Lifetise, Plinth.Tech And Knabu: Discussing Diversity With Diverse Founders

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TechHub, the global community for technology startups and entrepreneurs, announced its first cohort of members for Accelerate today, a programme for diverse founders in partnership with Google for Startups, Silicon Valley Bank, Wilson Sonsini, and Davis Grant. Atomico’s recent State of European Tech 2019 report found that $92 in every $100 invested in tech companies went to male founding teams. In addition to this, the vast majority of tech founders are white (84 percent), university educated (82 percent) and financially stable (53 percent). None of these metrics reflect population averages.
Supporting startup founders from underrepresented communities - including women, people with disabilities and the BAME and LGBTQ+ communities - Accelerate’s aim is to address the diversity gap in the industry and will offer the 31 members free membership, mentoring, investor introductions and business support.
While the cohort includes entrepreneurs working in AI, edtech, hardware, retail, sextech, healthtech, security, robotics and others, I spoke to those successful in the fintech industry: Lifetise co-founder Caroline Hughes, Knabu co-founder and CEO Gabrielle Patrick and founder and CEO Priyanka Lilaramani as well as TechHub founder Elizabeth Varley.
The importance of diverse founder programmes
Elizabeth Varley explains that TechHub Accelerate was created to “level the playing field. Creating opportunities for the inclusion of everyone is so important across every area of society and absolutely vital in the tech industry. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s valuable for everyone involved.”
Co-founder of financial wellness platform and borrowing calculator startup Lifetise Caroline Hughes highlights what Cindy Gallop refers to as the “closed loop of white guys talking to white guys about other white guys” and how “the lack of diversity of startups means that we’re only solving problems for a very select group.”
Initiatives like TechHub Accelerate have the potential to change this. Diversity programmes must be prioritised in technology; Hughes asks: “tapping into all those different lived experiences, must surely be the quickest way to discovering those customer needs?”
Riffing on the idea that diversity programmes create a level playing field, founder of software provider for alternative investment industry Priyanka Lilaramani adds that initiatives such as these are “critical to creating pathways that open up access to the resources necessary for founders from different walks of life to realise their potential.”
Cryptocurrency clearing bank Knabu founder Gabrielle Patrick agrees and says that “diversity means a higher quality of products and services, and better results in the interests of public good. Unfortunately, there has not been enough emphasis on this.”
Supporting underrepresented communities
Why do founders from underrepresented communities need extra help and how can diversity programmes such as these help make a tangible difference? This is something that the fintech sector continues to struggle with, regardless of the number of events put on with the intention of increasing diversity in the sector.
Varley explains that Accelerate addresses three key areas:
Access: places for TechHub Accelerate founders are funded for a year which gives them easier access to the support TechHub provides to all members.
Opportunity: through the programme we provide some additional targeted support to help further the growth of these companies.
Visibility: a platform to amplify these founders’ voices both for the benefit of their success, and for others to see a more varied idea of who a “founder” is.
Lilaramani has a similar view. “There have been a number of findings recently where products that were built by a homogenous, non-diverse teams have either missed or mis-represented the needs of diverse customer groups.
“Such biases – whether known or unconscious can be weeded out only when the teams driving these products and services have a diverse representation.”
Picking up on Varley’s point on access, Hughes states that the startup ecosystem has the “same gatekeepers as every other industry who decide what gets funded, what gets promoted, what gets purchased. It’s not a pipeline issue, is an access issue for underrepresented founders.”
She explains that the focus should be on opening doors for the underrepresented because “the tech industry is not self-correcting.” Referring to the Atomico survey, Hughes says that while the figures show that all-male founder teams got 92% of European VC funding, it also reveals that 95% of CEOs they surveyed were men and only 0.5% of founders who identify as black raised external funding in 2019.
Hughes continues: “Unconscious bias is such a strong barrier to underrepresented communities - even where investors and others may want to change things.” Patrick also refers to data from the British Private Equity & Venture Capital Association that found th...