We created the Techstars Foundation in 2015 to help make innovation and entrepreneurship more accessible and inclusive. Since then, the Techstars Foundation has been investing in and accelerating nonprofits that deliver scalable impact for underestimated entrepreneurs.
Through Accelerate Equity, the Techstars Foundation identifies early-stage nonprofits and ideas to empower and support underestimated entrepreneurs. Each non-profit has a significant nominating donor. We then call on the Techstars network to pitch in, provide mentorship, and add additional financial donations. The Techstars Foundation will add a 5% match to the total raised at the end of the calendar quarter.
- Grid 110 – pathways to success for entrepreneurs in LA
- Knox St. Studios – building community wealth through entrepreneurship in North Carolina
- Sistahbiz – membership organization for Black women entrepreneurs
- HBCUvc – directing how capital is formed and distributed to increase opportunities for Black and Latinx innovators
If you are interested in supporting any of these organizations, please click on the respective link above or reach out to the Techstars Foundation. Or, for the three I’m involved in, drop me an email also, and I’ll make an appropriate connection.
I recently was in an email thread where a Black founder had a powerful and clear response to the question from one of her corporate partners. The question was:
How can our (the corporate partner’s) team better support diversity in our work, particularly in our sourcing, diligence, and onboarding efforts?
The entrepreneur responded with a long explanation that was a brilliant and extremely helpful perspective for me. It follows.
I think one of my core experiences, and a truth that we all have to grapple with, is that programs like yours should be thought of like higher education in 1960, or getting into a NYC Specialized High School today.
Were there no Black students at Harvard because Black people aren’t brilliant? No.
There were no Black students at Harvard because you have to get a certain score on the SAT to get in.
People who score well on the SAT either:
- Come from amazing school districts with a plethora of funding and the ability to prepare students adequately for the test.
- Come from families that can afford expensive SAT prep.
- Come from communities that have an infrastructure that supports robust SAT prep.
Because of institutional racism in our society, Black people:
- Have school systems with a lower tax basis and insufficient resources.
- Make less than half what whites do in many cities and don’t have the resources to sign up for SAT prep.
- Have had our communities and families decimated through mass incarceration and other racist policies.
If we juxtapose that analogy with startups, your team will need to ask itself what criteria you’re using for startups.
Black entrepreneurs have to find a way/make a way/invent a way to launch businesses with two arms tied behind our backs because we don’t get the same funding as our white counterparts.
So I have raised $2.5MM and have to compete with companies who have raised $25m and $70m respectively.
And yet, I’m constantly asked, “What’s your traction?” which is similar to “What’s your SAT score?”
We know that as a society, we are starving Black businesses for capital, and yet we expect them to hit the same milestone markers as businesses that have a plethora of capital. It’s like not feeding a cow yet expecting them to produce milk. It’s literally madness and maddening.
Thinking about your sourcing of Black companies is going to be a far more complex question than “Who do we call to find the amazing Black companies?” It’s going to be “How do we change our lens so we can see the amazing Black companies?” followed by “Once we bring them into our ecosystem, how do we support their journey in meaningful ways that can help to level the playing field = e.g. get them capital or get them revenue?”
Maybe we should stop asking “What’s your SAT score?” and instead ask, “Wow. How on earth did you maintain a 3.7 GPA, and cook for your little brother and sister every night because your mom had 2 jobs, and get an A in calculus without a high-paid tutor, and work a full-time summer job at Key Food while taking a class to teach you how to code at night? That’s a lot of grit!”
Maybe we’re measuring the wrong things in our entrepreneurial society, just as we’ve measured the wrong things in our larger society. Maybe we all need to start talking about grit instead of metrics that can only be achieved with money, and then make sure all entrepreneurs get the funding required to achieve equivalent metrics.
EforAll’s mission is to accelerate economic development and social impact through inclusive entrepreneurship in emerging communities. They are focused on fostering small business development and entrepreneurial activity amongst under-networked and under-resourced populations in communities that have been traditionally overlooked for economic investment.
