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!