Let’s Talk About Things That Matter

We often don’t like to talk about things that make us uncomfortable. As a result, we try to change the subject and focus on the weather. The funny thing is, the weather is real, and if I tried to deny it, you would not talk to me.

Let’s talk about the weather

Let’s imagine we are standing in the rain:

You: “Raining hard, isn’t it?

Me: “I don’t see rain.”

In this situation, my response would be unsettling. If I continued to try to convince you that I did not see rain, while we were both being rained on, you would probably become very uncomfortable. Yet I am often told, “I don’t see your color.”

What if I told you, “Things that are important to you don’t matter to me.” That, I imagine, would also be uncomfortable.

The definition of caring

When my mother died several years ago, people who barely knew me said extraordinarily kind things to me. Even casual acquaintances seemed to be able to find a simple combination of words to show they could relate to the pain of losing a parent or loved one.

Not one person ever said to me, “That doesn’t matter to me—I only see you.” No one said, “I don’t care about your mother’s death, I just care about you,” or “You are more than a son.”

Caring, by its very definition, means that things matter.

I would have been offended if someone had told me that they didn’t care about my mother’s death, because it mattered enormously to me. And because it mattered to me, it mattered to people who cared about me, even those who only knew me slightly.

I get these things wrong, too

Some time ago, a friend told me that he was gay. My response was, “That doesn’t matter to me. I just see you.”

What I didn’t realize at the time was that my response belittled something that was very personal and important to my friend. To his credit—or maybe because I mattered to him—he let the moment pass, and showed me understanding.

When people tell me, “I don’t see color,” referring to the color of my skin, it makes me feel like I do not matter. By saying this, they are telling me not only that my experience as a person of color doesn’t matter—they are denying that my experience even exists. The color of my skin is part of me, and given the world we all live in, it has shaped my life—just as the color of your skin has shaped your life.

Yet even though I had experienced this hurt myself, I made the same mistake with my friend. I was trying to tell him that I loved him—but what I actually told him was that something important to him was not important to me. I unintentionally told him that to me, his reality didn’t even exist. It was hurtful regardless of how I meant it.

Words matter

The words we choose matter.

What should I have said when my friend came out to me? Sometimes a good friend just listens. If I could relive that moment, I would tell him: “I am honored that our friendship has developed to the point where you want to share something that is important to you. You matter. What matters to you is important to me.”

June is LGBT Pride month. Take a moment and share kindness. Let your friends and family know they matter. Let them know you love them because of all the things that make them who they are.








Assume Competence for Women’s History Month

I am often told we don’t have enough women in the pipeline for tech jobs. Here’s my take on that: there are enough women in the pipeline—if you assume competence.

What do I mean by “assume competence”? Let me give you an example.

The Volleyball Example

In September of  2018, men held almost 60% of the head coaching positions for Division I women’s volleyball teams.

Women make up 100% of the athletes in women’s volleyball. Yet not even 50% of the coaches are women. There are only 22 men’s volleyball programs at the Division I level in the NCAA, yet they apparently produce enough coaches to supply almost 60% of the coaches for 334 women’s Division I programs.

Over 75% of the athletes who play volleyball in the U.S. are women, yet there is no pipeline problem of men to coach women’s volleyball. To my knowledge, after some brief searching, there are zero programs that prepare men to coach women’s volleyball. There is no leaky pipeline study, no Lean In book telling men what to do to coach in a female-dominated sport.

Why do we not have a pipeline problem for men coaching women’s sports? We assume competence.

We assume men who have never played women’s volleyball or (other women’s sports) can coach women’s volleyball. There are key differences in the skills and strategies of men’s and women’s volleyball. Nonetheless, we assume not only that men’s skills at playing men’s volleyball are useful and transferable, but also that they can go to the next level and coach—lead, instruct, motivate, develop winning strategies for—a women’s volleyball team, even though they have never played this exact sport.

