologies after graduating from college in 2010 and also at the Kendall Square office of Google from 2013 to 2014, James was able to bring a strong network of technology companies looking for a more diverse workforce to Tech Connection.

She also learned how to build a network of job seekers through connections with local colleges, nonprofit organizations promoting technology industry growth and technology job networking events.

James said that even though Tech Connection was only launched late last summer and only started its public push in the dying days of 2014, the company now has a network of 100 companies looking for employees and a quickly growing database of IT job seekers.

In 2015, her goal for Tech Connection is to place 50 workers in jobs.

Tech Connections makes money through a placement fee when it helps a company hire an employee, which is standard practice in the recruiting industry.

If the demand for more diversity in the tech industry is not enough to showcase Tech Connection as a company that can provide employees of color, James also is encouraged by the growth predictions for hiring in the technology industry — optimistic projections peg the tech sector growth rate at more than 20 percent.

“A lot of jobs go unfilled in the tech industry and we need those jobs to be filled,” James said. “Many managers are saying they can’t find qualified candidates who have the right skill set. … We realize and recognize there is a problem and we have to get to work on creating the solution.”

Currently, Tech Connection is housed out of the Dudley Square office of startup incubator Smarter in the City and James is the company’s only employee, but she says if the business can hit its goal of placing 50 employees in 2015 it will be on track to expand.

James lives in Dorchester and says her goal is to keep the company headquarters local. However, her larger vision for Tech Connection entails branching out to other regions, including New York, California and Tennessee — all areas she considers hotbeds of tech growth.

So far, she has funded Tech Connections on her own, but would consider outside investment down the road once the company has a successful track record in connecting tech businesses with a diversified workforce.

A first-generation Jamaican American who grew up in Milton and is the first member of her family to go to college, James also feels pride in Tech Connection’s mission to increase diversity in one of the country’s leading industries. She said she wanted to start a company that could have an impact in some way, which she firmly believes she has done.

“We want to create a solution that is going to have a lasting impact in our community, and the way that we see that is by bridging the gap between underrepresented technical talent and getting them into these tech companies,” she said.