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.
Denver, Boulder & Fort Collins rank within the top ten cities for female entrepreneurship, and yet there is still a struggle to get female founders funded and successfully launching their businesses. Not to mention that entrepreneurship in general can be a lonely and intimidating career choice. So how do we make a difference here and change these statistics? Education, support, resources and working in teams, rather than alone, is where we start!
Startup Weekend Women Denver on February 9th – 11th will ignite some serious change in this arena by bringing women from all backgrounds together for 54 hours…to learn, be mentored and build businesses together. Who should attend? Any women that has a business idea, needs help creating a startup, or those that want to help, support and empower women in this endeavor by working with them for three days in a collaborative team environment. This event is open to anyone in the community, not just women!
The hardest part of starting up is starting out! This 54-hour event at The Commons on Champa in Downtown Denver is designed to create working startups during the event and are able to collaborate with like-minded individuals outside of their daily networks. Teams will hear talks by industry leaders and receive valuable feedback from local mentors and entrepreneurs. Whether you are looking for feedback on a idea, a co-founder, specific skill sets, or a team to help you execute, Startup Weekends are the perfect environment in which to test your idea and take the first steps towards launching your own startup or being part of one.
Plus there’s an added bonus for this special event! This event in Denver is actually part of a larger Global Startup Weekend Women initiative where 23 cities worldwide will hold the same event on the same weekend with the same goal in mind. The winner from Startup Weekend Women Denver…will go to Paris! (And no, we are not talking about Paris, Arkansas) The Sunday night pitch winner from each city (including Denver) will win an all-expense paid trip to Paris to participate in the final global event in March.
We know the power of women-led businesses and the talent women in leadership, marketing, tech, operations, sales and finance bring to the entire team. That’s why we want you to be a part of this weekend and join some of the most talented and entrepreneurial-minded women across our community!
Grab your tickets while they last and we’ll see you there!
And a special thank you to our sponsors for making this event possible and for supporting the future of our startup community: Full Contact, Zayo, Technical Integrity, Qwinix, The Commons on Champa, Meyer Law, PitchLab, Women Who Startup, Choozle, All Terrain Yoga, Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch
If you’re around me long enough, you’ll most likely hear me talk about the importance of radical inclusion at a Techstars Startup Week™. Making sure everyone, regardless of background, feels welcome and included is at the heart of this community building effort.
As organizers of Techstars Startup Week, this sense of welcoming is just as important as the educational content that’s delivered – maybe even more so. Creating a space where people feel safe and have a seat at the table where their voice is heard is a huge step towards creating a healthy and sustainable startup ecosystem.
One of the tools that we use to create this safe environment is our Techstars Startup Week Code of Conduct. These are the parameters by which all participants in Techstars Startup Week agree to abide by. Whether you’re a panelist, speaker, volunteer or attendee, by participating in the event you agree that you’ll take part in creating an environment that’s free from harassment.
In order for our Code of Conduct to work, it’s your responsibility to enforce it. It’s one thing to have people agree to follow it, but it’s an entirely other thing if an incident arises but no one is willing to take action.
Failing to take action can have a long-term, negative impact on how your community grows.
There have been many examples throughout the years where organizers of other events failed to act when something was reported, resulting in a dark cloud hanging over their event, and sometimes causing damage to the community afterwards.
I know that enforcing the Code of Conduct can be difficult. When a report of inappropriate behavior comes to our attention, it can feel like a punch to the gut. But it’s in those moments where we have to step up and protect the integrity of our work. If we’re truly committed to bringing our community together, fostering deep and long-lasting connections between entrepreneurs, then you owe it to them to act when something comes to your attention.
I encourage you to read through the Techstars Startup Week Code of Conduct and share it with everyone participating in your Techstars Startup Week. If an incident should arise during your event, having this code to point to will help tremendously, especially if the person accused feels they did nothing wrong.
In situations where you feel stuck or need some guidance, feel free to reach out to me directly at email@example.com or through our online reporting tool, saysomething.techstars.com. We’re here to help you and make sure your attendees feel any situation is handled appropriately.
I also encourage you as a Techstars Community Leader to sign a pledge to abide by our Techstars Code of Conduct if you haven’t done so already. It’s a great way to let our community know you’re committed to upholding the ethics we all stand for.
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.
Coalition for Queens increases economic opportunity through technology and transforms the world’s most diverse community into a leading hub for innovation and entrepreneurship.
What sparked the idea for C4Q?
C4Q was launched in 2011 by Jukay Hsu and David Yang with the mission to create economic opportunity through technology.
Returning to his hometown of New York City after completing his service as a U.S. Army Infantry Officer, Jukay observed a critical information and skills gap in his community and was inspired to start an organization that closed the divide between tech and the greater population.
The idea for C4Q is deeply rooted in his military experiences working with individuals who did not have college education but embodied the grit, resilience and passion that characterizes exceptional entrepreneurs and technologists.
