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How To Build Solutions For Diverse And Inclusive Audiences

Last week I participated in WeDC Fest, a three-day conference for the innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and government leaders who strive to make Washington, DC the nation’s Capital of inclusive innovation. The event featured unique programming and networking opportunities to showcase collaboration and innovation in the world’s most powerful global city.

I was fortunate to be one of the 220+ speakers in 120+ sessions @ 33 locations across the city. In particular, I moderated a panel that had representation from some of the most reputable organizations that have a history of democratizing access to opportunity for not only diverse entrepreneurs, but also founders building solutions for diverse audiences in some of the most vulnerable communities including Wards 7 & 8 of DC, New York City and as far away as environments where violent conflicts occur abroad.

NYC Mayor’s Office of Tech & Innovation, Mapbox, RevUp Capital and PeaceTech panelists shared insights into how to motivate more entrepreneurs to innovate and build products that both save lives and invite private sector investment. The panel included:

Gary Johnson

Director of Strategy & Operations — NYCx, NYC Mayor’s Office of Tech & Innovation

Anthony Jones

Business Intelligence, Mapbox

Mike Ravenscroft

Program Director, PeaceTech Accelerator

Kristi Whitfield

Director, DC Department of Small & Local Business Development

Melissa Withers

Managing Director, RevUp Capital

The purpose of the panel was to provide the audience with insights so they can begin to understand the urgency for diversifying the tech industry and for the panelists to inspire with stories about how diversity has been a key driver of innovation. Below are a few of the questions I asked the panelists to provide a lens into the thought-provoking experience as well as serve as a guide for your next panel:

Diversity In Tech

How do you and your organization define diversity? Inclusion?

What are common misconceptions people have about diversity?

Are your employees and colleagues incentivized to promote diversity?

Does your company have affinity groups?

How are your organizations supporting/accelerating/inspiring growth for minority entrepreneurs?

What is the best way for a diverse founder to get support from your organization?

Tech Solutions For Diverse Audiences

Minorities are a growing supply of tech adept founders. Are we missing out on underserved markets/opportunities by not leveraging diversity?

What is an example of a success story you’ve seen where diversity has been a driver of innovation?

Who are some examples of entrepreneurs you’ve worked with trying to identify customers that haven’t been served?

Which technologies most intrigue you and why?

VC Investment Landscape

Startups founded by Black founders receive only 1% of the investment. Why do you think that is and what’s your best advice on how to navigate the venture landscape?

Do regional disparities also play into this?

Do you track the gender/racial metrics of your portfolio?

When evaluating potential investments is a diverse team an attractive component? Why?

How best can VCs create a consortium that aims to facilitate investments in companies owned by underrepresented founders?

Are there alternative sources of funding that you’d recommend?

Community/Cities/Collaboration

Accelerators, incubators, corporate partnerships — is it one size-fit-all for companies? Are there programs tailored to diverse entrepreneurs?

Who are some populations in DC and beyond that should be included in the conversation?

What programs are you charged with in order to make your city a more inclusive ecosystem?

Are there educational resources out there for entrepreneurs who are just getting into tech or VC?

What role does the media have in talking about diversity and has it been helpful?

From panels to workshops to fireside chats, it was great to partake in interactive demonstrations, while learning about the latest innovations in the tech, creative and social enterprise communities. WeDC Fest was really well-run and one of the most impactful events I’ve participated in. Looking forward to the next one!

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