Inclusion and collaboration are critical to cultivating an open Entrepreneurial Eco-system. Without them, our ideas and projects are less rich and less meaningful, and our world is bland. Although the topic is becoming more prevalent again, many of us have seen doors closed because we have the wrong color skin, the wrong religion, we’re too old or too young, we don’t look, think or act the right way. If we behave this way, we all lose. Steve Case talks about the Rise of the Rest, and with this, he means those who are often excluded. Sometimes, the excluded are those we least expect.
A 61-year-old colleague of mine recently told me she was told “off the record” by an investor that no one would invest in her startup because she and her partner were too old. He didn’t seem to think this sounded bad, but he did not tell her she would have a more difficult time because she is a woman, which is true, as well, but less correct to say out loud. How sad it is that age discrimination happens with entrepreneurs just like in company hiring. My friend and her partner are great, energetic people who have created something of value that actually sells, but investors apparently think they are “not hungry enough”. Is a twenty-something college grad with intelligence but not experience or street-smarts actually hungrier? Is he or she more likely to succeed? I’m not so sure about that. Perhaps, investors could increase their deal success rates if they bet more on older and wiser go-getters than on younger and greener go-getters.
Perhaps, the Third Wave is the time to change the way we think about which horses to bet on, who to include and who…
The opposite of inclusion is exclusion, which results in thinking and behaving in silos instead of working together and collaborating. Those of us who have worked in collaborative environments at startup and larger organizations know without a doubt how valuable sharing and inclusion are. In fact, the fundamental rule of brainstorming is that all ideas are welcome without judgement.
The irony here is that older, more experienced business people might be the ones to exclude more than the younger college grads. Regardless, the point is that we need to ensure that we include all generations of people doing great things. The blend of different perspectives and experiences – whether due to age, color, race, religion, etc. – creates a better mousetrap and a greater chance at success.
At South Shore Innovation, we began our mission to support diverse populations of entrepreneurs and innovators in 2010 and we are continuing it today. Last Thursday, we brought together a panel of 3 innovators of different backgrounds to give their opinions and insights into some aspects of the importance diversity and inclusion bring.
- Barbara Clarke is a leader in the Boston entrepreneurial ecosystem, an angel investor and founder of The Impact Seat.
- Joel Liu is a technical guy from China, co-founder of the EdTech startup Diigo and a recent resident to Boston.
- Philip Ellison is an African American innovator who was one of my students of entrepreneurship as a transfer student to Tufts. He has been advocating for years for community college students and students of lesser means to transfer into highly ranked colleges and universities. Philip’s team won the Tufts 100K startup competition in 2016 in the Social Impact category.
These panelists brought a mixture of perspectives based on their experiences as investors, entrepreneurs and members of the innovation ecosystem. Their stories and points resonated with just about every person in attendance. I know this because I received an overwhelming flurry of comments afterwards. Everyone wanted to be invited to the next event and everyone left on Thursday night with a spark in his or her eye.
Regardless of your background or experience, you are a valued member of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, as long as you want to be. We all carry a different umbrella. Some have different colors and some may open a different way. All keep out the rain and serve their purpose.
South Shore Innovation, Inc. is a 501(c)3 dedicated to supporting startups and entrepreneurs from diverse and underserved populations. Please consider donating to our organization, so we can continue to support the creation of jobs, superstars and a powerful creative economy. Thank you!