Community Issues

Inclusive Innovation Summit Brings Opportunity to Under-Served Entrepreneurs

The 3-day conference aims to encourage entrepreneurship in under represented communities.

For every dollar invested in a white male starting a company, only 2 cents is invested in an African American woman launching a business. Better, but far from good, are investment rates in Latinx ($.27) and Asian ($.24) entrepreneurs.

These fact alone gives reason to celebrate the Inclusive Innovation Summit happening in Pittsburgh this weekend. The gathering aims to change those sad statistics and encourage entrepreneurship in under represented communities.

The 3-day summit kicked off last night at a sold-out Kelly Strayhorn Theater, with an opening keynote delivered by venture capitalist Del Johnson, a principle investor with Backstage Capital . "Talent is everywhere," Johnson told the crowd. "Opportunity is not evenly distributed... and a marginalized person from an under-represented city is a double burden."

Backstage Capital provides early capital in businesses aiming to "build a better future." The investor specifically looks to make investments in startups created and run by women and people of color. "Diversity is strength," Johnson said, noting that startups that score in the top quartile for diversity outperform companies in the bottom quartile 30% or better.

"Opportunity is not evenly distributed . . . and a marginalized person from an under-represented city is a double burden."

To set the tone for the Summit, the opening program included a panel of activist entrepreneurs who are making a difference in the inclusionary economy. Camile

Khamil Scantling founded Cocoaprenuer Pgh a year ago with the mission to "circulate the black dollar in back communities." Cocoaprenuer maintains a database of black-owned businesses for easy reference.

After selling her marketing consulting firm, Yvonne Campos started the Next Act Fund, a partnership of women investors investing in women entrepreneurs.

Delvina Morrow established Prototype to "build gender and racial equity in tech and entrepreneurship." The maker space provides pay-what-you-can access to high tech tools and materials and conducts workshops to help incubate women-owned businesses.

Joined by Johnson, these women offered advice and wisdom to encourage the to take the leap into entrepreneurship.

Also on stage Thursday evening was Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. In a short talk and question session in which he acknowledged that the city's economy is "growing, but not growing for everyone."

To change that dynamic, the mayor noted a number of initiatives to support women, minorities, and veterans with micro grants and neighborhood improvement programs.

"If an entrepreneur is willing to invest in [blighted] neighborhoods, I am willing to invest in the real estate for two years to support that venture." This way, he added, "We can invest in business districts that have not had investment in decades."

More than forty events will take place over the course of three days, with all of the daytime programs occurring at a central downtown location. All of the programming will be free of charge and complimentary childcare, bus passes and refreshments will be provided.

You can find more information on the Inclusive Innovation Summit web site.

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