Diversity in Entrepreneurship: Coalition for Queens

We recently sat down with David Yang of Coalition for Queens, one of the eight Techstars Foundation Grantees, to learn more about the organization and how it’s helping diversity in entrepreneurship.

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 provides a way for Techstars alumni, partners, mentors, and others to Give First by supporting the foundation and helping create stronger entrepreneur communities worldwide.

Diversity in Entrepreneurship: Gaza Sky Geeks

We recently sat down with Ryan Sturgill and Iliana Montauk of Gaza Sky Geeks, one of the five Techstars Foundation Grantees, to learn more about the organization and how it’s helping diversity in entrepreneurship.

Gaza Sky Geeks is a co-working hub, entrepreneurship outreach organization and startup incubator and accelerator in Gaza, run by the global organization Mercy Corps.

(NOTE: Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor will be matching donations to the Techstars Foundation until mid-October. Brad and Amy will be matching $1 dollar for every $2 dollars contributed by members of the Techstars’ community, up to $100,000.)

What problem are you solving?

Since 2007, people and goods have been largely restricted from crossing in and out of Gaza’s borders, leaving an isolated population with few avenues for employment. But the technology sector is less hindered by these restrictions – IT is the one thing that you can really do anywhere.

Building off two of Gaza’s core advantages – a strong internet connection provided by a fiber optic cable and a highly educated population – Gaza Sky Geeks is working to provide Gazans with the opportunity for reliable, fulfilling employment and the chance to join the global tech movement as coders and entrepreneurs.

What is the biggest misperception around the issue you are trying to solve?

We have found that a lot of the international community imagines Gaza as the pile of rubble often shown on the news, not the next potential hub for tech talent. The reality is that Gaza has a dense, urban population of educated, hard working, resilient and adaptable young people who are eager to learn and contribute to the growing global tech community.


Core to our existence is the belief that young people in tough environments have the DNA of entrepreneurs and that they can engage meaningfully in the tech sector, even if they are in isolated areas, and we have definitely seen this in Gaza. There is tremendous innovative potential here – it just needs to be harnessed.

What sparked the vision and foundation behind Gaza Sky Geeks?

In 2008, international NGO Mercy Corps saw that consistent access to high-speed internet from the fiber optic cable laid across Gaza could allow Gaza’s highly educated youth to sidestep many of the restrictions on the movement of people and goods.

Mercy Corps then embarked on a long-term mission to turn Gaza into a regional hub for internet-enabled entrepreneurship, establishing Gaza Sky Geeks in 2011 with support from Google.

Tell us about how your organization has positively impacted your audience?

Thanks to the hard work of our core staff, the dedication of our volunteers and mentors, and the support of organizations like Techstars, Gaza Sky Geeks has been able to lead the charge on building a new entrepreneurial technology ecosystem in Gaza that we believe can ultimately generate globally competitive businesses and freelancing talent.


In our vibrant co-working space in downtown Gaza City, where over 45 tech startups, online freelancers and software outsourcers work side-by-side every day, Gaza Sky Geeks is not only training individuals with hard technical skills that they can monetize, but also fostering a hopeful, growing community of over 2,500 people who now have a connection to the rest of the global tech world.

It is the only program of its kind in Gaza and the first to focus on tech entrepreneurship.

Over the past year, we have secured opportunities for entrepreneurs to travel to major startup pitch competitions in Jordan and Ramallah, complete internships with software startups in Sweden, and conduct market research in Morocco and the UK, despite increasing restrictions on permit issuances for Gazans.

For 80 percent of our entrepreneurs, these opportunities were the first time they had left Gaza in their lives.

In May 2016, we also hosted Gaza’s first hackathon, a 30-hour software development competition in which 19 teams produced working demos of their products, and one of the winning startup teams will have the ability to participate in a Silicon Valley-based acceleration program. This was a first for Gaza’s tech ecosystem and demonstrated to the entire community the potential the Gaza’s developers have to create viable online products and services.

How has the Techstars Foundation helped your business?

Techstars has helped us fund a major initiative to increase the skills and confidence of female tech founders. There are more women than men studying STEM related topics in Gaza, and in Gaza, women get higher marks than men in engineering fields.

There is also no stigma against women for excelling in science or math or engineering, but we find that many women lack the confidence and support to transfer those skills into launching their own companies or working in tech fields after university.

Our programming seeks to change that by providing a supportive community of women tech founders through regular meet ups, female coding and hardware workshops, stipends for transportation and income while working on startups, as well as investing in staff whose dedicated job is outreach to female engineers.