To put it bluntly, we assume whatever experience a man had before makes him competent to coach women. There is a gendered expectation that the man is fundamentally competent.

To reverse the situation, almost no women coach men’s sports. Women’s experience playing and coaching women’s sports is not seen as transferable to men’s sports.

Why not? I would argue that it is because we do not assume women’s competence in the same way that we assume men’s competence.

Back to Tech…

Imagine if we could replicate the pipeline of men coaching women’s volleyball and apply it to women in the tech industry. The NCAA was somehow able to take a pipeline of approximately only 20% men—none of whom had direct experience playing women’s volleyball—and fill 60% of the leadership positions, i.e., the most prestigious women’s coaching jobs.

How did they do this? What was their secret? They assumed competence.  

If we assume competence, we can do this diversity thing in tech. There are women, people of color, persons with disabilities, and many other underrepresented groups with either directly applicable experience or transferable skills who can lead, build, and grow your tech company—if you assume competence.








Techstars Foundation Accepting 2019 Grant Applications

Techstars is always working to be a leader in inclusive entrepreneurship by improving opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities throughout our global ecosystem. One important way we do this is through the Techstars Foundation.

The Techstars Foundation’s mission is to develop and support underrepresented entrepreneurs by providing nonprofit organizations with grants and access to the Techstars Network. We are dedicated to fostering an inclusive entrepreneurship ecosystem accessible to all aspiring entrepreneurs regardless of their gender, gender identity, LGBTQ, race, ethnicity, age, or ability.

Research has shown diverse teams are more productive, more innovative, and create better returns—yet there are few entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. If the number of underrepresented entrepreneurs declines or remains low, we risk losing productivity, innovation, and lower the potential for business returns, with adverse impacts on the global economy and the development of diverse senior leaders. Moreover, if these groups become more disenfranchised, this could lead to further disparities between gender, race, and class.

Techstars created the Techstars Foundation in 2015 to meet these challenges. The Techstars Foundation has supported 15 nonprofit organizations and hundreds of underrepresented entrepreneurs. The Techstars Foundation vision is to stimulate innovation and positive social and economic change worldwide.

Through our network of thousands of companies and startup programs worldwide, Techstars has a massive opportunity to alter the trajectory of entrepreneurship on a global basis as a catalyst in the growth and scale of nonprofits that are addressing these crucial challenges.

The Techstars Foundation helps to amplify and support the great work of the nonprofit organizations we support. We encourage you to be a part of our story by applying for a grant or making a donation. The Techstars Foundation is a donor-advised fund managed by the Community Foundation Boulder County.

Grant Guidelines:

The Techstars Foundation funds 501(c)(3) organizations with educational programs aligned with our mission of supporting and developing underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Our support ranges from $10,000 to $50,000 depending on the established organization’s budget.

Learn more about our grant criteria—and apply! The deadline for the next round of grant requests is April 8, 2019.

Questions? Email us today.

Want to help us develop and support underrepresented entrepreneurs? Donate now.








Diverse Startups Do Better: How To Make Yours More Inclusive At Any Stage

“Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups.”

—Scientific American, “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter

“Our latest research finds that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.”

—McKinsey & Company, “Why diversity matters

As an entrepreneur—and as a human being—you know that having a diverse founding team, advisory board, and team of employees is both the right thing to do and good for business.

Still not sure about this? Check out this terrific article from Scientific American, “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter” and this McKinsey report on “Why diversity matters.”

Focusing on Diversity & Inclusion can be difficult for busy founders who are trying to get a new company off the ground. That’s why we want to offer some simple and actionable advice for founders about how to create a diverse and inclusive company, starting from the very beginning. This advice is based on Techstars Founders Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion, including the Kapor Capital Founders’ Commitments. All participants in our mentorship-driven accelerators sign on to these commitments; we believe that they can be helpful to founders everywhere.  

Set Goals

Setting goals around diversity and inclusion is an important first step. You can’t meet goals you don’t set, so the very act of setting goals is meaningful—even if you don’t meet them yet.

