Can the White House Fix the Leaky Entrepreneurship Pipeline?

column | Policy and Government

Can the White House Fix the Leaky Entrepreneurship Pipeline?

By Mary Jo Madda (Columnist)     Aug 7, 2015

Can the White House Fix the Leaky Entrepreneurship Pipeline?

The word “diversity” often does not apply to the world of technology and startups. Just three percent of America’s venture capital-backed startups are led by women, and only around one percent are led by African-Americans. Companies like Google have come under fire for their “appalling” lack of diversity, and venture capitalists like Mitch Kapor are calling out the glaring discrepancies.

“It’s hard to argue with the fact that intellect, creativity, and resourcefulness are evenly distributed by zip code. Unfortunately, access and opportunity are not,” Kapor wrote in a August 5 blogpost.

Diversity in workforce and educational opportunities has been a mainstay of President Obama’s administration; earlier efforts include the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which brought together adults and students alike to brainstorm ways to use government data sets to provide support for young men of color. On August 4, the President turned the spotlight on entrepreneurship during the first-ever White House Demo Day. A part of his Startup America Initiative, the event featured several announcements to support budding entrepreneurship, along with hard commitments from the entrepreneurial community to open doors to females and minorities.

The TechHire Initiative: Which Companies are Stepping Up?

Announced back in early April 2015, the TechHire Initiative committed $100 million (in federal dollars) to train people to develop technical skills in high demand by employers. Simultaneously, cities and mayors committed themselves to becoming “TechHire cities” and states, which includes partnering with universities and community colleges, and pressing for more in-person training spaces (like “coding bootcamps”).

At the June U.S. Conference of Mayors, President Obama expressed his desire to double the number of TechHire cities and states to reach 40 by the end of this year; as of August 4, there are 30. (See the current map of cities here.) On August 4, Obama announced 10 new TechHire cities and states, including Akron, Ohio; Lynchburg, Virginia; the State of Maine; New Orleans, Louisiana; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; the State of Rhode Island; and Oakland, California.

Private organizations are showing their support for TechHire a variety of ways. On Tuesday, the White House called out the actions of groups like the Department of Veterans Affairs and Coursera, which are partnering to provide certification and IT career training opportunities for military veterans, and Codecademy, which will host in-person meet-ups and coding training for 600 students, focusing especially on women and minority groups.

One organization, Pluralsight, is launching a $20 million initiative to provide 50 in-demand online tech courses to unemployed individuals at no cost.

“Preparation and education for tech jobs can often be seen as daunting,” Pluralsight CEO Aaron Skonnard told EdSurge, adding that somewhere along the line, the United States' educational focus "became about pushing people through the system so they could get out into the workforce as soon as possible, instead of focusing on preparing individuals based on real career needs.”

Skonnard believes that that is a major cause for the lack of diversity in the tech world, creating “huge gaps between the jobs available and the correlating skills individuals could offer.” But he feels that companies that “see the value in investing in the development of our citizens” are stepping up.

Investors are chipping in as well, including Kapor Capital, an Oakland, CA-based venture firm that supports socially minded entrepreneurs.

“At this promising moment, I am proud to announce that the Kapor family of organizations is making a $40 million investment over the next three years to accelerate our work to make tech entrepreneurship more inclusive,” Kapor stated, adding “it’s good for individuals, communities and the economy as a whole.”

The White House announced that more than 40 leading venture capital firms with over $100 billion under management, including Andreessen Horowitz, Intel Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, and Scale Venture Partners, are committing to specific actions that advance opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, such as adopting new HR policies and initiatives, and participating in an industry survey which will track diversity throughout the firms.

Silicon Valley, much maligned for its non-diverse workforce, is making commitments as well. Google will hold a Women’s Demo Day and partner with CODE2040 to double the reach of its Entrepreneur-in-Residence program. Other organizations are making explicit adjustments to their their hiring practices. Box, for example, announced that it will be employing the Rooney Rule for senior management positions--meaning at least one woman and at least one underrepresented minority will be considered in the slate of candidates.

Making Promises--and Keeping Them?

While these commitments are wonderful in theory, how quickly they happen remains to be seen. One may experience some slight hesitation when considering Obama’s ConnectEd initiative, during which the government rounded up technology donations worth more than a $1 billion from U.S. corporations for schools. For a while, there was debate on whether companies were making the process of accessing those resources user-friendly. But by June of 2015, it appeared that most companies were on track to deliver.

Change won’t happen overnight, but TechHire is one step towards mending the diversity crisis in the tech world. After all, the longer you leave a leak without fixing it, the bigger and bigger it gets.

For more information on the initiative or how organizations can get involved, check out the White House’s official TechHire page here.

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