On Tuesday, dozens of startup founders got to chance to pitch their concept to none other than the President of the United States.
“Our ideas can move the world,” said Barack Obama, speaking in front of a podium full of founders selected to present at the White House.
“And we’ve gotta judge those ideas on their merits,” he continued. “We’ve got to make sure they’re not filtered by misperceptions about who people are or who’s capable of dreaming something up.”
For its first-ever Demo Day — which trended on Twitter — the White House sought to cheer on U.S. startups while also highlighting the gender gap and lack of diversity in entrepreneurial circles.
“There are chronic challenges for any entrepreneur,” said Obama, citing access to capital for entrepreneurs who don’t live in VC hubs, or aren’t of a specific profile.
“It’s always hard to get in front of the right people,” he said. “But sometimes it’s harder if you’re a woman or an underrepresented minority.”
Obama also deplored the enduring gap in access to STEM education.
“Too many girls and too many young people of color are getting intimidated and winnowed out of the process,” he said. “We deprive ourselves of the talent that we need in order for us to continue to be a dynamic, innovative economy.”
“The next Steve Jobs might be named Stephanie, or Esteban,” added the President. “They might never step foot in Silicon Valley.”
The government announced a series of access-focused initiatives in conjunction with Demo Day, including:
- Expanding the TechHire initiative, which affords grants to organizations and companies that hire and train low-skilled workers in tech jobs, to 10 new cities.
- The U.S. Small Business Administration delivered $1.6 million to cities who pledged to streamline business registration processes. The District won $50,000.
- SBA also gave a total $4.4 million to 88 accelerators across the country, including D.C.’s Halcyon Incubator, Mission: Launch and Mess Hall, as well as Rockville’s Relevant Health and Crystal City-based Eastern Foundry.
- Major VC firms including Andreessen Horowitz, Intel Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers agreed to spend a combined $100 billion in various programs that support women and minority entrepreneurs.
- Companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Xerox (which is helmed by an African-American woman) have promised to increase efforts to hire more diverse executives.
Among those selected to present were Felix Brandon Lloyd and Jordan Lloyd Bookey, the couple that founded children-centered apps platform Zoobean out of 1776 in 2013.
The company moved to UberOffices in Rosslyn after receiving backing from the Center for Innovative Technology Gap Fund.
Lloyd, who previously lived in Austin, Texas, said he found D.C. to be relatively welcoming for diverse entrepreneurs. “It’s a friendlier place to live in as a minority,” he said.
He added, beaming, that he got to shake Obama’s hand. “That means an awful lot,” he said.
Knowledge is power!
Subscribe for free today and stay up to date with news and tips you need to grow your career and connect with our vibrant tech community.