Of course, not all companies are the same, so nor should their goals be identical. In setting your goals, take into account your company’s funding stage, employee size, customer base, and core business.

Keep Yourself Accountable

Now that you’ve got some goals, hold yourself accountable to them. Keep track of how you’re doing, and include progress reports on D&I in your quarterly investor updates.

Review (or Set) Policies

When was the last time you looked at your company’s anti-discrimination and harassment policy? Do you even have one?

Take the time to review your policy, and if you don’t have one yet, set one. A major step toward building an inclusive environment is making sure everyone feels welcome and respected; a good way to do this is to make sure your values are reflected in your priorities.

Here are some samples that you can use:

Example of a non-discrimination policy:

(Your company) is dedicated to the principles of equal employment opportunity in any and all terms, conditions or privileges of employment including hiring, promotions, termination, training and compensation.  (Your Company) does not discriminate against applicants or employees on the basis of age, race, sex, color, religion, national origin, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, genetic information or any other status protected by federal, state or local law, where applicable.

Example statement on addressing bullying, discrimination and/or harassment:

A repeated pattern of physical and/or non-physical behaviors that (a) are intended to cause fear, humiliation or annoyance, (b) offend or degrade, (c) create a hostile environment or (d) reflect discriminatory bias in an attempt to establish dominance, superiority or power over an individual athlete or group based on gender, race, ethnicity, culture, religion, sexual orientation, gender expression or mental or physical disability; is prohibited.

These are just a few key steps, but if you do all three, you’ll have made a very good beginning toward building a diverse and inclusive company.

***

Do you have questions about how to build D&I into your startup?

Come to our AMA on March 1, 2019 at 1:00 pm ET “Diverse Startups Do Better: How To Make Yours More Inclusive At Any Stage” with Jason Thompson, Techstars VP of Diversity & Inclusion and Allyson Downey, weeSpring founder and author of Here’s the Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood.








Twelve Years of Investing in Women

By Joanne Wilson, Gotham Gal

Photo Credit: David Johnson

I began investing in women over a decade ago. It was a major part of my investing thesis. Why? Twelve years doesn’t seem like a lot of time but in the world of technology it was a long, long time ago.

People Just Weren’t Listening

Through my blog, Gotham Gal, I started to talk to founders—often women—who were having a hard time raising capital, or even getting anyone on the other side of the table to understand the opportunity in their business or, more to the point, connect with them. I heard from women with amazing companies that would help women, and from women with simply great companies… yet I heard from them, over and over, that people just weren’t listening.  

I listened. And I invested.

Photo Credit: ITP NYU, The 5th Annual Women Entrepreneurs Festival

I invested in businesses that I believed had a huge opportunity that could grow to be worth $100M or more. Of course, sometimes what I see others don’t—but nobody at that time was talking to these women.

This was the reason I started the Women’s Entrepreneur Festival with Nancy Hechinger at ITP/NYU. It was the reason I began writing a piece every Monday called the Women Entrepreneur of the Week, and then evolved that Monday piece into a podcast where I get the opportunity to speak to women founders, and I could make sure that plenty of people could really hear their voices, their passion, and their entrepreneurial brilliance.

On that podcast, I recently spoke with Nadia Boujarwah, Co-founder of Dia & Co, a shopping and styling resource for plus-sized fashion. Nadia spoke to me about the countless times that she tried to explain to (male) audiences the huge potential market—according to her, more than 60% of American women fit size 12 or above—and the importance of style to this growing segment of the population. Over and over, she was turned down. They didn’t get it. But she continued to persevere and prove that model, and just last fall Dia & Co raised a $40 million Series C.

I want to believe that smart businesses with big opportunities will always find investors. But if too few investors are really listening to women entrepreneurs, then inevitably, some potentially great businesses are going to fail for lack of capital. It’s bad business to discount half the population for reasons that have nothing to do with business.

