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Holding space for diversity and inclusion in the tech industry

Highlights from Culture Shifting Weekend
Published on Sep 15, 2021

The tech industry is a sector dedicated to innovation, creation, and growth that has employed over 12 million people and counting. As the industry evolves and changes, the need for increasing diversity and inclusion in tech is becoming more apparent. An inclusive culture in the workplace provides more accessibility to different points of view and fosters creativity and innovation. While the tech industry has certainly made strides towards a more inclusive community, there is room for improvement.

Enter Culture Shift Labs, a diversity and innovation consultancy that provides services under three pillars: Advising, Strategy, and Activation. They recently hosted their 7th Annual Culture Shifting Weekend, where more than 400 accomplished Black and Latinx tech executives, entrepreneurs, investors, innovators, and social impact leaders came together to initiate deals, collaboration, and wealth creation.

During the conference, Avanta Ventures hosted a fireside chat moderated by Managing Director Sanjiv Parikh, in discussion with Upsie CEO and Founder Clarence Bethea and Avanta Ventures Partner and Upsie board member Steve Bernardez. Steve and Clarence spoke about the road leading to Upsie’s addition to the Avanta Ventures’ portfolio and the strengths that come with having diversity in the industry.

Clarence kicked off the conversation by sharing his background and how growing up while facing adversity helped form his skills as a founder. “Adversity can determine a lot about your life,” he explained. “I’m a firm believer that the more adversity you go through, the more you can get through.” With support from his team and family, Clarence built Upsie into what it is today.

An integral part of how Clarence and his team operate at Upsie is following their company motto: Live life with grace. They make a point each day to extend grace, not only to their customers but to each other. When Clarence adds new members to his team, he asks himself, “How do I make sure that every person who joins the company understands that this is how we are going to treat each other by extending grace?” This forward-thinking motto was one of the many morals that both the Upsie and Avanta Ventures team held as a high priority when moving forward with the partnership.

The more adversity you go through, the more you can get through.

Clarence Bethea, CEO, and Founder, Upsie

Clarence and Steve then discussed how companies could better implement diversity and inclusion initiatives to give underrepresented groups opportunities to succeed in the Tech industry. Steve explained how Avanta Ventures believes it is essential to start by being intentional about engaging with BIPOC and other underrepresented communities.

For example, with Avanta Ventures Studios, we measure how many female/BIPOC-led companies we have in the program. We also ask our partner companies to include their analysis of how they are doing from a hiring perspective of BIPOC or gender. When investing, we look at the culture of the companies and if they intend on implementing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training. This standard has become critical when searching for new companies as we are passionate about creating an inclusive environment. “You can’t implement what you don’t measure,” said Steve.

You can’t implement what you don’t measure.

Steve Bernardez, Partner, Avanta Ventures

Sanjiv asked Clarence if he had any guidance for people aspiring to raise funding for their startups. His advice?

  1. Be authentic to yourself so that the right people can find you. When you are genuine, you will find your tribe who believes in your vision and mission – like Clarence found his community at Upsie and the partnership with Avanta Ventures.
  2. Move with swiftness. As a Black founder, Clarence knew he needed to be overly prepared by having an answer to every question from potential investors and being instantaneous with his responses. The relationship between investor and entrepreneur should include respect for each other’s bandwidth.
  3. Have confidence. When pitching to investors, there is a sense of enthusiasm and passion that you need to have. Nobody wants to invest in a company they don’t feel will go to battle for them.

To the investors, Clarence advised them to be open-minded to the possibility that founders can come from all walks of life. He recalled an instance where an investor discredited him as a founder because they had never seen someone who looked like him succeed in the industry. Much like Upsie’s company motto, investors need to provide space for those who haven’t had a seat at the table, creating an opportunity to excel in the tech space.

In wrapping up the event, Sanjiv offered these thoughts. “We are all trying to do our part. We may not have all the answers, but as investors and entrepreneurs, we are on a journey together to learn how to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion. At Avanta Ventures, we are proud to work with companies like Upsie, who embrace that culture. We will continue to check our unconscious biases to understand who is at the table and who needs to be. We are beginning to recognize and acknowledge what we don’t know so that we can bring those voices to bear.”

We may not have all the answers, but we as investors and entrepreneurs are on a journey together to learn how to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Sanjiv Parikh, Managing Partner, Avanta Ventures

Thank you, Clarence and Culture Shift Labs, for providing a space to have these critical discussions.

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We remain eager to explore new opportunities, partnerships and collaborations with promising start-ups. If you have an idea or proposal that aligns with our mission, we encourage you to reach out to us.

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