Techstars, and Future Females are piloting an initiative to move the needle on the participation and success of women in tech entrepreneurship around the globe.
On September 18, 2019, the Future Females Business School opens the doors to its next group of women entrepreneurs. The Future Females Business School is a three-month virtual incubator that will provide a unique opportunity for women entrepreneurs from around the world to transform their ideas into proven, scalable, and sustainable businesses.
The Future Females Business School has graduated 130 entrepreneurs in the last six months alone, with surveyed participants on average seeing a 63% increase in monthly revenue and indicating a 76% increase in confidence around their ability to make their business successful on completion of the program.
The program is application-only. Entrepreneurs are supported through a structured three-month program that combines content, community, and coaching to help them rapidly bring their dream businesses to life.
“Through this partnership, our members will be exposed to content and coaches from the global Techstars network—a game-changer for early-stage entrepreneurs building tech businesses,” says Lauren Dallas, Future Females co-founder. “In fact, we’ve already shared our first masterclass with NYC Techstars Managing Director Yossi Hasson sharing tips on positioning yourself for global accelerator programs – one of our best-received yet!”
Future Females will also be a part of the D&I Techstars Affiliate program—an opportunity for Future Females to refer graduating entrepreneurs to one of the Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator programs and have their application fast-tracked.
“This collaboration with Future Females allows us to reach and support more women entrepreneurs globally, creating a pipeline of high-quality entrepreneurs that will bring more women founders into our programs and the wider tech startup ecosystem,” says Jason Thompson, VP of Diversity & Inclusion at Techstars. “In addition, the knowledge sharing between our organizations will allow us both to continue developing our programs to better support women entrepreneurs.”
The Future Females Business School has a proven track record of supporting women entrepreneurs, with two recent graduates, Tania Naess-Smith & Lara Menke, the co-founders of CAIA in London, receiving funding within just one month of completing the program.
Techstars Includes Diverse LEADers is our series highlighting diverse members of the Techstars Network. Techstars is committed to having a meta-impact on diversity in the tech space by encouraging a new generation of entrepreneurs to build inclusive companies from the very start, because we know diverse teams perform better and we believe inclusive companies will create a better future.
Today, meet Camilla Olson.
Camilla Olson in her own words:
Born in Alaska, Camilla is an inventor and holds two U.S. patents, with two more in process. She is a serial entrepreneur and was a venture capitalist. She founded two big data predictive modeling companies in the pharma industry: one had its IPO and the other was acquired for $95M a year after founding. Camilla returned to graduate school to learn design and her first fashion collection was selected to be shown in Lincoln Center as part of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. Her designs have been seen on the red carpet of the Academy Awards, at the Met Gala, and at the White House. In 2011, she received the Distinguished Alumna Award from the University of Maryland and Honorable Mention as “Best Second Act Reinvention” on the website SecondAct.com. She was a TEDx speaker in January 2016.
Camilla’s current company, Savitude, uses mobile commerce and hyper-personalized technology to enable shoppers to find body-positive clothing and beauty products that build retailer loyalty. Savitude has been listed in Forbes as one of 60 Women-Led Startups That Are Shaking Up Tech Across The Globe, in the top 12 of Project Entrepreneur 2017, on the stage of Techcrunch Disrupt Battlefield NY 2017, and was selected to participate in the Techstars Retail Accelerator in partnership with Target in 2017.
Specialties: Lateral thinking. Business development and strategy. Inspiration driven visual research, textile manipulation. Creative processes.
How Camilla LEADs:
- There isn’t a rule book. Do it until it feels wrong.
- Stop wondering what everyone else is thinking. They are too busy thinking about themselves.
Four teachers made all the difference in my life. My home room teacher in high school saved me when my family was figuratively “blown up.” A dance teacher at U of MD opened my eyes to the arts. We later re-met when we were chaperone parents on a field trip for our high school children.
