We recently sat down with Wayne Sutton and Melinda Briana Epler of Change Catalyst, one of the five Techstars Foundation Grantees, to learn more about the organization and how it’s helping diversity in entrepreneurship.
What problem are you solving?
The lack of diversity in tech and venture capital is a clear problem for the tech industry, for innovation and for society as a whole. As an organization, we focus on inclusion across the whole ecosystem of entrepreneurship, where innovation and technology represent and benefit all people. The tech workforce is not inclusive and welcoming to everyone, and we want to change that.
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What sparked the vision and foundation behind Change Catalyst?
The vision of Change Catalyst was borne from two founders who were confronted with barriers in their own careers based on gender and race, and decided to do something about it. Melinda Briana Epler and Wayne Sutton began by mapping the needs of the tech industry: what was currently working, what wasn’t working and where the needs and gaps were greatest. What they found:
- An ecosystem approach is needed – to fundamentally shift the industry across education, workplace, entrepreneurship and policy.
- A lot of great work around diversity and inclusion was being done in silos, without collaboration and sharing of best practices.
- Severe biases, lack of empathy and lack of resources were keeping many diversity and inclusion solutions from taking hold. A focus on individual behavior change and collective culture change is needed.
For a year they worked to build the first Tech Inclusion Conference and Career Fair, bringing the whole tech industry together to focus on solutions to diversity and inclusion.
The two-day conference sold out, and they had to turn away quality candidates for the career fair because there was so much interest.
The results from the event were widespread: numerous public-private collaborations, shared best practices, changes in careers, new startups formed, diverse candidates hired, new solutions blossomed across the US and even around the world.
Tell us about how your organization has affected/positively impacted your audience?
Change Catalyst empowers diverse, inclusive and sustainable tech innovation through Tech Inclusion and Startup Ecosystem programs.
We partner with the tech community to solve diversity and inclusion together through conferences, career fairs, strategic consulting and training. Our work spans the full tech ecosystem, including: Education, Workplace, Entrepreneurship and Policy.
Below are some of Change Catalyst’s impact from January 2016 to September 2016:
- Change Catalyst has worked with 26 startups and over 60 entrepreneurs
- Hosted 4 conferences and 2 career fairs, reaching 1800+ Tech Inclusion event attendees
- Featured 200+ diverse speakers in tech
- Launched a community platform at Community.TechInclusion.co to provide inclusive tech career oppounites.
- Hosted diversity and inclusion corporate training with several leading Bay Area startups.
- Led Entrepreneurship Bootcamps for Women in Hyderabad, India and Canary Islands, Spain – reaching a total of 400 women.
- Participated in multiple roundtable discussions focused on improving diversity and inclusion in tech and entrepreneurship.
What is the biggest misperception around the issue you are trying to solve?
One of the biggest misperceptions around the work to create an inclusive tech ecosystem is the perception that the responsibility to create change is up to one ethnic group, gender, class or other homogeneous group.
The other equal misperception is there is a pipeline problem for tech companies hiring qualified candidates in technical and non-technical roles.
Both are damaging perceptions that often stifle opportunities for impact.
Creating an inclusive tech ecosystem is the responsibility of everyone in every role in tech. Using “the pipeline” as an excuse for not addressing diversity in a company’s hiring practice, or inclusion in the culture, is irresponsible and sends negative signals to qualified candidates.
To counteract this, Change Catalyst hosts Career Fairs to bring the diverse tech pipeline to tech companies, and the Tech Inclusion Conference to create an educational opportunity for everyone improve their diversity and inclusion practices.
Has the Techstars’ network impacted your business so far?
Yes, during the Tech Inclusion New York Conference, Change Catalyst partnered with Techstars to host the Startup Showcase pitch contest.
We worked with Techstars to expand our reach for high quality startups via suggestions from the network. Techstars IoT and Barclays NYC Managing Director, Jenny Fielding, participated as a pitch judge during the conference. The Techstars network also provided prizes such as mentor office hours to the top three winners of the Tech Inclusion New York Startup Showcase.
How has the Techstars Foundation helped your cause/business?
