President Bill Clinton has made closing the Digital Divide -- the gap between those with access to the Internet and those without -- one of the highest priorities in his final year in office. To address the vexing issue, he periodically calls on the nation's top technology executives, including AOL's Steve Case, AT&T's Michael Armstrong, and, always, Darien Dash.
If you've yet to hear of young Darien Dash, listen up. At 28, the CEO of DME Interactive (DGMF) in New York is crashing onto the nation's technology scene with a business model pegged on bridging the technology ravine. Dash, a street-hip African American born in the Bronx and raised in New Jersey, launched DME Interactive in 1994 with $200 in pocket money. He started by offering Web services, from strategy and design to implementing e-commerce applications, to urban-oriented music and entertainment companies.
It didn't take Dash long to land heavy-hitting customers like HBO Home Video, and last year, VISA. The business has steadily grown and is expected to pull $5 million in revenues this year. That may still be small, but Dash's reputation looms large. He is technology chair of the Harlem School District, where he has helped wire the schools with more than 750 PCs and broadband Net connections. And he sits with the likes of AOL exec and Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis on the board of New York group HEAVEN (Helping Educate, Activate, Volunteer, & Empower via the Net). "Those things work to establish my credibilty," the young executive says.
So credible has Dash become that he took his urban marketing plan straight to the world's largest Internet service and cashed in. In mid February, he inked a partnership with AOL to provide 50 million urban consumers with complete access to the Internet. Called "Places of Color," the program will sell online service for $19.95 per month to the underserved urban community, giving inner-city residents a hand by offering friendlier credit requirements. And Dash will market his service by having employees walk city streets rather than placing traditional TV and radio ads.
Most important, he finessed a deal with AOL that made "Places of Color" a wholly owned subsidiary of DME and gave Dash control of marketing and distributing the service. "I wanted to walk away with issues that are important to us," reveals Dash. Closing the divide is his personal and professional mission. "If I don't do something about that, what am I worth?" Dash says. "It's real." To officials at the White House and power brokers throughout techland, so is Dash.