Silicon Valley isn’t the only hotbed for innovation, as distinct startup hubs are emerging across the country and prioritizing the diversity and inclusiveness lacking in the tech sector.
Innovation outside the Valley
Due to San Francisco’s high cost of living and less-than-stellar track record of local tech behemoths hiring women and minorities for its most coveted jobs and leadership positions, startup founders are increasingly jumping ship for greener and more economically friendly pastures.
Cities from Chicago to Durham boast significant communities defining distinct local startup cultures. For many, there’s also an increased lens on diversity poised to grow and retain talent from all walks of life. These communities provide a range of favorable benefits, from transportation and relatively affordable costs of living to family-friendly policies and access to high-quality education.
Here’s a look at a few hubs covering significant ground in helping entrepreneurs of all types move forward in their endeavors.
TechSquare Labs opened its doors in 2015 as one of several startup-focused hubs on the Georgia Tech-anchored Midtown Atlanta campus. Spearheaded by cyber security serial entrepreneurs Dr. Paul Judge and Allen Nance, “TechSquare Labs is a network of technical startup founders, educational institutions, industry experts, and large enterprises working together to construct big, meaningful companies.”
Set in a 15,000-square-foot innovation lab, the building houses several startup companies and incubates its CodeStart program which immerses disconnected youth in coding and personal development skills over the course of 13 months.
Blue 1647 was launched by Emile Cambry in 2013 in South Side Chicago’s Pilsen Neighborhood with the intention of using technology to ignite change. Part co-working space for budding entrepreneurs and part learning labs for spreading resources and technology skills throughout the local community, the hub defies the ideal that all entrepreneurs must look like Mark Zuckerberg or hail from upper-class neighborhoods.
Blue 1647 has since expanded its reach, setting up shop or training and development initiatives in places like St. Louis, Compton, Indiana, and Haiti.
Set in the basement of a transformed tobacco warehouse campus, the American Underground co-working space in downtown Durham has served as the city’s local hub for innovative companies since open its doors in 2010. The community has served as the launching pad for over 225 companies which nearly a quarter are led by founders of color.
By 2015, American Underground established the goal of making diversity a priority, in addition to hosting several classes and training programs open to founders and the surrounding community.
Thus, ongoing partnerships with the CODE2040 and Google for Entrepreneurs programs and a relationship with historically black college North Carolina Central University, continue to draw resources to help founders of color incubate and tap funding to grow their ideas on the campus.
The Kapor Center for Social Impact broke ground in Oakland’s bustling East Bay with the aim of building an inclusive technology ecosystem amid a growing tech community.
With a focus on creating positive social impact and outcomes for historically marginalized communities, the center serves as headquarters to social impact investment firm Kapor Capital and the Level Playing Field Institute. It also provides several meeting spaces and conference rooms to host community conversations and stakeholders aiming to increase equity for all.
What sets apart these hubs and others like them, is the intention behind building valuable spaces with diversity in mind. There is a breadth of initiatives and incubators serving smaller cities and communities that is poised to democratize startup culture and the technology industry. These programs are resourcing diverse entrepreneurs whether it be through space to set up shop, access to significant partnerships, or local funding through city-led business development programming.
Thus far, these hubs are shifting the culture and slowly documenting their outcomes. Hopefully, we’ll soon be able to measure their impact to determine exactly how far the push toward economic mobility for these founders goes.
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