Why Diversity Always Matters in Startup Weekend


At first, I found it strange that the organizing team of the Triangle event I facilitated on June 12-14 pursued a “trailblazers” edition. Initially I had thought the team wanted to create a diversity-themed event similar to the one I had facilitated in Miami just two weeks prior.

I’m not going to say which event I liked more… but they were certainly different! #Diversity

I learned quickly that the rationale behind that branding had to do with the perception of the world “diversity” as potentially not ideal. The term “Trailblazers” alluded to the multiple pioneers that have come from all walks of life in North Carolina, but not directly to women, people of color, or other underrepresented peoples.

This move honestly troubled me for two reasons:

  • Do people actually feel excluded when an event calls for diversity?

  • Do people not want to be part of an event that prioritizes diversity?

After 10 Startup Weekends as a participant, volunteer, organizer, and facilitator, I’ve come to not only appreciate the diversity of each event – I crave it. The greatest killer of an event is monotony – if it looks and feels the same as it did before, it will lose its luster.


My last two events were among the most memorable because they knew a simple fact:

Diversity improves community. Always. 

Below are some key lessons I learned during my time in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill that weekend.

1. History matters, especially from diverse narratives

We’re all familiar of the most famous narrative of innovation out of North Carolina – the location of the famous Wright Brothers’ historic heavier-than-air flight. The state also has a rich history of innovation from lesser-known figures such as:

Sequoyah – creator of the Cherokee alphabet, which allowed for increase communication between and across Native American peoples.







Lunsford Lane – born into slavery and invented a special tobacco that raise enough money to buy his freedom.







Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner – inventor of 35 products and holder of five patents, granted retroactively as she was denied previously for being a black woman.







I felt it was important to tell these stories as well in Durham at the event. Innovation can truly come from anywhere, but it takes a special drive to push it forward.

2. Diversity strengthens communities on the rise

The American Tobacco Campus

I was truly captivated by the beauty and sprawl of the downtown Durham innovation sector. Everything from American Underground to the Iron Yard is all within walking distance, and the community is very familiar and well-integrated.

The old American Underground building.

I can see why the Triangle has been selected for the location of the next UP America Summit in September. It has everything the country could want and so much more!

3. You can have a diverse team of literal professionals

Top row: Frank Pollack, Austin Henley, Talib Graves-Manns Middle row: Glenda Clare, Lee Ngo, Ramon Llamas, Corey Harris, Adam Klein Bottom row: Jesica Averhart

In all of my Startup Weekends, I’ve never seen a more impressive, academic, and professional group of people that I did at Triangle Trailblazers. In this photo, I estimate there are at least twelve or thirteen advanced degrees and over one hundred years of professional experience.

I was the lone liability of the group.
I was the lone liability of the group. Also, @DrinkMati is a fantastic sponsor.

Moreover, they ran their even with aplomb. Excellent communication, precision, and consideration for the needs of the community. Great, great work!

4. Diversity is more than just about race or gender

This event was attended by nearly equal parts female and male and predominately people of color, particularly African and Latino American. Also like in the Miami event, the Triangle event brought out another underrepresented group: the differently-abled.

Team KinderWalk working to provide guidance for the visually-impaired in buildings.

Two teams that hoped to aid the visually-impaired worked from start to finish during this competition, with one app – The Blank App – going on to win the AT&T Special Award for Connectability.

It’s great to see Startup Weekend bring out the best of ourselves, regardless of whether it is convenient or profitable.

5. A new owner, but the same mission for diversity

General Announcement

With the recent Techstars acquisition of UP Global, there are many community leaders such as myself who are left with several questions about the future of the organization. While tax incentives and financial strategies are important, I think the preservation of UP Global’s Burning Man-inspired philosophy of “radical inclusion” should be at the forefront of the discussion.


To me, prioritizing diversity should be self-evident, and it should not ever be a point of contention.

However, until our communities evolve to that point, we’ll just have to stay vigilant. From the bottom of my heart, I thank the Triangle Trailblazers team for inviting me out to be a part of their special event, and I’ll see everyone in September.

Lee Ngo is a community leader and facilitator based in Pittsburgh, PA.