More recently, two professors in my MFA program were instrumental. In design class, we had public critiques of each assignment. I saw how exceptionally talented my classmates were, and how young. I felt so out of place and hopeless. My professor took me in the hall and shook me, telling me that I did belong there. She explained where and how I had talent.
One last professor, Sara, twice instructed me. Now she is head of education at CFDA and continues to encourage me and Savitude.
Work harder, work longer, and don’t give up. Assess early and often. Pivot until you figure it out. It is the last one standing who wins. You cannot win if you quit.
I am driven by curiosity. I notice a problem at a high level and then find the solution through a lateral thinking process. From there on, I am driven to “peel the onion” to understand how to bring my solution to market: how to form the right company and make this actually happen. I literally can see the success; failure just isn’t an option.
What makes you YOU?
Trauma and drama in one’s life can imprint many different ways on people’s lives. For me, I spent most of my childhood fantasizing about fixing what was wrong in my world. Having “fixed” family issues, in my mind, I moved on to other problems and began inventing. I desperately wanted water fountains at each desk in school. This led me to “design” individual “toilets” in each desk as well. It is easy to see how I was the originator of six companies. Now not a day goes by that I don’t make a suggestion to someone, who may or may not want the suggestion. 😉
When Techstars launched an accelerator with Western Union to drive innovation for the next generation of financial services solutions and payment technology, we already knew that Techstars and Western Union had a lot in common. We both love innovation and finding new solutions. We believe that startups and large corporations can learn and work together to the benefit of both—and to the benefit of everyone’s customers. Most importantly we both have a commitment to #GiveFirst and know that business, done right, can make the world a better place.
It was only natural that the Techstars Foundation and Western Union Foundation would also find overlap in their missions.
Two Missions, One Goal
The mission of the Techstars Foundation is to support and develop underrepresented entrepreneurs in order to stimulate innovation and positive social and economic global. The mission of the Western Union Foundation is to connect underserved populations to the global economy through demand-driven skills training and workforce enablement programs. The alignment between these missions showed us that both of our organizations have strong, purpose-driven cultures and that we both want to create an inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem worldwide.
“Give First is a core value for all of us at Techstars—a way for us to continually improve the world around us,” said David Cohen, Techstars founder and co-CEO. “We believe that the tech industry, through cultural evolution, can fundamentally shift corporate and individual philanthropy. It’s why we are so excited about this opportunity to do a co-grant with one of our accelerator partner foundations. Together we can inspire and create a larger impact.”
Elizabeth Roscoe, Executive Director of the Western Union Foundation, agrees. “We are thrilled to partner with Techstars to grow and inspire inclusive entrepreneurship around the world. By bringing together our resources and our networks, we can create a meaningful impact on communities around the world.”
$100,000 Grant + Two Worldwide Networks
Working together, the Techstars Foundation and Western Union Foundation have increased our impact on underserved communities.
We are excited to announce that the Techstars Foundation and Western Union Foundation will be joining forces to help grow two fantastic non-profit organizations—the Watson Institute and MITD-Lab—through two $50,000 monetary grants and support provided by the Techstars and Western Union networks.
We’ve done deep research into these two organizations, and we believe that they will have a huge impact on the participants in their programs. We are also excited to see how much more we can do when our two foundations work together. This shouldn’t be a surprise—as the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, Techstars is built on the power of networks. So here we are, making connections, strengthening networks, and seeing—yet again—how much more we can do, together.
These are our joint grant recipients:
Watson Institute is a revolutionary new model of higher education for next-generation innovators, leaders, and entrepreneurs. Watson Institute supports diverse, next-generation, impact-focused entrepreneurs so they can pioneer their education, trailblaze lives as innovators, and contribute to solving the toughest challenges facing the world.
In addition to running their Semester Incubator program in Boulder, Colorado and powering Lynn University’s Bachelor of Science in Social Entrepreneurship in South Florida, Watson Institute runs two-day, intensive, entrepreneurship skills training programs called ‘Basecamps’ for 18- to 25-year-old, diverse, impact-focused entrepreneurs. Through our joint partnership, Watson Institute will run Basecamps in Boulder, CO and Mexico City, key locations where both Western Union and Techstars have a strong presence to offer mentorship and support.