Being a recipient of the Techstars Foundation grant has allowed Change Catalyst to reach more entrepreneurs and startups through our Tech Inclusion Startup Showcases. The Techstars staff have been great collaborative partners in providing opportunities for founders.
Aligning with the Techstars brand has also elevated our own brand. We appreciate our mutually beneficial partnership and we’re excited to see what we will do next together!
I just completed my first month as Director of the Techstars Foundation. WOW! I am excited to be here.
Diversity in the tech industry is something we are all reading about, talking about and a place we want to see change. Rather than sit on the sidelines, Techstars has developed resources for founders to use when creating and growing their companies and announced a Diversity Commitment in conjunction with the White House last year.
Another way we have committed to moving the needle on real change is through the creation of the Techstars Foundation. The Techstars Foundation was founded in 2015 and is committed to improving diversity in tech entrepreneurship. We do this by investing in organizations with grant money and leveraging the Techstars network to empower these organizations to accelerate their mission forward.
I have followed the work of the Techstars Foundation since its inception. When Techstars established the foundation last year, I always thought to myself, “That sounds interesting, and I would love to find a way to help.”
A few months after its creation, I got connected to Ali Berman, interim Director of the Foundation. Over lunches, coffees and exchanged emails, we brainstormed ideas on how to raise more money for the Foundation and how to make impactful grants to interested organizations.
I always walked away from my conversations with Ali with that ‘head spinning’ feeling of excitement, enthusiasm and wanting to help more.
My career to-date has been as a fundraiser for nonprofit organizations. I have always had a strong mission and interest in connecting individuals to their areas of philanthropic passion. When I think about the words “connecting” and “passion”, they are almost synonymous with the power behind the Techstars network. The Techstars Foundation is built upon that very premise.
You might be wondering – What does the Techstars Foundation support? What do we not support? How can my organization apply for funding? How can I get involved?
What does Techstars Foundation support? – We support non-for-profit and for-profit organizations that are impacting diversity in tech entrepreneurship. How do we support them? In two ways.
- First, we provide grant money to that organization to help with a specific project or general operating needs.
- Second – and more powerful than the money from our vantage point – we actively wrap the Techstars network around our funded organizations to help drive their mission forward. We are not funders who grant money and walk away. We grant money and actively engage around your organization’s challenges.
What does Techstars Foundation NOT support? – The Techstars Foundation is not designed to provide start up funding for individuals or companies. We do not provide grants to individuals either. Organizations that do not have 501c3 status or lack a fiscal sponsor are not eligible to apply.
I want to apply for funding. Where do I begin? – Awesome! We want to hear from you and understand how your organization is impacting diversity in tech entrepreneurship. We just rolled out a new process for interested organizations. Visit our website to review our grantmaking guidelines and our grantmaking process. If you are a fit, apply!
How can I get involved? – There are a number of ways to become involved:
- If you are in the Techstars network and want to help one of our funded organizations, ping me.
- If you are passionate about diversity in tech entrepreneurship, consider making a gift today. (The Foundation is 100% powered by personal donations. Your tax-deductible gifts is what enables us to run.)
- If you are a company and want to contribute, consider becoming a Pledge 1% company and listing Techstars Foundation as a beneficiary.
- If you have an awesome idea on what we should be doing, please drop me a line.
A special thank you to our generous donors who helped get this off of the ground. Without you, the Techstars Foundation would not exist. A big shout out to Google who just came on board as the Foundation’s first corporate partner. Thank you also to the Techstars Foundation’s Advisory Board, current grantees and certainly Ali Berman for helping me get up to speed. You have all guided the Foundation to a wonderful place thus far, and I am excited about where we will go.
I look forward to meeting many of you and working with you in the months and years to come!
We recently sat down with Ryan Sturgill and Iliana Montauk of Gaza Sky Geeks, one of the five Techstars Foundation Grantees, to learn more about the organization and how it’s helping diversity in entrepreneurship.
Gaza Sky Geeks is a co-working hub, entrepreneurship outreach organization and startup incubator and accelerator in Gaza, run by the global organization Mercy Corps.