The decision to support EforAll was easy for us as they focus on two distinct issues that we care about: building entrepreneurial ecosystems and supporting underserved entrepreneurs. Their metrics speak for themselves as their entrepreneurs have been: 57% unemployed or underemployed (when they started the program); 70% female; 41% immigrant; and/or 55% minority.
They also locate their programs outside, but near, communities that are traditional hubs for entrepreneurship. In Massachusetts (where they are based), they run programs in cities like Lawrence, MA, and Lowell, MA – both recovering factory/mill towns that lost their economic driver years ago when most of the factories closed down. In these two cities, EforAll has launched more than 130 small businesses and startups which have created almost 400 jobs in the community.
While there’s been tremendous growth in Colorado, it has been uneven across the state. We believe the importance of investing in the types of entrepreneurs and communities that EforAll works with is crucial, especially as the wealth inequality gap in our country continues to grow.
I’m particularly excited that EforAll has decided to launch their first Colorado site in Longmont. I’d like to invite you to come to an event on April 17th from 8:00am-9:
If you are interested in getting involved or supporting the effort, email Harris Rollinger who is the Executive Director of EforAll Colorado.
Kim and Eric Norlin, who run Gluecon, have had a simple goal around diversity at the Gluecon for many years.
The goal is quite simple: to create as diverse and welcoming a conference environment as we can.
The diversity scholarships are one approach to this. The Gluecon code of conduct is another. Kim and Eric have always been deliberate about inviting a diverse set of speakers and panelists and Gluecon has always been a favorite conference of mine when I’ve been around for it.
If you are interested in applying for a diversity scholarship, send an email to
- a quick biography
- a short paragraph explaining why you’d like to attend, and how you feel you’ll contribute to
And, if you are interested in Gluecon separate from this, reach out to Eric or sign up online. It’s May 22nd and May 23rd in Boulder. The topics include things like APIs, DevOps, Serverless, Edge Computing, Containers, Microservices, Blockchain-driven applications, and the newest tools and platforms driving technology.
Amy and I are proud executive producers of the upcoming movie Pioneer In Skirts. It has been part of our activity supporting independent documentaries about gender diversity, especially in science and tech.
The daughter/mother leadership of Ashley Maria and Lea-Ann Berst along with their team has stayed after it and are close to the finish line. Watch the trailer and then if you are inclined toss a little money into the GoFund Me campaign to help finish off the film.
I’ve written several times about leveling the playing field for women in tech, including our own actions at Foundry Group. I’m always keeping my ear to the ground for how to do this better.
Recently, I was connected to Kate Catlin, the Founder of Find My Flock, by my partner Jason. From the outside, it looks like Find My Flock is a tech job board that is enthusiastically open to all. What isn’t obvious is that they did 100% of their product research, design, and UX testing with developers who happen to be women and/or people of color.
This led to some very specific features:
- You can filter jobs by benefits like maternity leave, trans-inclusive healthcare, or visa sponsorship.
- You get a personal interviewing coach.
- If a company wants a premium posting, Find My Flock has an off-the-record phone call with two developers in the company to make sure they’re happy.
While mostly driven by “determined intersectional feminism,” Kate thinks more platforms should be designed this way. She’s a former IDEO CoLab Fellow, and follows IDEO’s belief that you can spur the most creativity by interviewing users at the extreme ends of the bell curve, in addition to those in the middle.
To understand this, imagine you’re designing a new sneaker. You’ll come up with very different ideas if you go interview the most blister-prone ultramarathoner instead of the average neighborhood jogger.
Find My Flock took it a step further by interviewing only at the extremes. If developers most likely to experience unconscious bias feel this process is effective, supportive, and fair, then they believe everyone else will also have an outstanding experience as well. “This is not about handouts,” Kate says. “No one I know wants a job they haven’t worked for. It’s about a level playing field.”
What are your thoughts? How would major tech platforms be different if they had designed for underrepresented people first?
