I consider myself very fortunate to have folks like Rick and Kirsten from PIE as allies and colleagues when it comes to making Portland an even better city for startups. Not only do they support the ecosystem in many ways but are also advocates on the topic of inclusion in the startup space.
In 2013 PDC embarked on a new initiative, now called Include. Innovate. Invest. PORTLAND (I3PDX) to realize more diversity in terms of gender and race in startup founding teams and in innovative industries such as tech, green tech, and athletic & outdoor. Our path has been guided by the work begun by others such as Dwayne Johnson & Thompson Morrison with the TAO Foundation, Deena Pierott from I Urban Teen, and PIE’s efforts facilitating PIELette and incubating Code Scouts.
And while we’re able to build on this local work, we’re also inspired by the momentum building nationally on the topic of tech inclusion, particularly in how it plays out in the media – from this critique of Y Combinator to Reverend Jesse Jackson’s visit to Silicon Valley to highlight the lack of diversity. In the past few years, we’ve seen organizations such as Kapor Center, CODE 2040, and Digital Undivided designing strong programs to directly address the diversity issue; and the emergence of apublication that enlists authors who are tech industry veterans and some of the most outspoken advocates of tech inclusion in the country.
Let’s be honest, topics about diversity and inclusion can be uncomfortable. Regardless of our gender or ethnicity, we all seem to have some discomfort when engaging around the topic. Some feel attacked, some feel excluded, but at our best, we hold compassion and understanding for both. How do we push through that discomfort to ask ourselves how more diverse voices can be heard and encouraged to become leaders in tech? From my vantage point at PDC, our economic sustainability is absolutely tied to a more diverse tech leadership and workforce. We have no choice. We can’t ignore the fact that half of the children in Portland Public Schools are people of color and half of our population is female.
One of the key lessons I have learned from thought leaders is that if you want to increase the pipeline and inspire the next generation of people of color and women to enter technology, you need to provide students and aspiring entrepreneurs with the ability to connect with mentors who look like them. So it’s very important to recognize the diverse leaders we already have in Portland and cultivate more.
That’s why the first step in I3PDX was opening up the conversation at an event February 27 with four diverse Portland leaders in tech and design. D’Wayne Edwards of Pensole, Marcelino Alvarez of Uncorked Studios, Michael Gray of Globesherpa, and Paola Moretto of Nouvola authentically shared their career experiences. We also developed relationships with organizations that have ties with professionals of color already working in tech and design, including Hispanicpros and Urban League Young Professionals. Each hasconnections with talented designers and engineers working on corporate campuses on the west side of the Metro area who were not yet plugged into the startup community in Portland. As a result, we had an extremely diverse and inspirational crowd at the February 27 event representing the beginning of a community dedicated to diversity in tech.
In March, we partnered with Digital Undivided on START Portland, a workshop DU conducts in cities all over the country to inspire women, particularly those of color, to consider starting a tech company. I attended the FOCUS 100 conference last year and we plan to bring a Portland contingent to the conference in New York this coming October.
For our second event on April 10, we used feedback from the first event to build more connections between an engaged crowd of diverse professionals and organizations and mentors in the startup community. Mentors such as Ivo Lukas, Bill Lynch, and Marcelino Alvarez and organizations such as PIE, OEN, and Portland Seed Fund hosted table sessions with those interested in starting a startup or learning more about available resources.
Here’s a sneak peak at what’s next.
Katherine Krajnak has been a project manager at the Portland Development Commission (PDC)for five years, and most recently managed the Startup PDX Challenge and the Produce Row initiative in the Central Eastside. Her current work at PDC involves projects and initiatives to bolster Portland’s high-growth entrepreneurs across industry and throughout the city. You can follow her on Twitter as @StartupCityPDX.