(NOTE: Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor will be matching donations to the Techstars Foundation until mid-October. Brad and Amy will be matching $1 dollar for every $2 dollars contributed by members of the Techstars’ community, up to $100,000.)
What problem are you solving?
Since 2007, people and goods have been largely restricted from crossing in and out of Gaza’s borders, leaving an isolated population with few avenues for employment. But the technology sector is less hindered by these restrictions – IT is the one thing that you can really do anywhere.
Building off two of Gaza’s core advantages – a strong internet connection provided by a fiber optic cable and a highly educated population – Gaza Sky Geeks is working to provide Gazans with the opportunity for reliable, fulfilling employment and the chance to join the global tech movement as coders and entrepreneurs.
What is the biggest misperception around the issue you are trying to solve?
We have found that a lot of the international community imagines Gaza as the pile of rubble often shown on the news, not the next potential hub for tech talent. The reality is that Gaza has a dense, urban population of educated, hard working, resilient and adaptable young people who are eager to learn and contribute to the growing global tech community.
Core to our existence is the belief that young people in tough environments have the DNA of entrepreneurs and that they can engage meaningfully in the tech sector, even if they are in isolated areas, and we have definitely seen this in Gaza. There is tremendous innovative potential here – it just needs to be harnessed.
What sparked the vision and foundation behind Gaza Sky Geeks?
In 2008, international NGO Mercy Corps saw that consistent access to high-speed internet from the fiber optic cable laid across Gaza could allow Gaza’s highly educated youth to sidestep many of the restrictions on the movement of people and goods.
Mercy Corps then embarked on a long-term mission to turn Gaza into a regional hub for internet-enabled entrepreneurship, establishing Gaza Sky Geeks in 2011 with support from Google.
Tell us about how your organization has positively impacted your audience?
Thanks to the hard work of our core staff, the dedication of our volunteers and mentors, and the support of organizations like Techstars, Gaza Sky Geeks has been able to lead the charge on building a new entrepreneurial technology ecosystem in Gaza that we believe can ultimately generate globally competitive businesses and freelancing talent.
In our vibrant co-working space in downtown Gaza City, where over 45 tech startups, online freelancers and software outsourcers work side-by-side every day, Gaza Sky Geeks is not only training individuals with hard technical skills that they can monetize, but also fostering a hopeful, growing community of over 2,500 people who now have a connection to the rest of the global tech world.
It is the only program of its kind in Gaza and the first to focus on tech entrepreneurship.
Over the past year, we have secured opportunities for entrepreneurs to travel to major startup pitch competitions in Jordan and Ramallah, complete internships with software startups in Sweden, and conduct market research in Morocco and the UK, despite increasing restrictions on permit issuances for Gazans.
For 80 percent of our entrepreneurs, these opportunities were the first time they had left Gaza in their lives.
In May 2016, we also hosted Gaza’s first hackathon, a 30-hour software development competition in which 19 teams produced working demos of their products, and one of the winning startup teams will have the ability to participate in a Silicon Valley-based acceleration program. This was a first for Gaza’s tech ecosystem and demonstrated to the entire community the potential the Gaza’s developers have to create viable online products and services.
How has the Techstars Foundation helped your business?
Techstars has helped us fund a major initiative to increase the skills and confidence of female tech founders. There are more women than men studying STEM related topics in Gaza, and in Gaza, women get higher marks than men in engineering fields.
There is also no stigma against women for excelling in science or math or engineering, but we find that many women lack the confidence and support to transfer those skills into launching their own companies or working in tech fields after university.
Our programming seeks to change that by providing a supportive community of women tech founders through regular meet ups, female coding and hardware workshops, stipends for transportation and income while working on startups, as well as investing in staff whose dedicated job is outreach to female engineers.
With those investments and support from Techstars, we’ve also established a safe, respectful and inclusive co-working space in downtown Gaza City that is accessible to everyone. Each day, over one third of the users of our co-working space are women who are working on startups, freelancing or working for software outsourcing companies.
We also believe that the global tech sector will benefit from the inclusivity of women and enterprising techies from conflict environments. People with these backgrounds and experiences will help develop the diverse solutions our world needs today, whether in consumer products or innovations that solve intractable problems.