These Basecamps will include training, venture development, mentorship, and a demo night competition. Participants will participate in this two-day intensive program and receive long-term support from Watson Institute’s online network and mentorship sessions.
MIT D-Lab works with people around the world to develop and advance collaborative approaches and practical solutions to global poverty challenges. This project will be funded by the Western Union Foundation and Techstars Foundation, along with UNHCR. The goal of this program is to help refugee women find long-term durable solutions through skill-building and support to start small businesses.
MIT D-Lab will work with Faros, a local Greek NGO, to provide hands-on, experiential learning in design, innovation, and entrepreneurship to refugee women in Greece, equipping them with technical and soft skills to establish their own businesses while building their confidence, agency, and ability to solve problems.
Read the press release here.
About Western Union Foundation
The Western Union Foundation believes that education is one of the surest pathways to economic opportunity. Through collaborations with NGOs around the world, the Foundation has embarked on a mission to connect 50,000 migrants, refugees, women and youth to the global economy through demand-driven skills training and workforce enablement programs by 2020. The Foundation also offers a global scholarship program that helps put a post-secondary education in reach for in-need students studying in the STEM fields and business. To date, more than $120 million has been given to fund projects in 137 countries across the globe, including disaster relief for communities in crisis. The Western Union Foundation is a separate charitable corporation that is tax-exempt under 501(c)(3) of the US Internal Revenue Code, and receives support from The Western Union Company, its employees, agents and business partners. Contributions to the Foundation are tax-deductible for US income tax purposes. To learn more, visit www.foundation.westernunion.com or follow us on Twitter @TheWUFoundation.
About Techstars Foundation
The Techstars Foundation’s mission is to develop and support underrepresented entrepreneurs by providing non-profit organizations with grants and access to the Techstars Network. Created in 2015, Techstars Foundation fosters an inclusive entrepreneurship ecosystem accessible to all aspiring entrepreneurs regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, age, gender identity, LGBTQ or ability. The Techstars Foundation vision is to stimulate innovation and positive social and economic global change through empowering underrepresented communities and entrepreneurs.The Techstars Foundation funds 501(c)(3) or in-country equivalent organizations with educational programs that are aligned with the foundation’s mission. The Techstars Foundation is a donor-advised fund managed by the Community Foundation Boulder County.
Techstars and Create Labs have partnered to introduce Techstars Includes – Product Design. Techstars is committed to having a meta-impact on diversity in the tech space by encouraging a new generation of entrepreneurs to build inclusive companies from the very start, because we know diverse teams perform better and we believe inclusive companies will create a better future.
The Techstars – Create Labs Collaboration gives our startup founders access to a highly diverse pool of potential customers with whom they can do focus groups, beta testing, and customer discovery, ensuring that the tech they create is optimized for the actual users. Inclusive product design is essential for companies, but it can be difficult for startups to easily get access to a wide variety of users.
Why is inclusive product design so important? Kodak’s “Shirley” cards are a now-notorious example of what happens when companies don’t pay attention to inclusive product design. Shirley cards date from the mid-1950s, and Kodak created them for photo labs to use to calibrate color and light in the printing process so that people would come out looking good in photographs. They’re pictures of models, but in the early days, all of the models were white, and therefore they failed to work well as color and light checks for pictures of people with darker skin. Inclusive product design—working with actual users from different populations—helps companies not make errors like this, which cause their products to fail for some of their users.
The Inclusive Product Design program has the added benefit of introducing the next generation of diverse founders to the entrepreneurial process. It is designed to support underserved communities through hands-on, real-world entrepreneurial experiences. Participants will be given the opportunity to learn key business skills from startup founders through direct involvement in product design, shadowing startup teams, reviewing investor pitches, and user-testing early product demos.
