Since I took over as CEO, MassChallenge has worked deliberately to push not only our organization, but also the innovation community that surrounds us to higher standards when supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
Last February, I shared an update on MassChallenge’s efforts and laid out several of our initiatives around restructuring our internal processes for becoming part of the solution to address systematic issues caused by racism, bias, and a lack of accessibility that prevent everyone from leveraging entrepreneurship as a pillar to build their own future. MassChallenge’s goal is to build DEI into the DNA of our entire innovation network (learn more in our 2020 Impact Report). Through these efforts, we’re striving for scale and growth in this area - as much as anywhere. Across our organization, we’re examining our core processes and operations to identify and remove areas of bias, emphasizing training on equity practices, focusing on recruiting and hiring approaches that are inclusive and equitable, and bringing anti-bias learnings to our startups, partners, and experts for exponential amplification.
With tragic events unfolding around the world daily, we believe it is imperative to share our formal anti-hate statement. Hate manifests itself in many ways, and, unfortunately, with a disturbing frequency. With this statement, we want to clearly establish our position in the community proactively, and remind the world of where we stand when additional events occur:
MassChallenge stands unequivocally against all forms of hate. As our collective society continues to see attacks based on culture, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity, we will continue to use our organization to expand inclusion, equity, and understanding for everyone. Our goal of building innovative solutions to affect industry and society in positive, meaningful ways fundamentally includes the breaking down of systems, barriers, and biases to create more accessibility and impactful change.
Update on Foundational and External Actions
As part of this update, I also want to share some of the promising results that we’re beginning to see because of our strategic DEI efforts. This is not a pat on our back, and we know we still have a lot of progress to make as an organization and even more as an industry.
Recently, we partnered with Forefront — an organization that is focused on building the future of work with DEI at the core — to complete an audit of racial equity in our startup competition model with a focus on applications and judging. The research resulted in a long-term equity plan through 2030 and our next step is to finalize our preliminary action plan for 2022. The short-term recommendations are focused on:
- Looking at our marketing and communications to ensure we are providing relevant and appropriate information from thought leadership to relatable content to founders of all backgrounds as we aim to engage them with MassChallenge and the broader ecosystem
- Creating a stronger applicant customer service protocol so we can reach and support more underrepresented founders and support them in submitting a strong application
- Enhancing our approaches to sourcing to attract more founders of color to MassChallenge with intention
While our efforts are global, the US results of our 2021 efforts to build DEI into the DNA of the startup ecosystem are as follows:
- Focused startup sourcing and creation of partnerships with BIPOC focused organizations in addition to anti-bias training for all MassChallenge judges resulted in the most diverse MassChallenge early-stage US cohort to date: >50% of startups have at least BIPOC founder and 48% have at least one female/non-binary founder
- 2021 MC Essentials curriculum is pre-recorded to support accessibility; all live curriculum is recorded and distributed via the MassChallenge platform to ensure startups can benefit regardless of personal constraints. MC Essentials is a collection of approximately 10 “must know” modules for early-stage startups
- 70% of MC Essentials speakers are from historically underrepresented backgrounds, including female and BIPOC identities
- 150+ mentors to date have participated in identity and equity training led by our partner Forefront and this effort is ongoing
- 100% of the 229 startups in the 2021 US cohorts participated in a session on identity and inclusiveness as part of the cohort onboarding experience
- Approximately 95 cohort members opted into a Celebration for Affinity Group Kick-offs founders led by Forefront and MassChallenge staff
During the remainder of this year, we will continue to focus on diversifying our expert pool by tapping into new sources similar to our current relationships with the partners shared below* to identify and engage experts who reflect the varied backgrounds and experiences of the founders we seek to attract.
We are encouraged by this progress and our collective efforts as an organization. As I said, we still have much to improve, and we will continue to listen and learn, and attempt to lead by example.
For more information regarding MassChallenge’s perspective, approach, and initiatives towards DEI, please see the below posts. If you have questions, please reach out to [email protected].
- Amplify LatinX
- Black Ambition
- Black and Brown Founders
- Black Economic Council Massachusetts
- Div Inc
- Founders First
- Foundation for Business Equity
- Impact Hubs Austin and Houston
- Invisible Hands
- Manos Accelerator
- Transparent Collective
- Valence Funding Network
- Venture Café (and Roxbury Innovation Center)
- Various Chambers of Commerce in Austin
• June 2020: A Message of Solidarity and Action
• June 2020: Why Diverse Boards Are Important
• August 2020: The Racial Wealth Gap and Two Initial Steps the Finance Industry Can Take to Address It
• August 2020: The Path Forward, Not Backward for Venture Capital Funding
• October 2020: Rebuilding Economies with Purpose: Innovation Experts Identify 4 Essential Building Blocks
• February 2021: Update on Our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives
• February 2021: MassChallenge, GK! Fund Create Innovation Pipeline for Startups
• March 2021: In New HBS Report: MassChallenge Judges Top Industry for Identifying High Potential Startups