Among other things, support from the Techstars Foundation has allowed us to jumpstart our women’s inclusivity program for 2016. Engaging women in our programming is is a core part of Gaza Sky Geeks. Research shows that businesses with mixed female and male leadership perform better than businesses with less diversity.
We believe that Gaza Sky Geeks are uniquely poised to become a leader in this space – since it is still the beginning of the startup movement in Gaza, it has not yet become defined as a traditionally male-led space in this geography.
Our commitment to this effort, with Techstars’ support, has allowed us to solidify Gaza Sky Geeks’ approach to:
- Empowering women leaders and forging our partnerships with organizations like Geekettes, Technovation and TechWomen.
- Offer the first ever women-and-girls-only coding classes in Gaza to teach one cohort of women how to code over a period of 6 months.
- Employ a dedicated Mentorship & Women’s Inclusivity Program Coordinator.
- Provide commuting stipends for women participating in the program.
- Send female founders and developers from Gaza to participate in regional and international events
- Bring international women mentors to Gaza.
The Techstars Foundation is taking actionable steps to change the landscape of diversity in tech. We have set the lofty but attainable goal of 100 percent monetary participation from the Techstars community. We know we can reach our goal, but we need your help.
Brad and Amy will be matching $1 dollar for every $2 dollars contributed by members of the Techstars’ community, up to $100,000.
If Techstars accelerators, staff, mentors or startup programs, such as Startup Weekend and Startup Digest, have helped you in some small way, please consider a donation of any amount to help improve diversity in tech entrepreneurship. Your donation is more powerful for the next 90 days thanks to Brad and Amy.
Techstars is committed to making a difference in diversity in tech entrepreneurship and we hope you will join us.
Thank you again to our generous donors who have made these grants possible. And, thank you Brad and Amy — without you, this initiative would not be possible!
The Techstars Foundation is pleased to announce our first round of five grantees who are committed to improving the landscape of diversity in tech.
We received over 165 grant requests. The breadth of programs, initiatives and thought leadership related to diversity in technology entrepreneurship is awe-inspiring. The work that all of these organizations are doing on this important issue is creating real change while building stronger communities around the world. We applaud them all.
The mission of the Techstars Foundation is to provide grants and resources to organizations making a scalable impact in diversity in tech entrepreneurship. Our first group of five grantees encompasses a wide spectrum of underserved entrepreneurs, including women, minorities, veterans, people with criminal histories and those in resource restricted areas.
The first five organizations receiving financial grants and further assistance from the Techstars Foundation are:
Astia: Astia is transforming the way businesses are funded in the here and now, providing capital, connections, and expertise that fuel the growth of highly innovative, women-led ventures around the globe. Astia manages the Astia Angels angel network, delivers Astia Access programs for entrepreneurs, and looks forward to investing from the Astia Fund later this year.
Patriot Boot Camp: Patriot Boot Camp’s core program is an intensive 3-day educational event designed to engage, inspire, and mentor military members, Veterans, and their spouses to start, innovate, and scale the next generation of technology-focused businesses.
Defy Ventures: Defy “transforms the hustle” of people with criminal histories by providing entrepreneurship training, intense character and personal development, job placement, executive mentorship, startup incubation, and “Shark Tank”-style pitch competitions that award $100,000 in seed funding per class.
Change Catalyst: Change Catalyst is an organization committed to inclusive innovation through two main initiatives, Tech Inclusion and Startup Showcases. Tech Inclusion explores innovative solutions to tech diversity and inclusion through events, career fairs, consulting and training. Startup Showcasees help underrepresented entrepreneurs and investors to start, scale and fund world changing businesses.
Gaza Sky Geeks: Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG) is a co-working hub, entrepreneurship outreach organization, and startup incubator and accelerator in Gaza, run by the global organization Mercy Corps. GSG has been one of the main organizers of Startup Weekend Gaza for five consecutive years and they are working on women’s inclusivity programming.
Along with the financial support, Techstars will leverage our broad global network of mentors, alumni and investors to provide additional support to these organizations. We will be featuring each of these five organizations over the next few months through our social media channels and at various network events such as demo days.
