Women Lead: Inclusive Silicon Valley cohort gives hope to entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds
Things are happening on the Scottish tech scene. Big and small initiatives are creating a fantastic ripple effect on the sector, bottom up and top down, thanks to the recommendations laid out in former Skyscanner executive Mark Logan’s Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review (STER) – executed and sponsored by a new Scottish Government’s STER Ecosystem Fund.
One of which was to build a tech ecosystem in Scotland a la Silicon Valley. Call it ‘Silicon Glen’ if you like, with funded dedicated tech events, such as University of Strathclyde and Glasgow City Innovation District’s First Glasgow Tech Fest, the first Femtech conference focused on Women’s health issues in Scotland, tech community gatherings, and much more.
As part of this, 20 tech leaders from Scotland-based companies were given the opportunity to pitch to investors in Silicon Valley, visit San Francisco-based headquarters of global tech companies’, and attend the Startup Grind Global Conference, the largest startup community gathering in the world. Like I said, things are happening on the Scottish tech scene.
Besides Holoxica being selected as one of the tech companies to attend, one of the most uplifting elements for me was the diversity of the cohort. I was told by the organisers, StartUp Grind Scotland and selection panel of the cohort that “diversity was at the forefront and was of paramount importance in how we are showcasing Scottish innovation on this programme”, from gender to multiple nationalities, non-white backgrounds, to a range of ages from people in their late 20s to people 50+.”
Dr Poonam Malik, head of investments at Strathclyde University and was one of the judges to select the finalists, perfectly worded it as follows on her LinkedIn post: “Scotland’s 20 innovative founders and startup leaders were selected out of 178 entries to join the Startup Grind in Silicon Valley to enhance their experiences and learnings, which they will bring back with them to Scotland.
“They now have received an amazing fully funded opportunity to meet global tech companies, international Investors and a wonderful platform to pitch on and showcase themselves and their companies! Actively setting out and applying different criteria do bring out the not so ‘business as usual’ outcome results, i.e. a diverse and inclusive cohort! This not only gives hope to those from diverse backgrounds but also cultivates a different group of people for future of business.
“This is so critical for the sustainability and growth of the ecosystem. A diverse cohort – made up of many women, Underrepresented, Ethnic Minority Founders, Entrepreneurs – you’ll represent proudly Scotland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem at the West Coast of USA.”
If you are into diversity and investment, definitely follow her. She is one of the wisest women I know.
When I thanked her for her inspirational and inclusive point of view, looking on so many levels at the diversity of this cohort of entrepreneurs, naturally thanks to the bold and daring new and different criteria applied during the selection process, she quoted the following, from Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible – till it’s done”.
My wise new friend and member of the cohort Tzaritsa Asante, founder of online fashion retailer TZARI, said this on LinkedIn: “I really had no idea what to expect but I knew I had to maximise the opportunity of being around innovative minds and creative excellence. Everyone lends to this big picture – in such diversity you are permitted to grow. Comparison is apples and oranges so instead you flow, celebrating how far each one has come and encouraged on the road less travelled.”
One of the reasons why this topic is so close to my heart, is that it is notoriously difficult for underrepresented founders to get access to investment. And with “underrepresented founders”, I mean women, people of colour and people from the LGBTQ+ community.
Allow me to share an inverview with Helena Murphy, tech investor and founder of Raising Partners. She recently hosted the company’s tech investment summit event at the Technology Innovation Centre at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, which was also funded by the government’s Technology Ecosystem Fund, and where Holoxica was also selected to pitch.
She said there needs to be a “long-term strategy to address the structural diversity issues in tech”, and repeated it during a Q&A at the Raising Partners event when I asked her about it. Getting funding for “underrepresented founders” is so close to lot of our hearts, and we get emotional and seek a change with a positive outcome. But change is happening, with more and more people being vocal about it.
I believe that diversity starts at the top, with the boards. Scottish charity Changing the Chemistry works to improve board effectiveness “through diversity of thought”. Do check it out.
Perhaps we should take a closer look at the diversity of the boards of the Scottish venture capital industry. If we can have such a diverse cohort going to Silicon Valley, why can’t we have diverse boards in the companies making decisions on the other side of the investing table?
It’s time to invest in all the amazing diverse tech talent here in Scotland to give future generations hope for parity of opportunities.
Wendy Lamin is the managing director of Edinburgh-based holographic software company Holoxica, one of twenty tech companies selected to take participate in the Scottish Government’s Silicon Valley programme