With those investments and support from Techstars, we’ve also established a safe, respectful and inclusive co-working space in downtown Gaza City that is accessible to everyone. Each day, over one third of the users of our co-working space are women who are working on startups, freelancing or working for software outsourcing companies.

We also believe that the global tech sector will benefit from the inclusivity of women and enterprising techies from conflict environments. People with these backgrounds and experiences will help develop the diverse solutions our world needs today, whether in consumer products or innovations that solve intractable problems.


Among other things, support from the Techstars Foundation has allowed us to jumpstart our women’s inclusivity program for 2016. Engaging women in our programming is is a core part of Gaza Sky Geeks. Research shows that businesses with mixed female and male leadership perform better than businesses with less diversity.

We believe that Gaza Sky Geeks are uniquely poised to become a leader in this space – since it is still the beginning of the startup movement in Gaza, it has not yet become defined as a traditionally male-led space in this geography.

Our commitment to this effort, with Techstars’ support, has allowed us to solidify Gaza Sky Geeks’ approach to:

  • Empowering women leaders and forging our partnerships with organizations like Geekettes, Technovation and TechWomen.
  • Offer the first ever women-and-girls-only coding classes in Gaza to teach one cohort of women how to code over a period of 6 months.
  • Employ a dedicated Mentorship & Women’s Inclusivity Program Coordinator.
  • Provide commuting stipends for women participating in the program.
  • Send female founders and developers from Gaza to participate in regional and international events
  • Bring international women mentors to Gaza.

Diversity in Entrepreneurship: Defy Ventures

We recently sat down with Catherine Hoke of Defy Ventures, one of the five Techstars Foundation Grantees, to learn more about the organization and how it’s helping diversity in entrepreneurship.

Defy “transforms the hustle” by providing entrepreneurship training and intense character and personal development for people with criminal histories.

(NOTE: Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor will be matching donations to the Techstars Foundation until mid-October. Brad and Amy will be matching $1 dollar for every $2 dollars contributed by members of the Techstars’ community, up to $100,000.)


What sparked the vision and foundation behind Defy Ventures?

When I was 26 years old, a friend invited me to visit a prison in Texas. I was hesitant, but ultimately went. In prison, I met some very smart and hungry hustlers who defied the stereotypes I had of people in prison. They shared their stories with me and it broke my heart. Many of them were almost guaranteed to a life in prison since birth.

70% of the children of incarcerated parents go to prison.

So I left my venture capital job in NY and moved to Texas to start a Prison Entrepreneurship Program to train these men in prison how to be successful, legal “hustlers” when they get out. Then, I founded Defy Ventures as my 2.0 version to scale nationally to every prison and train people with criminal histories post-release.

The vision of Defy is to eliminate the problem of mass incarceration in America and put ourselves out of business.

What problem are you solving?

We are trying to solve some of the most challenging problems in America: Mass incarceration and legacies of incarceration, poverty, joblessness, violence and hopelessness.

What is the biggest misperception around the issue you are trying to solve?

Many people have distorted stereotypes of people in prison – they think of them as wild animals and a danger to society.

We break down those misperceptions so they can see incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people as people who have made mistakes.

We create opportunities for people on either side of the fenced wall to connect in their humanity, have greater empathy and see how similar they are in reality.


What is one world-changing company that you admire?

I love ConBody, started by a Defy graduate named Coss Marte. Coss was incarcerated on drug charges and prosecuted as a kingpin because he was operating a multi-million drug business.

He was very overweight when he went to prison and was told he would die if he didn’t get healthy.

So, while in prison, he worked out and lost weight. He also helped other inmates lose weight and get fit, too. His business is a prison styled boot camp that helps people “do the time.”

He helps his clients get healthy and live better lives. He hires other people with criminal histories to create opportunities and empower them. Plus, he volunteers time with Defy and gives back by going into prison to train people. He is changing perceptions and defying the odds big time.

Tell us about how your organization has positively impacted your audience?

Following are Defy’s impact to date:

  •   3.2% recidivism rate 
of our Entrepreneurs in Training (EIT)
  •   95% employment rate for post-release EITs
  •   150 incubated startups that have created 350+ jobs 

  •   3,500+ executive mentors 
and volunteers 

Learn more about Defy’s impact on EITs and volunteers here in a SOCAP interview.