MLK Meets Silicon Valley – Inclusion Hacking For Good In Oakland

This post is was originally published on PRWeb.

Startup Weekend Oakland invites community members, business leaders and techies to solve global issues related to education, health, restorative justice and sustainability.


Oakland’s first Startup Weekend hackathon will take place February 7, 2014 – February 9, 2014. The underlying theme is “Building a Silicon Valley that lives up to Dr. King’s dream” and is the first global hackathon for Black Male Achievement. The vision for this groundbreaking event presents the question “Could an app have saved Trayvon Martin?” says Kalimah Priforce, a 2013 Echoing Green BMA Fellow and Co-Founder of Qeyno Labs, the host for this historic event.

Oakland is quickly becoming the go-to place for new technology startups to find their big break. With the rising costs of living and working in San Francisco, many innovators are finding that the city across the bay bridge provides them with ample transportation options in and out of Silicon Valley’s tech hubs. Co-working spaces, affordable housing, a foodie’s paradise of delectable cuisine that reflects its increasingly diverse population, and an art and music scene that draws in tens of thousands throughout the Bay Area. Startup Weekend Oakland will take place at Impact Hub Oakland’s new space located at 2323 Broadway.


What is a Hackathon? Hackathons provide a venue for self-expression and creativity through technology. People with technical backgrounds come together, form teams around a problem or idea, and collaboratively code and/or design a unique solution from scratch — these generally take shape in the form of websites, mobile apps, and robots. Each team has the opportunity to pitch their creation to a panel of judges whose expertise reflect the five tracks our participants will be “hacking.” Teams have an opportunity to win prizes and awards, gain recognition amongst organizations, government officials and community leaders while interacting with notable movers and shakers in the Bay Area.

A Hackathon for Black Male Male Achievement (BMA)? Oakland offers more than exciting opportunities for work and play. Oakland is also home to a community of activism, social entrepreneurs, and green innovators tackling the biggest problems that are often overlooked by the largely Valleywag culture of its neighbors. “Startup Weekend Oakland is an inclusive event focused on progressive community problem solving intended to inspire collaboration amongst diverse ethnicities, professions and genders,” states Ayori Selassie Founder of Pitch Mixer Entrepreneur Forum and organizer for Startup Weekend Oakland. This three-day 54 hour event encourages developers, designers, and innovators from all backgrounds to tackle issues related to what today’s statistics reveal – from health, to education, to incarceration rates, young Black males have untapped potential.

Startup Weekend Oakland is initiating a national conversation on innovation that doesn’t typically happen in the tech scene thanks to supporters like the Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Male Achievement, a multi-issue, cross-fund strategy to address black men and boys’ exclusion from economic, social, educational, and political life in the United States.

#YesWeCode Reception (Saturday Evening — February 8, 2014) – Startup Weekend Oakland’s most significant partnership is with Van Jones and Rebuild the Dream’s #YesWeCode initiative to get 100,000 low opportunity youth to learn to code. “Our aim is to make the training, tools and technology of Silicon Valley available to our communities – providing education and access that will demystify the language of coding,” states Van Jones, President and Founder of Rebuild the Dream. Van Jones will be keynote speaker for Saturday evening’s reception as he shares his bold vision to a room filled with leaders from the San Francisco Bay Area and across the nation. He will then be joined by a panel of influencers and experts for an hour-long discussion on Oakland becoming the home for the #YesWeCode movement.

The old adage, “it takes a village to raise a child” is supported by Startup Weekend Oakland’s family of contributors, sponsors, and community partners that include: Policy Link, The Kapor Center for Social Impact, Impact Hub Oakland, Pitch Mixer Entrepreneur Forum, Cooperative Education Ventures, Black Founders, Latinos for Social Change, BiTHouse and many others included on their website. “Supporting the creation and promotion of technology solutions, products and services generated by members of diverse communities in cities like Oakland is a honor,” states Jewell Sparks, inclusion hacking strategist and Founder of Strategic Diversity Group and BiTHouse (aiding with partnerships for the event).

Visit: http://www.swoakland.com to take advantage of early bird registration for the event and reception. If you are interested in contributing to the event as a partner or sponsor, email: partnerships@swoakland.com.