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.
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:
Because of institutional racism in our society, Black people:
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
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:
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.