Just Do It

This is what I tell every woman founder I know who is in a relationship or married and who wants to have children: just do it and do it now.

I sit on the board of a company whose founder took that advice and got pregnant. She told me first, before letting the board or even the company know. She had planned everything around how long she would be out, how the company would be managed during this time, the whole shebang. I told her do not do that.

My advice: Just simply tell them you’re pregnant, this is your due date, how excited you are, and that’s it. No need to micromanage your pregnancy for the company. This is life. It will play itself out just fine. After all, men don’t go to these lengths when they have children, so why should women have to come up with all these excuses and strategies?

She took my advice, the board said congrats, we moved on with the meeting, and the same thing happened when she told the company. She went on to have a second child as well. Guess what? The company is doing just fine.  

I have invested in many founders who have had children while building their companies, and guess what? They become even better leaders and managers. But none of this is shocking to me, and that is the reason I have done all of this.

Diversity Works—And So Do Women Entrepreneurs

I am not being philanthropic when I help women entrepreneurs to rise up. I believed that I would make a solid return on every single woman I invested in.

I am thrilled that many institutional investors have begun to see the light: making a full-on commitment to investing in more women, bringing on more women partners, and pushing companies to have more diversity. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to google “diversity + business” and see the slew of articles around better ROI, better cultures, happier workers, and more to understand that diversity works and so do women entrepreneurs.

What is most amazing to me about women founders is their survivor mentality. I am invested in some women who are building their businesses with very little capital because they are profitable and are in it for the long-haul. I have invested in others that are starting to hit their stride, and although they were not at a valuation of $90M in two years, they were there in six. It takes time to build a solid business, and I applaud every founder who has the constitution to plow forward against all odds. I see that tenacity in women founders. I also see and admire their transparency and honesty with their investors.

Perhaps it is because I am not a VC but an angel investor, who sits in the unique position of being a consigliori to each of the founders I invest in, but they all ask questions and are honest about the good and bad things happening in the company. I have seen women founders speak up at board meetings and say that something is not working, rather pretending that everything is fine. In fact, time and time again, at the start of a business women tend to be so honest and forthright about their model and numbers that they come across as demure.

Yet I can name ten women founders—if not more—who as their business starts to grow and they surpass that Series A take on a totally different persona of power. They have learned that they own it and that they get their business better than anyone else at the table. I had one founder turn down capital from a top VC because she knew that they did not truly get her business—all they saw were the numbers, and those are very different things. It was a bold move, but in the end, she trusted her gut and figured out how to make it work with the right set of investors, who might not be name brands but understood the cadence of her business.  

Diversity: A Non-Negotiable Term

ITP NYU, The 5th Annual Women Entrepreneurs Festival

I have invested in men, too, but they are all committed to diversity because they believe in it and understand how it makes them better founders. If every investor would make it a non-negotiable term that the companies they invest in must make diversity a priority, the results would be huge. It might not be easy to do, but it can be done. Many of the companies I have invested in have done it.

We shouldn’t be looking at changing the ratio of women entrepreneurs because it is a buzzword of this moment, or because it looks good—but because financially, it works.

Maybe this is the moment when incremental change tips into transformation, and everyone starts listening to women entrepreneurs. I hope so. I’ll still have plenty of investment opportunities: there are enough great women entrepreneurs to go around. And there will be still more if investors start paying attention to them.    

Positively Gotham Gal Podcast | Gotham Gal Blog








Black History Month: Be The First

William Frantz Elementary School, New Orleans, 1960. “After a Federal court ordered the desegregation of schools in the South, U.S. Marshals escorted a young Black girl, Ruby Bridges, to school.”

Black History Month is always a month that I find quite emotional due to my own heritage and the many documentaries on TV during the month. The images that impact me the most are those of the desegregation of schools. My father is African American and he only attended segregated schools. My father told me that everything in his school was a hand me down from the white’s only schools. The school was so poorly funded that he drove the school bus his senior year in high school.  