With the current global movement for women’s rights and equality, IWD 2018 has spawned numerous initiatives including #PressForProgress and #TimeIsNow. While the hashtags vary, the common theme of 2018 is action. For many organizations, the goal is for these initiatives to launch on March 8th but continue throughout the year and beyond. At a minimum, IWD and the organizations and individuals celebrating it will spark action, continue existing conversations, and force new ones.
At Foundry Group, as part of our efforts to help build a more inclusive tech industry, we’ve joined two initiatives as part of IWD 2018: #StartWithEight and Project #MovingForward.
#StartWithEight addresses the gender disparity in venture capital funding by asking participants to commit to taking eight meetings with women from outside their existing networks during the month of March. The idea there is that “the dynamics will change when capital flows equally to any talented founder, no matter his or her gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic.” For many VCs, deal flow is extremely network driven and often our networks look a lot like us. At Foundry Group, we’ll do at least eight new meetings with women looking for funding who we’ve never met with before in the month of March.
Project #MovingForward is building an open-source directory that pools diversity, inclusion, and anti-harassment commitments from VCs. We (along with 35 other VC firms) shared information (now public on the site) on how we’re #MovingForward. At Foundry Group, in addition to adopting new policies, we’ve created a portal for internal and external stakeholders to report sexual harassment.
There’s a ton of work to be done to achieve gender equality and inclusivity in tech, but these action-oriented initiatives are a good start. I hope the momentum continues to build and we start to see some real change. K9’s Project #MovingForward submission really sums it up: “Actions speak louder than words.”
As we start spinning up Defy Ventures in Colorado, we are doing a Business Coaching Day at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility in Ordway, Colorado. It’s one of our first Defy Colorado events and Governor Hickenlooper will be joining us for the day.
There will be around 80 Entrepreneurs-in-Training. While we were planning on having spaces for 50 volunteers, we’ve already filled over 40 of them before even talking about the program so there are only a few spaces left.
If you are interested, the event is happening on February 8th, 2018 from 9:00 am – 4:30 pm. Contact Melissa O’Dell to sign up or get on the list for the next Defy Colorado event.
For a taste of what the experience is like, watch the video above or go to my post Understanding Privilege – My Experience in Prison.
As I continue my exploration of feminist literature, I’ve become much more aware of pronoun usage.
I realized my default pronoun for writing and speaking has been male gendered. If I thought about pronoun usage in advance, I could alternate and use female gendered pronouns, but when I wasn’t paying attention, my default went back to the male pronoun.
I also noticed that much of what I read used male-gendered pronouns as a default. When referring to a specific person, pronoun usage was linked to the person, but whenever the writing referenced a non-specific person, the pronouns were usually male.
I’ve given several talks in the past few months where I consciously decided to use only female-gendered pronouns, except when referring to a specific person (where I then matched the gender of the person.) After these talks, I regularly got positive notes about this, from both women and men, thanking me for doing this.
Some of these talks were about gender issues in tech, but others were about something entirely different, so the positive reactions were instructive to me. I started mentioning this approach, including to several women I respected a lot for their views on gender issues. I specifically asked if my behavior around this was useful. All gave me a resounding yes.
So I’ve decided to try to use female-gendered pronouns as my default in writing and talking for a while and see how it goes. I’ll still occasionally use male-gendered pronouns, but by having the female as the default, I hope to have “her” appear more frequently.
All of this notwithstanding, I think it’s important to recognize that there’s an entire generation that is moving quickly past binary pronouns to epicene (or gender-neutral) pronouns. I write this way also and in lots of situations, it works well. But I’m not ready to shift to it, especially since I have a massive deficit of female-gendered pronouns in my historical writing.
I’ve come to despise the phrase “culture fit.”
I don’t remember when I first heard it, but it was many years ago. Over time, it became woven into the world of entrepreneurship, as companies used it as a primary frame of reference for hiring. VCs turned it into a cliche, espousing the importance of culture fit during the entire spectrum of company creation, from the functioning of the very earliest teams through scaling a business.
