How do we move from just talking about the topic to taking action?
During CES 2017, on Friday at Startup Stage, a diversity discussion took place between Brad Feld, managing director of Foundry Group; Jenny Fielding, MD for Techstars IoT in NYC; Anielle Guedes, CEO & co-founder at Urban 3D, Jinger Zeng, co-founder at Drone Smith, and Jayant Ratti, co-founder at Vairdo. This panel discussed the specific actions startups can take on the issue, rather than just talking about a hot topic with a lot of buzz.
Having diversity creates a better working environment
For Anielle, a Brazilian Founder of Urban 3D, it is important to have people from different backgrounds on her team. One of the perks of having a diverse team, is that they can go into different markets and regions on a shorter timeline. Having people from India, Brazil and the USA, makes it easier for them to achieve the goal of expansion for the startup because of connections and language barriers that no longer exist.
Surround yourself with people who think differently, and who have a distinct life experience
Jayant, who studied engineering, has a PhD in Robotics, and is co-founder at Vairdo, thinks it’s extremely important to have people on your team who can challenge your point of view. Differences in background and the contrast in thinking often lead to the most innovative ideas and solutions.
Be aware of your Unconscious Bias so you understand diversity better
As Managing Director of Techstars Internet of Things, founder of several companies, and with a long background in tech entrepreneurship, Jenny Fielding is — on many occasions — the only female voice in the room. She gave an example of a meeting with venture capitalists, where all the questions for the product were aimed at her co-founders (both males). The VCs ignored her.
She explained the importance of awareness over something as small as eye contact, which can make you feel good or bad. This is all part of the unconscious bias we have within because of how we were raised, our level of education, and other factors that influence it. Learn more about Unconscious Bias and how to prevent it here.
Enhancing entrepreneurship through age diversity
For Jinger Zeng, founder at Dronesmith, she has been dealing with age discrimination as she has built her company. On several occasions she felt that potential customers would not take her seriously or who saw her only as very young and didn’t think she had enough experience to be credible. She understood that business owners sometimes rely heavily on experience (age) to purchase a product or be convinced that it works. One way she handled this was to ask her mentors to help her team reach people who would not respond to them directly.
The conversation then moved to the Techstars Foundation, which is committed to improving diversity in tech entrepreneurship. We do this by investing in organizations with grant money and leveraging the Techstars network to empower these organizations to accelerate their mission.
Here are a few ways we encourage founders and startups to take action to improve diversity:
- Set up office hours where you invite interns or high school students to learn about entrepreneurship and startups
- Invite youth or veterans to learn about the environment in startups.
- Mentor a Startup Weekend
- Make time to teach entrepreneurial concepts in places where people are eager to learn– Schools, underprivileged sectors.
For even more ways to learn about what actions you can take to improve diversity, visit techstarsblog.wpengine.com/bealeader.