Not that long ago

The reality of segregation is only one generation ago for me. Sometimes it is hard to imagine that my father never sat next to a white person in school because the law of the United States forbid it. When I see the documentaries about desegregation, I realize again, viscerally, how recently this all happened. What I find most disturbing is the footage of young African American children being escorted by armed National Guards or US Marshals into a school. In some cases, it is literally elementary age children. These small children suffered insults, people spitting on them, and a level of fear I will never know or understand. The children and their parents endured insults and threats so that everyone with brown skin could go to school.

Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division escort the Little Rock Nine students into the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

They paid the price to be the first

These children and their families are the definition of integrity and commitment. They chose to be the first. They were there because of the color of their skin. The small children that integrated schools had no control over what people thought of them. They had nothing to apologize for and were not responsible for the racism directed toward them.

By walking past all the hate and threats, they forced the United States to honor its commitment to equality and the principles of our democracy. What they achieved changed America and the world.

Yet I often see the term “token” used to degrade those who subject themselves to being the first. Were these children mere tokens, so few that they didn’t really matter? No. Clearly, they mattered—both to the people who were so vehemently protesting and to those who took courage from their actions.

I am a token

I once had a colleague at a former job tell me, “You are a token.” He said that my company only hired me because of the color of my skin. At first, I was offended and hurt by his statements.

But no longer: I am a token. By which I mean: I am among the first. Somebody has to be first whether you are integrating a school or a lunch counter, sitting at the front of the bus, or serving as the first woman on the Supreme Court. It has to be done.

So go ahead and call me “token.” I am not responsible for your racism. If you assume I am unqualified because of the color of my skin, my gender, my ability, or another status—I am not responsible for your bigotry and racism.

Stop doing the work of the bigot or racist—and be first

If we begin to say “no” to opportunities because we are afraid of what others might think or that we might be a token… we are taking racism and bigotry to its highest level. This means you are more concerned about the thoughts of the racist or bigot then you are about making change. That bigots and racists have you doing their work for them.

The bigot no longer has to threaten violence or stand in front of the schoolhouse, because you have made what they think of you the highest priority.

You may be afraid that some people will think your opportunity arrived just because of the color of your skin or your gender. The fact is, you cannot change your race, gender, or other status, so bigots will think you are unqualified regardless of what job you have or where you stand.

Stop valuing the opinions of the racists and bigots. Do not be deterred by the label “token.” Be the first—even if that means, for a time, being the only.

Honoring the legacy

Someone has to be first. There will be those who say you only got the job because you are Black, because you are a woman, or for some other reason connected to your identity. You have no control over what people think of you and you are not responsible for their bigotry.

Be the first, be the token.

I no longer worry if others think I am here because of the color of my skin. I no longer concern myself with if others think I am qualified. As I will make a change, I will speak truth to power, and I will be a token. Those small children escorted by armed National Guards opened the door, and I will walk through. You can doubt me because of the color of my skin, my gender, my ability—and assume I am less. Call me a token. Your negative assumptions of my qualifications or ability only reflect your racism, sexism, or other -ism.

I am not responsible for your bigotry. I will honor those small children that desegregated schools and I will be the first. I am a token.








Inclusion & Diversity, Why It Matters To Techstars

Our journey to fill the role of VP of I&D at Techstars has taken a number of years, but some of the most enlightening moments came from interviewing the fantastic dozen or so finalists we lined up for the position.

One of those moments came in a discussion of the importance of inclusion in any D&I initiative. It was like a lightbulb went off for me. Inclusion was a word that felt true to what I wanted for Techstars and our portfolio.

I grew up in Montreal, Canada, a society where inclusion was celebrated. We learned in high school that Canada was a cultural mosaic – a country made up of many cultures – and the differences between the cultures were to be celebrated.