For the past few years, I’ve tried to use the phrase “cultural norms” instead of culture whenever the concept of culture fit was mentioned. At first, this felt a little ponderous as I had to regularly explain what I meant by cultural norms and why I didn’t just say the word culture instead. I eventually learned that if I stated that culture meant nothing and was shorthand for saying “I don’t want to think hard about what is going on here,” I usually stimulated enough of a conversation that it ultimately became a useful one.
About a year ago, I was in a conversation (I can’t remember who it was with) and they mentioned the phrase “culture add.” I immediately loved it. Since then, I’ve used it as a direct contrast to culture fit and let it evolve to the phrase “go for culture add, not culture fit” as part of a longer rant on diversity on all dimensions (beyond just gender and race) and the evolution of culture norms in a company.
I felt confident in my understanding of this concept. I’d cite the Rooney Rule as an element of how to hire for culture add. If you aren’t familiar with the Rooney Rule, a relatively recent article in 538 titled Rethinking The NFL’s Rooney Rule For More Diversity At The Top has a short and clear description of it.
“In place since 2003 for head coaches and expanded in 2009 to include general manager jobs and equivalent front-office positions, the rule — named after Dan Rooney, Pittsburgh Steelers chairman and onetime head of the league’s diversity committee — mandates that an NFL team must interview at least one minority candidate for these jobs. The rule, however, has two fatal flaws: the temptation to substitute sham interviews in place of a search for real diversity, and coordinator-level positions, a crucial step to head-coaching jobs, are not under the umbrella.”
As with many things in life, I marched forward, spreading the gospel of the Rooney Rule once I had internalized it as part of the idea of culture add. And then, in February, I ran into a brick wall during a Boulder roundtable on diversity organized by Andrea Guendelman of BeVisible. I was sitting in a big circle in the room, listening carefully, but also feeling like I was contributing my perspective and expertise to the group (which, when I reflect on this, means I was probably feeling smug, self-important, and casually tossing around things like the Rooney Rule) when I heard something referenced from Stefanie Johnson, a CU professor that made me pull out my iPhone and type a few notes to myself.
“Stefanie Johnson just wrote an article that the Rooney Rule doesn’t work. If you have only one female candidate in the finalist pool, it doesn’t increase that probability that you’ll hire a female candidate. The same is true for a non-white candidate. If you want to increase the probability, you have to have at least two female candidates in the finalist pool.”
I may have said something like “can you say that again?” If I didn’t, I should have. Regardless, it was seared into my brain. A few days later, I got an email from Stefanie (who had heard about the conversation) with a link to her recent HBR article titled. If There’s Only One Woman in Your Candidate Pool, There’s Statistically No Chance She’ll Be Hired. The article is clear and has the appropriate statistical support for Stefanie’s assertion. If you don’t feel like reading the article, the chart below summarizes it.
There’s a lot in the article, including this gem:
“Why does being the only woman in a pool of finalists matter? For one thing, it highlights how different she is from the norm. And deviating from the norm can be risky for decision makers, as people tend to ostracize people who are different from the group. For women and minorities, having your differences made salient can also lead to inferences of incompetence.”
and this punchline:
“And the evidence simply does not support concerns surrounding the myth of reverse racism. It is difficult to find studies that show subtle preferences for women over men, and for minorities over whites. But the data does support one idea: When it is apparent that an individual is female or nonwhite, they are rated worse than when their sex or race is obscured.”
As I finish up this ramble, let’s cycle all the way back to the notion of culture add. By using this phrase, one of the things I’m trying to do is break the notion of hiring people like everyone else in the company as a default to supporting the idea of culture. Instead, you are looking for people who add to your culture. This does not invalidate the idea of adding people like you, but it doesn’t let this be the default. It’s more subtle than mechanisms like the Rooney Rule, but hopefully, it will be effective long-term.
More importantly, at a discussion earlier this year, I realized once again how little I know about something I’ve been immersed in for many years. Or, if I’m optimistic, how much I can regularly learn just by paying attention, listening, and participating in a discussion, even when I think I’m one of the experts, advocates, or some other word that makes me feel good about myself. And, most of all thank you, Andrea, for staying after me, and for creating a forum for a major new insight for me that I might have otherwise missed.