July 22nd, 2020
By David Brown, Cofounder and CEO of Techstars
I want to start by acknowledging that we — both as an industry and a company — need to do more, so much more, when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Over the years, I looked at the passion of our people and initiatives we had started and assumed we were doing better and making real progress. I was wrong. Very wrong.
A few weeks ago, we at Techstars voiced our support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Since then, I’ve heard from so many friends and colleagues. If there was one prevailing thought it was this: It’s not about what you say. It’s about what you do. And, as much as many people wanted me to make additional statements, I felt it was far more important to have real actions in place. We were not being silent. We were taking the time internally to come up with a long-term plan that will disrupt systems of power and privilege internally and in the ecosystem.
These seven commitments, each of which has an executive leadership team member responsible for its success, are how we will do it.
In order to measure our efforts we will collect more data and report our progress bi-annually. This will start with Techstars employees and over time our accelerator programs, as well as Startup Week and Startup Weekend events. Our diversity statistics will be available on our website starting this week.
Each year, more than 400 startups go through our mentorship-based accelerators. These programs help startups overcome three key barriers: access to education, network and capital. We are setting a goal of having at least 1,000 diverse CEOs go through our accelerators by 2026. Diversity includes people of color, women, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, historically marginalized communities, indigenous people, and military veterans. In the U.S., a major focus will be on Black founders. Right now, fewer than 4% of our U.S. CEOs identify as people of color. Our goal is to triple that over the next five years.
We will accomplish this by taking our sourcing and recruitment beyond our existing network, transforming our application and selection processes and tracking and publicly reporting our progress.
We know we need new voices and perspectives, at the highest levels of our company. The board seat will be a start. We expect to have this complete by the end of 2020, hopefully much sooner.
We know that both Managing Directors in our accelerator programs and managers across the organization have a huge impact on who we are — as a company, a network, a community. We are committed to having our leadership and management teams represent the diversity of the communities we serve. We will measure and publish our progress at least annually.
Techstars employees are passionate about doing better and we want to support them in their own efforts. We will create an internal program that allows Techstars to match employee donations to worthy causes that combat racial injustices and support diversity around the world.
We will continue to invest in DEI training at least annually for our staff, have an external organization audit us to ensure we maintain equitable pay practices, and help us clearly define what success looks like for all of our team members to ensure fair evaluation of performance and career growth. We will also implement better practices for inclusive recruiting, offer inclusive leadership training to all our managers, and provide deep resources on allyship and anti-racism for our staff.
Since 2015, the Techstars Foundation has invested more than $1 million and helped 30 nonprofits deliver scalable impact for entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities. In 2020, we gave more than $325,000 in grants to an incredible group of organizations, the majority of which are led by Black and brown founders. With the foundation, the goal has always been to make the entrepreneurial ecosystem more accessible, equitable and inclusive by enabling early stage nonprofits to support underserved entrepreneurs. This progress too will be published on our website.
This is not all that we will do. This is just the start. We are on a journey to make real positive change and know that other opportunities to do this will arise in the future. We have some big initiatives in the works already.
Let me close by saying thank you to the many friends and colleagues who shared their stories and points of view with me. I am well aware that this is just a start. It won’t be fast or easy or without introspection and challenge. Then again, nothing worth doing ever is.
David Brown, Cofounder and CEO of Techstars
David Brown is a founder and CEO of Techstars. His 30-year career starting and building sustainable companies includes Pinpoint Technologies and Techstars (with David Cohen, Brad Feld, and Jared Polis). A regular contributor to Inc Magazine, David writes on all aspects of entrepreneurship and scaling up businesses for sustainable profitability from the vantage point of a founder, an investor, and the CEO of Techstars. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and family.