Laura Beier Oct 13, 2021 3:27:27 PM 11 min read

TCSW 2021: Reflections on Inclusion

This year was the eighth Twin Cities Startup Week (TCSW), a weeklong festival highlighting innovation and inspiring entrepreneurship in Minnesota put on by BETA, a nonprofit working to accelerate the success of Minnesota startups. For the 2021 event, a main focus was reconnection — bringing the community together after over a year of virtual reality and online networking.

In tangent with this was a focus on gender and racial inclusion, which has remained at the forefront of BETA and TCSW program planning since the organization made a commitment to the community in 2020.

A statewide and national issue

It is no secret that discrimination and poor racial quality efforts continue to challenge leaders in the technology space across the nation.  Although much attention is focused on diversity in Silicon Valley — the reality is the Twin Cities is very much afflicted with the same issue. African American and Native American women specifically face the greatest underrepresentation in STEM occupations, with only one-fifth as many of these women working in STEM as would be expected based on their numbers in the state.

While the dollar amount of funding to Black founders is up, it still only represents just 1.2 percent of the record $147 billion in venture capital invested in U.S startups. A 2019 survey by Morgan Stanley reported that investing in diverse entrepreneurs is a priority for just 40 percent of VC firms. Additionally, venture dollars invested in sole female founders in 2020 represented 2.4 percent of overall venture funding, down 1 percentage point compared with 3.4 percent in 2019, validating many BBIPOC founders’ frustrations around fundraising.

At TCSW 2021, we kept the problem of gender and racial inclusion an integral part of program planning. It was important that we took the opportunity to ensure a diverse representation of our vibrant Minneapolis and St. Paul Minnesota communities. So, we developed and implemented the below strategies of inclusion to help us commit to holding ourselves accountable and closely align this cherished festival to parent company and facilitator, BETA’s DEI goals — here’s what we did differently this year.

Representation Matters

We are proud to share the representation of underserved groups was up this year compared to TCSW 2020 — 30% more BBIPOC-led sessions and 20% more women-led sessions. TCSW 2021 saw a 6% increase in attendees who identify as BBIPOC, and of the 21 Fly-In Program participants, 17 identified as women, non-binary, and/or a member of the BBIPOC community. The progress made this year was intentional and aligned with the diversity and inclusion commitments TCSW made in June:

  • Scholarships for BBIPOC speakers: In partnership with SPS Commerce, we offered scholarships for BBIPOC speakers at TCSW 2021, with a focus on Black and Indigenous speakers. We were able to distribute 12 percent of DEI funding in scholarships this year to 6 speakers!
  • Diverse speaker requirements: Similar to past years, we required events or sessions that included three or more speakers to have at least one member that reflected gender/race diversity. Every panel at TCSW 2021 reflected this requirement, and 72 percent of panels were led by members of the BBIPOC community, with 88 percent of panels led by women.
  • Striving for attendees to be representative: One of our DEI goals for the next five years for both BETA and TCSW is to have our event attendance be reflective of the Twin Cities population. The Twin Cities metro is approximately 60 percent white, 20 percent Black, 7 percent Asian, 8 percent Hispanic, 1 percent American Indian & Alaska Native, and 5 percent multiracial — this year, based on surveyed demographics, the attendance at TCSW 2021 was 70 percent white, 11 percent Black or African American, 11 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 3 percent Hispanic/Latino/Latina, and 6 percent multiracial.
  • Offerings in languages other than English: This year, instead of hosting sessions in various languages, we translated our TCSW one-pagers to Spanish, Hmong, and Somali, to ensure all communities in Minnesota were able to learn about what TCSW is and how to get involved. You can access them here.
  • Community Hub events: TCSW community hubs — one in St. Paul and one in Minneapolis — indeed served as base camps for the week and featured local art, community sessions, and networking. We focused on featuring BBIPOC and women founders at our Minneapolis community hub, with speakers, programming, and art created by and/or for those communities.
  • Insightful sessions highlighting Black leaders: Eri O’Diah, Fall 2021 BETA  and MiT Solve Cohort member, and SIID Technologies startup founder applying big data and emerging technologies to evaluate, uncover and correct the influence of human bias on decision-making and communication, leveraged insights gained from Fall 2021 BETA  and MiT Solve cohorts to host two discussion sessions at TCSW 2021; Lessons from Black Tech Leaders, with our partners at 3M and Brown Ventures and Reimagining of Supplier Diversity, sponsored by Ecolab to help better bridge the gap in communication and economic inclusion. Read more about our key takeaways from those conversations here.

Continuing to Improve

2021 was the most diverse year of TCSW, with a 30 percent increase in BBIPOC panelists and 6 percent increase in BBIPOC attendance overall, but we still have a lot of work to do. In recent years, we’ve been told that it wasn’t a welcoming space for BBIPOC founders, and we’re working to make sure it is and continues to be. 

Main takeaways from the past two years include the fact that we need to improve marketing and communications to ensure we are reaching diverse audiences (inclusion); representing all entrepreneurship communities (diversity); and supporting all founders (access).

Building upon these commitments, we’re going to work on reaching diverse audiences by providing thought leadership for free on the  Resource Library; expand partnerships and channel more resources to give to diverse thought leaders and startups; and take feedback from the community, which you can provide by filling out this survey. 

This is only the beginning  — We will continue doing the work to ensure all founders of diverse backgrounds and identities have a voice and are represented at TCSW.