Hank Williams, African American entrepreneur who pressed for diversity in tech industry, dies at 50

Hank Williams, an African American tech entrepreneur who campaigned for greater diversity in the industry, died Sunday after a brief illness. He was 50.

His death at a Newark, N.J., hospital was caused by complications of myocarditis, according to a statement from Platform, a nonprofit he started in 2013 to increase minority and female involvement in tech businesses.

The annual Platform Summit was first held at MIT and has since been held at Morehouse College in Atlanta. It brings together hundreds of high-tech professionals, investors, students and entrepreneurs.

In a statement Monday, Morehouse College President John Silvanus Wilson Jr. called Williams “a major force for good in the cause of diversifying the innovation economy.”


The son of a judge, Williams was born in New York City on Dec. 1, 1964. He grew up in Harlem and graduated from a boarding school in Connecticut before studying computer science at the University of Pennsylvania.

He started his tech career in the mid-1980s. In 1988, he became president and chief executive of Pastel Development Corp., where he developed DayMaker, a personal information management program.

In 1998, he raised $40 million to found ClickRadio, an early Internet music provider. The company closed its doors in 2001.

In 2008, he founded Kloudco, an Internet data storage service.

Williams was one of eight minority entrepreneurs CNN followed in 2011 as they pitched venture capitalists for funding. The result was chronicled in the documentary “The New Promised Land: Silicon Valley.”

In commentaries for USA Today and CNN, Williams criticized and sought to explain the relative scarcity of minority and female employees in high-tech companies. Open prejudice was less to blame than subtle bias, he wrote.

“The market makers operate in a world that is not particularly evenhanded,” he said in a 2011 essay for CNN. “This part of the tech world is driven by all the same biases that exist in the nontech world. And it is much harder for even the most talented African Americans in the tech world to gain access to influential, insightful, connected mentors, let alone investors.”

Williams’ survivors include his wife, Mayida Zaal; daughter, Imani; mother, Elaine Williams, and stepfather Alan Feigenbaum.