C4Q’s very first project was built upon Mayor Bloomberg’s Applied Science initiative, which aimed to create a new tech focused university to help drive economic activity and position New York City as a central hub for innovation.
With a background in design and a deep interest in education, David joined Jukay in the pursuit to connect underserved and underrepresented populations with the opportunities created by technology
C4Q began as two Queens natives hoping to bring opportunity to more New Yorkers and create a tech community that was reflective of the great diversity of the city.
What problem are you solving?
The innovation economy is transforming the workforce.
On the one hand, technology has generated new industries, companies, jobs and wealth at a rapid rate. At the same time, tech–with significant advances in fields like automation and robotics–has made other industries and jobs obsolete. Whereas manufacturing once provided opportunity and stability, the growth of the tech sector has seemingly created a sense of economic anxiety.
Many individuals across the United States do not have access to the skills needed to participate in the innovation economy. For the 70 percent of Americans who do not have college degrees in particular, the limited opportunities to gain employment and move out of poverty remain a significant challenge.
To solve this problem, C4Q empowers adults living in poverty and without college education with the skills needed to gain jobs in the innovation economy. We aim to create a more diverse and inclusive tech community in New York City, and in particular we serve New Yorkers who do not have college education.
By training and enabling talent from underserved and underrepresented communities, we are ensuring inclusive and integrated growth.
What is the biggest misperception around the issue you are trying to solve?
Our work takes place in Queens and New York City, but it is rooted in what the location represents: a place for opportunity and growth. We believe that people from all backgrounds should have the opportunity to learn to code, gain jobs in tech and create the companies of the future.
At C4Q, the conception of diversity extends beyond gender and ethnicity. It is critical to provide opportunity for individuals from low-income backgrounds, ensuring that we serve those who would otherwise not have access to the emerging opportunities in tech.
Enabling diversity means creating socio-economic change and impact.
Tell us how your organization is helping your target audience?
Our flagship program, Access Code, trains adults from low-income backgrounds to become software engineers. Through an intensive 10-month curriculum built by industry experts, our students gain technical skills, industry knowledge and access to networks.
The program is transformative–graduates have gone from making $18,000 to over $85,000 a year and are working as programmers at some of the best startups and companies such as Kickstarter, Pinterest, OKCupid, CapitalOne and more.
How has the Techstars’ network helped your business so far?
Techstars entrepreneurs and startups represent the best emerging talent and companies. We are proud that C4Q Access Code graduates are now working at Techstars companies, shipping code and contributing to products that will reach millions of users.
Whether early stage companies currently in the accelerator to alumni from the wide network, Techstars serves as an aspirational role model for our organization and our students. As part of the Techstars Foundation, we’re excited to work together to build more talent pipelines and help bring diverse engineers into the tech community.
What is your vision for the future?
C4Q is currently focused on training the best software engineers and technology leaders from low-income and diverse backgrounds.
As we grow, we hope to increase our impact by serving more deserving audiences and understanding the levers by which we can improve our outcomes. We believe that the 70 percent of Americans who do not have college degrees can have equal access to good jobs and opportunity.
Our long-term vision includes expanding beyond teaching programming skills to enabling our community to become entrepreneurs and create companies of the future.
We aim to empower more individuals like Moawia Eldeeb, a graduate from our very first cohort who went from growing up in Queensbridge Public Housing to raising over $2 million to launch his startup after finishing our program.
Inspiring more and more entrepreneurs from diverse and underserved populations will create a more prosperous society.
The Techstars Foundation is pleased to announce our second round of grantees who are committed to improving the landscape of diversity in tech.
We received hundreds of grant requests. The creative initiatives and thought leadership related to diversity in technology entrepreneurship is truly awesome. The work that these organizations are doing on this important issue is creating real change and building stronger communities around the world. We thank you all for the work you do.
The mission of the Techstars Foundation is to provide grants and resources to organizations making a scalable impact in diversity in tech entrepreneurship. This group of grantees encompasses a wide spectrum of underserved entrepreneurs, including female and minority entrepreneurs from underserved backgrounds, students of color and immigrant founders.
The organizations receiving financial grants and further assistance from the Techstars Foundation are:
Coalition for Queens (C4Q) increases economic opportunity through technology and transforms the world’s most diverse community into a leading hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. We believe that people from every community — across gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic backgrounds — should have the opportunity to learn to code, gain jobs in tech, and create the companies of the future.
The Global EIR Coalition expands economic opportunities through partnering international entrepreneurs, universities, and cities to promote job creation, grow local economies, and build their businesses throughout the United States.
Student Dream trains collegiate students of color to start companies. Driven by a vision to create wealth in communities of color, Student Dream runs semester long programs and a membership platform that connects aspiring Black, Hispanic, and Native American student entrepreneurs to training, mentorship, and industry opportunities needed to succeed.
Along with the financial support, Techstars will leverage our broad global network of mentors, alumni and investors to provide additional support to these organizations. If you would like to learn more about these organizations or get involved, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
We look forward to making a difference in diversity in technology entrepreneurship together, through the above partnerships and with your support.