• Women 2.0 HowTo Conference San Francisco, September 30 - October 1, 2014

Accelerating Diversity In Startups With StartX (Bridging the Divide)

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By Jessie Arora (Education Consultant, Stellar K12)

Demo Days can be pretty exhausting events of information overload as you try to capture the energy of the various pitches and teams (Y Combinator has 65 this round) while connecting with all the impressive folks in the crowd.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by the latest batch of StartX accelerator companies that launched at their Demo Day.

The event began with quick pitches from their 9 startups, followed by dinner and plenty of time to speak with the teams and others in the room directly. TechCrunch wrote a nice overview of StartX itself and the impressive results of a Stanford based accelerator program.

For me, the most impressive aspect of the event was the diversity in the room, from the teams to investors to alumni. More than enough has been said about the lack of ethnic and gender diversity in Silicon Valley, and I don’t wish to add to any of the complaints. I’d much rather focus on the solution and I believe that StartX exemplifies some of the progress that we need to see by selecting, supporting and launching a diverse group of energetic and brilliant entrepreneurs. They are accelerating the diversity that many of us feeling is missing from the broader startup environment in a truly authentic way.

Of StartX companies, almost 50% (4 of the 9 teams) had female co-founders, as well as representation from several degree programs (not just computer science) and age groups. With a mission focused on developing founders through experiential education, I believe recruiting a diverse cohort deeply improves the StartX experience for all and likely inspires increasingly diverse applicants in the future.

Vi Energy, started by twin-sisters Meghali and Sonali who are developing a new form of rechargeable battery that strives to be 3x cheaper and last 50% longer than current options stood out for me and it was great to see them showcase at the Women 2.0 PITCH Conference earlier this week. I was also impressed by Mariya Yao from Zoku, who is trying to organize and surface the content you deem most important from your various social network streams.

Bridging the Diversity Divide

Wouldn’t it be great if all accelerators embodied the pay-it-forward culture of the Silicon Valley by directly mentoring and coaching younger cohorts of entrepreneurs through organized partnerships? In that same spirit, shouldn’t we all be thinking about how we could contribute to building the diverse culture we want to see?

The best way to create a diverse culture is to start at the source, by cultivating a pipeline of aspiring entrepreneurs from all backgrounds, age groups and communities.

One way accelerators can foster this pipeline is by providing direct support and mentorship through programs like the Technovation Challenge which encourages young girls to explore STEM fields and opportunities and Build, which provides high school students with hands-on entrepreneurship and college preparation training. Other programs that come to mind are Teens in Tech, Black Girls Code and Code Now and this list could go on…

For anyone trying something new, it is vitally important and deeply motivating to see people like you creating opportunities and success for themselves. I witnessed this first hand in my work with first-generation college bound students at Citizen Schools and I imagine it’s the same for first-time entrepreneurs – it helps if someone is blazing the trail with you.

I am pleased to see the role StartX is playing (they are already in conversations with Iridescent about partnership opportunities) and am anxious to see how they will scale their program to other universities and communities in the years to come. Just Start It!

(If you are part of an accelerator program or youth entrepreneurship organization and are excited by this idea, please reach out to me by leaving a comment or on Twitter.)

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Jessie Arora is an education consultant with Stellar K12. She is currently working on projects with Imagine K12 and Khan Academy. She holds an MA Ed from Stanford and most recently was Director of Operations at Citizen Schools, a national nonprofit focused on STEM education. She began her career at Google, working on strategic partnerships for both AdWords and AdSense. Jessie is an active angel investor and blogs at EdCrunch. Follow her on Twitter at @Jessie_Arora.