If you would like to learn more about these organizations or get involved, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to making a difference in diversity in technology entrepreneurship together, through the above partnerships and with your support.
Thank you again to our generous donors who have made these grants possible. We continue to encourage 100 percent participation from our network to help support this cause. Every dollar counts.
If Techstars accelerators, staff, mentors or startup programs such as Startup Weekend and Startup Digest have helped you in some small way, please consider a donation of any amount to help improve diversity in tech entrepreneurship.
Grant requests are now open for the fall. Request a grant today!
The Techstars Foundation is a non-profit created to improve diversity in technology entrepreneurship by providing opportunities for underrepresented entrepreneurs through grants, scholarships, and sponsorships.
About the Books
Do More Faster: Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup
Do More Faster is a collection of advice that comes from individuals who have passed through, or are part of, Techstars’ accelerator programs. Each vignette is an exploration of information often heard during the Techstars program and provides practical insights into early stage entrepreneurship. While you’ll ultimately have to make your own decisions about what’s right for your business, Do More Faster can get your entrepreneurial endeavor headed in the right direction. Buy Now.
No Vision All Drive: Memoirs of an Entrepreneur
In 1993, David Cohen and David Brown founded their first company, Pinpoint Technologies, which grew from a basement startup to a successful multinational company with $50 million in annual sales and over 250 employees. Chronicling the story of that company from its beginnings up to 2003, when it was sold to ZOLL, and beyond, No Vision All Drive is the story of that company and the people who worked there. This book is not about business; it is about people. Buy Now.
The new year is off to a great start, and we are excited to continue our commitment to changing the landscape for diversity in technology entrepreneurship. In the fall of 2015, the Techstars Foundation was born, a non-profit created to provide resources through grants and funding to organizations that will have a scalable impact on diversity in tech entrepreneurship.
We are thrilled to announce that grant applications are officially open for the foundation. Both nonprofit and for profit organizations worldwide are eligible to apply.
We look forward to making an impact in diversity in tech entrepreneurship together.
– Broadly impacting diversity in tech entrepreneurship
– This is not startup funding for startup founders of diverse backgrounds. These are grants for organizations which are impacting diversity in tech entrepreneurship in a positive and scalable way.
– You can be based anywhere in the world.
– Your organization can be nonprofit or for profit
Questions? Contact: email@example.com
Deadline for the first round of grant requests is 2/19/16. Requests are accepted anytime, however, requests received after this deadline will be considered for the next round.
Not interested in applying but want to support diversity in tech entrepreneurship? Donate today.
Today we are excited to launch the Techstars Foundation.
Over the past year, many of our alumni, investors, and mentors have encouraged us to think hard about inclusive entrepreneurship. We decided that we wanted to do something very meaningful that would have a lasting impact on this issue — and so we created the Techstars Foundation. The goal of the foundation is to improve diversity in tech entrepreneurship by providing opportunities for underrepresented entrepreneurs through grants, scholarships, and sponsorships.
Creating the Techstars Foundation is also a way for us to take further action on top of the White House Diversity Commitment we made in August. That commitment involves increasing the numbers of female applicants and mentors in our accelerator programs, tracking and increasing minority participation, adding women to our selection committee, and publishing our diversity data annually. We want to do all of this as well as having a direct impact financially.
Founders and employees of Techstars, along with a number of alumni and mentors, have made an initial cash contribution to the Techstars Foundation, which launches today with more than $500,000. We are thrilled to offer a way for Techstars accelerator alumni, partners, mentors, Startup Weekend and Next alumni, and other supporters to Give First by providing access and opportunity to underrepresented minorities and – together – create stronger entrepreneur communities worldwide.
The Techstars Foundation is fortunate to have the guidance of an incredible board of advisors, including Brad Feld (Managing Director, Foundry Group), Mary Grove (Director, Google for Entrepreneurs), Jenny Lawton (Chief Strategy Officer, littleBits), Rod Robinson (Founder and CEO, Connxus), and Lucy Sanders (Founder and CEO, National Center for Women and Information Technology).
If you would like to get involved, please consider donating cash or stock to the Techstars Foundation. You can also name the foundation as a beneficiary. Your contribution is tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.