Entrepreneurial diversity is not only the right thing to do. It’s an economic imperative, according to a leadership panel at the launch of Tampa Bay Wave’s TechDiversity Accelerator.
The panel was the centerpiece of an hourlong virtual kickoff for the accelerator program. Fifteen tech companies from around the United States and Latin America, including two from the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, will take part in the 2020 TechDiversity Accelerator cohort, sponsored by the Nielsen Foundation.
“I’m happy that Tampa can not only connect these companies with the resources they need to grow, but I’m also proud that our city can help shine a light on the incredible technologies they’ve developed,” said Tampa Mayor Jane Castor in welcoming the cohort. “Innovative companies like these are keeping our city on the cutting edge, driving us forward toward an even brighter future.”
The TechDiversity program is now in its third year, said Brian Deming, board chairman at Wave, a nonprofit in downtown Tampa that houses and services startups.
“We’re all acutely aware of the issues facing our country right now and I know we’re all searching for some tangible way to have a positive meaningful impact,” Deming said. “I believe our TechDiversity program is one of those ways that we can do some small part to help.”
Less than 2 percent of venture capital goes to Black and Latinex entrepreneurs and as recently as 2018 only 2.2 percent of $85 billion in venture capital funding went to women, said Andrea Bertels, executive director of grantmaking at the Nielsen Foundation. Less than 1 percent of total funding went to women of color.
Access to capital is just one of the challenges facing Black, female and Latinex founders. So is access to limited access to decision-makers and information, said LaKendria Robinson, director for Business Connect & Community Outreach for the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee.
She was one of the participants in a panel moderated by Keith Woods, chief diversity officer for National Public Radio.
There’s been an extensive amount of female, African American and Hispanic leadership in science and technology for generations, but it hasn’t been recognized, said Dr. Jose Morey, a consultant for NASA and Hyperloop Transportation, and a health and technology expert. As the population shifts, that will change, he said.
By 2055, the United States will have no one major ethnic or cultural group that makes up the majority of the population. “People we refer to today as minorities will actually make up the majority of the country,” said Andy Stoll, senior program officer at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
At the same time, there are exponential increases in technology taking place.
“The world is shifting in significant ways. We are leaving the Industrial Age and moving into a new human era,” Stoll said. “If a majority of our country is made up of people of color and women and those outside the major metro hubs, and they are unable to get entrepreneurial resources … it’s not just going to hurt entrepreneurs in those places, or women, or people of color or immigrants, it’s going to hurt all of us because we are all part of the same system. COVID has driven that point home, at least for me. We are all connected.”
The entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area can only work if there are diverse participants involved, Robinson said.
“There must be equal collaboration among corporations, funding sources and entrepreneurs for the ecosystem to be effective. It at any point one of the three parties is complaining, that means there is a break in that system and it is not working as it should. So take time to step back, look where we are and create transformation that will be beneficial to everyone involved,” Robinson said.
Anna Mason, a partner in the Rise of the Rest Seed Fund at Revolution LLC, said she is optimistic because the COVID-19 pandemic has created a positive byproduct for female entrepreneurs.
“What I see is the collapse of the professional-personal-parental continuum in a way that I think and hope will inure to the benefit of women and female entrepreneurs specifically, and all founders in general,” Mason said.
“We’ve gone from this somewhat artificial construct of sitting across the table form one another with pitch books in front of you … There’s been a lot of personality and personal experience that by necessity has been infused in the conversations that have unfolded recently between entrepreneurs and investors. I’m hopeful there’s a bit of the leveling of the playing field when it comes to gender-based equity around the conversations of investing in female entrepreneurs.”