We would go to the various neighborhoods in Montreal, the Greek neighborhood, the Chinese neighborhood, the Jewish neighborhood, and more. Not just to eat at the restaurants (although we did that too), but to experience the life and culture of as many different people as possible.

That was life in Canada, we accepted everyone. We had a gay prime minister and it wasn’t even a news story. I can’t imagine that in the United States. One of my favorite stories involves of one of my oldest friends, Louis (hi, Louis!). He was the first of my friends to meet a girl and settle down. It has been one of the great love affairs of all time, and 30 year later, when their kids moved out of the house, was when they decided that maybe they should celebrate by getting married. It never mattered there, but it sure would here.

So that inspired me to change the title of the role we were looking to fill here at Techstars from Diversity & Inclusion to Inclusion & Diversity. It’s not my original idea – it’s been done before. But I thought it might cause us to pause a bit and ask why. It would give me the chance to tell my story on why the word “inclusion” resonated with me.

Diversity is important, but will be a wasted effort if you don’t allow people to bring their whole self to work, whatever that might be. Creating an inclusive work environment will bring more diversity to your organization.

Welcome Jason Thompson to Techstars

To continue with our initiative, we are excited to announce that Techstars has hired Jason Thompson as our new VP of I&D. Jason has had a long career in Diversity and Inclusion, most recently with the US Olympic Committee.

Jason has developed award winning D&I programs for sports organizations, healthcare and higher education. In 2016, the D&I Scorecard Jason developed to measure diversity for the National Governing Bodies within the US Olympic Movement was recognized as the number one innovation at the 13th Annual International Innovation in Diversity Award by the Profiles in Diversity Journal.

We made public our commitment to diversity as part of our attendance at the White House demo day event three years ago, but we started on our initiatives well before that.

Techstars has both implemented and learned a lot over this time period. We have tried many things, some have worked and some haven’t, at least not yet. But what has remained unchanged is our commitment to creating an inclusive and diverse environment, and to serve as a role model to others.

Jason, we’re happy to have you on this journey with us.








Seven Female CEOs Join the 2017 Techstars London Accelerator

Following a tour across Europe that covered 21 countries and after meeting with hundreds of amazing entrepreneurs, we have narrowed the field to 11 companies that are joining us for the Techstars London Accelerator class of 2017.

The sixth Techstars London program kicks off this week, and we are proud to have seven of the 11 companies led by female CEOs.

We are looking forward to three months of intense and productive times (mixed in with a little fun!), capped off by Demo Day on October 11th.

The sectors our companies work in are broad – from project management, natural vitamin rich shots and fashion, to clinical trials, mobile app marketing and banking.

Techstars is the Worldwide Network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, and strong partners and mentors help make this happen. We’re grateful for their support, their time and their guidance. We couldn’t do it without them.

Here are the Techstars London Accelerator 2017 companies:

Coconut: Coconut is the bank account for freelancers and self-employed people that tells you how much tax to save, sorts out your expenses and helps you get paid on time.

FindMeCure: FindMeCure is the platform that helps people all around the world to find, understand and join treatments that are still not publicly available.

Hurree: Hurree is designed for marketers & developers trying to make their app a success.

Lifebit: Lifebit is enabling breakthroughs in Science, R&D & Medicine, by connecting & delivering the operating systems of genomics that power computers, clusters & clouds to effectively analyze big biodata.

Live2Leave: Live2Leave is a travel app where you can record your favorite spots and get recommendations from people you know.

Nell: Nell are 100 percent natural vitamin rich shots designed to fill the nutritional gap for busy people.

ObjectBox: ObjectBox is the fastest mobile database on the market.

Planable: Planable is the fastest way for marketing teams to work together on social media content.

Polydone: Polydone brings Agile project management & resources management to the Enterprise.

Stylindex: Stylindex is a visual database of talent and production resources creating commercial content for the fashion industry.

Toneboard: Toneboard is a voice audio analytics company that is helping companies understand the needs of their customers and predict their behaviour.