The program will help to increase diversity and inclusion in the Techstars Network, as well as integrating inclusive product design into the Techstars accelerator programs.
“We believe the opportunity gap is a global problem, so no matter what city, state, or country the Techstars program is in, we will find a local underserved community to tap into that can benefit from learning these new tech and entrepreneurship skills,” says Create Labs co-founder Abran Maldonado.
Techstars is currently running 45 accelerators across 12 countries annually. The Techstars Includes – Product Design program will begin with the six accelerators located in London, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, and New York, with plans to run year-round through all accelerators.
About Create Labs
Create Labs is a social venture that taps into the heart of low-income, at-risk communities across the country to provide underserved populations with access to cutting-edge technology, skills training, mentorship and career opportunities in tech, media and other innovative industries. Current clients include Samsung, Esri, the NYC Mayor’s office of the CTO, Brookdale College, SBDC, and others.
Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. Techstars founders connect with other entrepreneurs, experts, mentors, alumni, investors, community leaders, and corporations to grow their companies. Techstars operates three divisions: Techstars Startup Programs, Techstars Mentorship-Driven Accelerator Programs, and Techstars Corporate Innovation Partnerships. Techstars accelerator portfolio includes more than 1,500 companies with a market cap of $15 Billion. www.techstars.com
Techstars Includes Diverse LEADers is our series highlighting diverse members of the Techstars Network. Techstars is committed to having a meta-impact on diversity in the tech space by encouraging a new generation of entrepreneurs to build inclusive companies from the very start, because we know diverse teams perform better and we believe inclusive companies will create a better future.
Today, meet Carrie Shuler.
Carrie Shuler in her own words:
I have a Masters Degree in Communication. In 2011 I began my creative journey, working for multiple award winning media companies as a content curator, producer, creative writer, and stylist. You can find my portfolio here. I founded my first company at the age of 24. It became a social media craze reaching 40k organic followers in just a few short months.
I am currently the Co-Founder at Stark Mobility (8.1k likes on FB). We were seeing $30K+ in monthly sales online of our electric skateboard with only $5 in ad spend. Almost all sales were coming from our social media and email marketing efforts. As the CMO I was in charge of all online customer touch points including the blog, IG, FB, product updates, photos & videos. Stark Mobility is now part of Startup Autobahn powered by Plug and Play and running a pilot program with a large German automotive.
Additionally I am the Berlin lead for the SoGal Foundation, the largest global platform for the education and empowerment of diverse entrepreneurs and investors. Our mission is to close the diversity gap in tech.
How Carrie LEADs:
Read the book “The 5 am Club,” and don‘t be afraid to be bold and ask for what you want.
Every woman that I have worked with in my life has had an impact on me.
One person in particular was my boss at CBS, Michelle Moder. We were working on a show called Hawaii Five-0. She was ruthless if you weren‘t on top of your game and the most generous person on earth when you were. She held herself accountable to her work and stayed true to her values. It takes a very strong person to lead an operation as big as ours was, and she did it with grace and humor.
She is the strongest, hardest working woman I have ever met, and I truly hope to work with her again one day.
- Have enough money in the bank or a consistent revenue stream to sustain yourself for 6-12 months before fundraising.
- Be open to opportunity. Give new experiences a chance, they will open your eyes to new ideas, implementations, market opportunities, and true passions.
- Bring people onto your team who are better than you.
- Don‘t jump the gun with co-founders. WAIT until you find the right person who compliments your strengths and weaknesses. The wrong person can turn your passion into a nightmare.
Competition. I want to be the best.
What makes you YOU?
I‘m a fighter! I‘ve been a tennis player since I was four and started training professionally when I was 14. My mind is programmed to take every day or challenge like it‘s a tennis match. Point by point. The game is never over until you shake hands!
By Joanne Wilson, Gotham Gal
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
By Jason Thompson, VP of Diversity and Inclusion at Techstars
Recently, I purchased a new TV. I decided there was no reason to read the directions. I figured I love technology, and I’m reasonably handy, so: no need for directions. What could go wrong?
