We know an ecosystem is a community in balance. If we fail to sustain the air or water, or relations between people, we suffer and die. Our entrepreneurial ecosystem is the same. Not everyone is an entrepreneur but everyone plays a supporting role, including those standing outside the door of this Grand Theater of Innovation. We need them for a well-balanced, healthy environment.
The Techstars Foundation was started by the Techstars founders (David Cohen, David Brown & Brad Feld) because its mission is critical to the ecosystem: “Diversity and Inclusion in entrepreneurship worldwide.” I believe in this mission, and I’m pleased to have joined the Techstars network as President of the Techstars Foundation.
D&I. Everywhere you look in the news, corporations, nonprofits and government agencies are all raising the D&I banner with vigor and passion. It’s definitely trending!
But what do we mean by “diversity”? Gender diversity is an easy example. We can tell men from women, at least most of the time. But what about our LGBTQ community? And we think about ethnic diversity, but that gets harder to spot. In a world that rounds up, I’m “Hispanish,” with Clairol blonde hair and gray eyes. And what about socio-economic diversity? Do the people next to you look like they grew up eating Saltine crackers because Ritz were too expensive?
Now step outside of the First World bubble. What does diversity mean in Kenya? Saudi Arabia? Bolivia? “Diversity” is really more about diversity of thought. What matters is diversity in how people see and solve problems and what problems they solve, and that’s what is in it for you: You need diversity of thought in your own life and organizations to be able to see things from different perspectives.
And to get diversity of thought, you need inclusion. “Inclusion” is the key word, or at least the first word. Instead of D&I let’s call it I&D, for with inclusion comes diversity of thought. How appropriate that our Freudian ID is our unconscious self.
Inclusion is about breaking down barriers that prevent entrepreneurship flourishing in areas where it might be needed most. We all love smashing down barriers, right? It’s what we entrepreneurs do best. So we need to aim that lust for barrier bashing towards the walls that separate us from our entrepreneurial family, inhibiting great innovations. But can we stop bashing white privileged men? They have been great entrepreneurs and mentors, and many are stepping up to be great allies, opening the door from the inside instead of everyone pounding on the outside. But like anyone inside a cloistered environment, they have to know that it’s safe to open the door, and frankly, since we are all human, they have to know what’s in it for them. So let’s talk about that.
Let’s take India, for example, which has a dubious honor of being one of the World’s hunger epicenters, as well as one of the highest food production centers on the planet. How can people be starving in a land of plenty? It’s because you can’t get the food to the people cost effectively. How do we solve that? Technology. New science of food dehydration, transportation, logistics, ag tech. It’s not just saving people from starvation, but a hungry world is a dangerous world. There is a rise of an entire class of product need around food security (getting food where it belongs safely). In Boulder, Colorado, the only food security is Amazon Prime’s guaranteed 2-hour Whole Foods delivery.
These are huge issues that go beyond the latest phone app to wipe your texts 30 miles outside Las Vegas. So we care about I&D because we need to. As a connected planet. A connected people. Because it takes people who live the problems to solve the problems.
The Techstars Foundation’s mission now is Inclusion for Diversity, because the only barrier to entrepreneurship should be dreaming something worthy.