“You cannot have a diverse ecosystem without diverse talent,” said Rodney Sampson, the inclusion and equity partner at TechSquare Labs, during a one-day diversity summit hosted by 500 Startups on June 10. Networking, self-mastery, and the endless quest for more information were three pillars promoted throughout the day for technology innovators and young entrepreneurs seeking capital and a foot in the door.
According to Sampson, less than one percent of all venture capital and angel capital goes to African Americans. With such a finite percentage of funding going to people of color, the lack of representation across the technology, startup, and private capital industries should be alarming for many. Despite the statistics, conference panelists were steadfast in the revelation for tech entrepreneurs to remain persistent and continue to network.
“You’ve just got to get out there and be seen,” said Bronwyn Morgan, CEO of tech consulting agency Subkulture Innovation Lab, who was worked with major companies such as The Coca Cola Co. (NYSE: KO) handling ventures and strategic alliances. “You’ve got to network and you’ve got to get your hustle on.”
Self-mastery, the art of fine-tuning and being in control of the internal thought processes that guide someone’s habits and behaviors, is a pillar that young entrepreneurs should practice in order to get ahead. From pitching to VC firms or simplifying a startup’s mission, conference attendees were urged to debug themselves as the expectation and criteria for minorities in the space is much higher.
The conference, hosted on the campus of TechSquare Labs in Atlanta, Georgia, featured numerous keynote speakers and panelists sharing their take on the lack of minorities throughout the tech and private capital world. The lack of diversity throughout a number of industries has been the topic at hand in recent years. Until recently, very little change has been seen to increase the visibility of minorities throughout major corporations despite an influx of de rigueur discussions.
In June, however, more than 150 CEOs from some of the world’s leading companies signed on to the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, representing the largest CEO-driven business commitment of its kind. In an effort advance diversity in the workplace, executives from Proctor & Gamble and all around are pledging to cultivate a workplace where diverse perspectives and experiences are welcomed and respected.
The technology industry has been widely criticized for its overbearing lack of diversity. A 2016 study by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the high tech sector employed a larger share of whites and Asian Americans as compared to African American, Hispanics and women. The alarming numbers are all the more reasons why diversity and inclusion should be a continuous discussion followed up by real actions across multiple industries.
“We have to crowdfund and crowd-sale from within,” urged Sampson to young entrepreneurs of color at the one-day conference, “because no one will invest in us if we don’t invest in ourselves.”
Editor’s note: Since this article was published, 500 Startups CEO Christine Tsai announced that the leadership structure of the company had changed recently, due to co-founder Dave McClure’s “inappropriate interactions with women in the tech community.” McClure’s role has been limited to fulfilling obligations to investors as a general partner. McClure and Tsai apologized in separate blog posts, saying that McClure is attending counseling. “The change I want to see is a startup environment where everyone, regardless of gender and background feels welcome and safe. Where sexual harassment or discrimination will not impede great talent from producing great impact,” wrote Tsai.