I soon realized that every channel was in a foreign language. My first thought was that the cable company inadvertently sold me a lineup of channels for this particular foreign language. I assumed all I needed to do would be to change the channel to a local station. I was wrong! The local channel was also in a foreign language. The characters from a very popular US sitcom were speaking in English, I could tell, but the audio was something else. The audio did not match the video. The sound and the action didn’t match.
A simple principle of watching TV is that the audio matches the video. Much the same principle—that what we say must match what we do—is the basis for Techstars decision to update our Code of Conduct and incorporate the Kapor Founder’s Commitments. We have publicly said we are committed to Diversity & Inclusion, so it makes sense incorporate this into our Code of Conduct, plus adding some clear things we can do to act on our statements. Audio matches video.
The Kapor Founder’s Commitments have 4 pillars: Goals, Invest, Volunteer, and Educate (G.I.V.E.). We commit to hold ourselves to these standards, and we ask that all members of our network do the same. By having these pillars, our audio will match our video. It is one thing to say we are committed to D&I—but it is even more important to show how we are achieving on our stated commitment. G.I.V.E. is a tangible way to measure and implement our D&I commitment. As this project progresses you will be able to see a dashboard on our website that will show how Techstars is achieving on the G.I.V.E. commitments. You will see that we are not perfect; D&I work is a journey. We have places for improvement and projects in progress. We want make sure we are being transparent.
We know D&I is important, but it has to be reflected in our Code of Conduct and it has to mean something tangible. That is why we have included the Kapor Founder’s Commitments. Kapor has been a leader in the D&I space, so there was no reason to reinvent the wheel. We have worked closely with Kapor and we are grateful for their encouragement and shared learnings.
There was another thing that happened when I finally figured out how to change the audio on my TV to English… the video was fine, but somehow the audio was about one second behind the video. I could now understand everything, but the sound didn’t quite sync up with the images. First their mouths moved, and then came the speech. This was hugely distracting, to the point I couldn’t even watch my show.
The timing of the audio must also match the video, because even the slightest delay creates problems that cannot be ignored. This is quite a metaphor for fair pay for equal work. If you review the changes to the Code of Conduct you will see we have also expanded our D&I commitment to include fair compensation for equal work. Companies commit to diversity and inclusion need to make sure what they say is reflected in their actions and includes fair pay.
If you are paid a salary that is even a little behind what your co-workers are getting for equal work, it is unjust. Justice should not be asked to wait. It also creates an environment that breeds resentment because the solution is simple: pay all people a fair wage for their work. That is why we included in the Techstars Code of Conduct that all members of the network commit to ensuring everyone receives fair compensation, including all forms of equity and benefits. Audio must match video.
In addition to asking everyone in our network to sign the Code of Conduct, we are building a drip campaign for all new founders to assist them in meeting the D&I commitment. It will remind them quarterly of their commitment to D&I, and offer suggestions for them to achieve on the principles of G.I.V.E. Many of these suggestions cost little and are designed to assist even the youngest startup achieve on their D&I goals in a manner the is consistent with their size and resources.
Plugging in a TV seems simple enough, but the details are important. Being handy and loving technology are not enough for setting up a TV—or a productive D&I program. Liking people from diverse backgrounds and assuming that you have no bias is not enough. Building a D&I program requires commitment and focus. The commitment must be reflected in policies and programs. As Techstars continues on our D&I journey, we thank Kapor Capital for their work in the D&I space. And we ask that you join us on our journey. It is equally importantly that we all commit to working to ensure that the audio matches the video: that what we say matches what we do.
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.
Challenging the bro-grammer stereotype
The first day of Techstars Boston, I was impressed by all the thoughtful, kind, and honest people I met. There was little in the group that resembled the stereotype of a mansplaining bro-grammer. Except for the fact that people said the word “awesome” a lot and nearly everyone was a straight, white man.