Announcing Donation Matching for the Techstars Foundation

On the heels of announcing our first round of grantees, the Techstars Foundation is honored to announce that Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor will be matching donations for the next 90 days.

The Techstars Foundation is taking actionable steps to change the landscape of diversity in tech. We have set the lofty but attainable goal of 100 percent monetary participation from the Techstars community. We know we can reach our goal, but we need your help.

Brad and Amy will be matching $1 dollar for every $2 dollars contributed by members of the Techstars’ community, up to $100,000.

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. Your donation is more powerful for the next 90 days thanks to Brad and Amy.

Techstars is committed to making a difference in diversity in tech entrepreneurship and we hope you will join us.

Thank you again to our generous donors who have made these grants possible. And, thank you Brad and Amy — without you, this initiative would not be possible!

Techstars Foundation Announces First Round of Grant Recipients

The Techstars Foundation is pleased to announce our first round of five grantees who are committed to improving the landscape of diversity in tech.

We received over 165 grant requests. The breadth of programs, initiatives and thought leadership related to diversity in technology entrepreneurship is awe-inspiring. The work that all of these organizations are doing on this important issue is creating real change while building stronger communities around the world. We applaud them all.

The mission of the Techstars Foundation is to provide grants and resources to organizations making a scalable impact in diversity in tech entrepreneurship. Our first group of five grantees encompasses a wide spectrum of underserved entrepreneurs, including women, minorities, veterans, people with criminal histories and those in resource restricted areas.

The first five organizations receiving financial grants and further assistance from the Techstars Foundation are:

Astia: Astia is transforming the way businesses are funded in the here and now, providing capital, connections, and expertise that fuel the growth of highly innovative, women-led ventures around the globe. Astia manages the Astia Angels angel network, delivers Astia Access programs for entrepreneurs, and looks forward to investing from the Astia Fund later this year.

Patriot Boot Camp: Patriot Boot Camp’s core program is an intensive 3-day educational event designed to engage, inspire, and mentor military members, Veterans, and their spouses to start, innovate, and scale the next generation of technology-focused businesses.

Defy Ventures: Defy “transforms the hustle” of people with criminal histories by providing entrepreneurship training, intense character and personal development, job placement, executive mentorship, startup incubation, and “Shark Tank”-style pitch competitions that award $100,000 in seed funding per class.

Change Catalyst: Change Catalyst is an organization committed to inclusive innovation through two main initiatives, Tech Inclusion and Startup Showcases. Tech Inclusion explores innovative solutions to tech diversity and inclusion through events, career fairs, consulting and training. Startup Showcasees help underrepresented entrepreneurs and investors to start, scale and fund world changing businesses.

Gaza Sky Geeks: Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG) is a co-working hub, entrepreneurship outreach organization, and startup incubator and accelerator in Gaza, run by the global organization Mercy Corps. GSG has been one of the main organizers of Startup Weekend Gaza for five consecutive years and they are working on women’s inclusivity programming.

Along with the financial support, Techstars will leverage our broad worldwide network of mentors, alumni and investors to provide additional support to these organizations. We will be featuring each of these five organizations over the next few months through our social media channels and at various network events such as demo days.  

If you would like to learn more about these organizations or get involved, please contact: foundation@techstars.com.

We look forward to making a difference in diversity in technology entrepreneurship together, through the above partnerships and with your support.

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.

Grant requests are now open for the fall. Request a grant today!

The Techstars Foundation: Grant Applications are Now Open

The new year is off to a great start, and we are excited to continue our commitment to changing the landscape for diversity in technology entrepreneurship. In the fall of 2015, the Techstars Foundation was born, a non-profit created to provide resources through grants and funding to organizations that will have a scalable impact on diversity in tech entrepreneurship.

We are thrilled to announce that grant applications are officially open for the foundation. Both nonprofit and for profit organizations worldwide are eligible to apply.

We look forward to making an impact in diversity in tech entrepreneurship together.

Request a Grant Today!

Application Criteria:
– Broadly impacting diversity in tech entrepreneurship
– This is not startup funding for startup founders of diverse backgrounds. These are grants for organizations which are impacting diversity in tech entrepreneurship in a positive and scalable way.
– You can be based anywhere in the world.
– Your organization can be nonprofit or for profit

Questions? Contact: foundation@techstars.com

Deadline for the first round of grant requests is 2/19/16. Requests are accepted anytime, however, requests received after this deadline will be considered for the next round.

Not interested in applying but want to support diversity in tech entrepreneurship? Donate today.