There was just a small handful of women and even fewer people of color. One female-led startup. Two founders of color.
But within that first day, both Clement Cazalot, the managing director, and Aaron O’Hearn the director of Techstars Boston, stood up in front of the entire class and told us that this lack of diversity was their fault. They called this their personal failure to recruit more women and people with diverse backgrounds.
They didn’t make excuses or get defensive. They acknowledged it and took responsibility. The program tracked hundreds and hundreds of companies from applications and referrals from the network: only 18 percent of teams had a female founder n and just 48 percent self-identified as non-white (although only a fraction of the applicants shared this information, and empirical data would suggest a very different ratio where non-white applicants are a minority).
Since that day a few weeks ago, by opening the conversation about the very visible diversity gap, Aaron and Clement have already taken the first step towards changing it. This conversation is just the start.
What can we do to change this?
In short, I can see at least three huge obstacles.
Fighting the bad reputation of an entire industry
On that first day, Aaron and Clement also set the tone for three months of a startup accelerator focused on personal development and propelling these startup ideas forward. They laid out the core values of giving first, acting with integrity, and treating each other with respect. They didn’t skip over a single bullet of the Techstars’ Code of Conduct, putting serious weight behind their statements that they would not tolerate any harassment or violence.
It all sounds like common sense, but they are fighting against the reputation of the entire tech/startup ecosystem that is rightly and publicly criticized for having a gender-discrimination problem, an even worse racial disparity, and a track record of sexual harassment.
This bad reputation has a major impact on many potential founders, who might have an amazing idea for a new startup. How many women want to be in a group of dudes mansplaining tech? How many people of color want to feel like the token black friend? Or worse, discriminated against when the investors come around later?
Those fears are real.
Fighting this reputation only starts with words and conversations. Statements that set Techstars as a safe place for not just all kinds of business ideas, but all kind of people. Aaron, Clement, and all the others here who go out of their way to make sure that every person here is treated with respect.
Then those words must be backed up with action.
If you’re actually biased towards actions
It’s not enough to say you care about diversity. You have to follow your words with real actions. This is the supposed mindset of every entrepreneur: see a problem, search out solutions, and take action.
In taking action, Techstars publishes data on diversity and established a foundation exclusively for giving grants to organizations with programs focused on improving diversity in entrepreneurship. Locally, the Techstars Boston is searching for more actionable steps.
“We’re being explicit and looking for solutions,” Clement says. “There is no ‘silver bullet’ and we have to have a long-term approach.”
Clement wants to improve diversity in the application pipeline and make the program known for attracting a diverse mix of potential founders. Last fall, he and Aaron put the word out to people they knew in the community, made the rounds to venture capitalists, and held office hours to recruiting potential founders. Those actions weren’t enough.
In a similar vein, the managing director of Techstars Seattle, Chris Devore, wrote a blog post last year after the program had only one female-led startup that accepted a slot in the program. Chris wrote he was frustrated that he failed to recruit diverse startups and asked for ideas from the Seattle community. Following Chris’ request for help, the diversity in the Seattle program has improved – with the press calling it one of Seattle’s most diverse classes yet.
Some Techstars programs, including in Boston, have had a more equal gender mix (or completely equal) among their startup founders. It takes planning and intentional effort, the long-term approach to get the word out before 2019 applications even open in the summer.
Change starts with all of us
We need all of Boston engaging in this conversation and looking for solutions. More diversity in early stage startups is the fastest way to challenge the reputation that afflicts this industry. To make steps toward better, safer, more respectful workplaces for everyone.
This takes getting the new Techstars founders, the alumni, the mentors, and community partners all involved. For all of us in the Boston community too — in tech, education, finance, marketing, whatever — we can help change this.
Demo Day is at the end of April. Tell your friends, family, or students to come, meet the Techstar team, and the founders. Applications open for the 2019 program in the summer and stay open until the fall.
Help us recruit, encourage, and support all those founders who don’t look like the bro-grammer stereotype.