Diversity & Inclusion
DEI / Entrepreneurs / Roundups

Optimism and best practices at Philly Startup Leaders’ revamped diversity event

It's the first time PSL has hosted its annual solutions-focused dinner, rebranded A Seat At The Table, alongside its Founder Factory conference. Here's what we learned.

Philly Startup Leaders' 2019 A Seat at the Table dinner. (Photo by Paige Gross)
Full disclosure: Technically Media CEO Chris Wink sits on the Philly Startup Leaders board. That relationship is unrelated to this report.
It’s been a year of fresh ideas for Philly Startup Leaders (PSL).

The organization, known as a community of and for startup entrepreneurs, rolled out a new website, revamped its programing and available resources, and renamed its annual dinner gathering.

For three years, the annual event operated under the name Diversity Dinner, with a focus on ensuring talks of inclusion and equity were happening within Philly’s tech community.

The second year of the event brought some tense conversation, after attendees from the first year spoke about lack of actionable items coming from the event.

For 2019’s edition, held Wednesday evening, the dinner operated under a new name — A Seat At The Table — and was combined with PSL’s daylong conference for founders and entrepreneurs, Founder Factory.

“This year, we were able to provide options for attendees to choose their adventure, and we are happy to see that more than half of the attendees will be present for both days,” PSL Executive Director Kiera Smalls told Technical.ly.

The rebrand doesn’t change what the evening is about, though, as Wilco Electronics EVP Brigitte Daniel told attendees at the Center for Architecture and Design.

“Dinner number two at Bok — that was the dinner that tested us on how well we could get through conflict,” said Daniel, who hosted the event with PSL via her Mogulette organization. “The name may have changed, but this dinner is still about the same message: inclusion.”

After Smalls, Daniel and City of Philadelphia Commerce Director Harold T. Epps welcomed guests, Daniel sat down with Rick Nucci, cofounder and CEO of software company Guru. (Daniel acknowledged that it might seem odd to feature a white male founder at a diversity-focused event, but that those who lead innovative companies are those in charge of building inclusive culture.)

Nucci talked about his time starting and building software company Boomi, and then selling it to Dell in 2010. After working in the suburbs for a decade, he wanted his new venture to be built downtown.

Now, Guru is located on Broad Street in Center City. The culture Guru’s been able to build wouldn’t have been possible in the suburbs, he said.

“Our culture comes from the creation of our ‘north star,’ the core beliefs and convictions of our company,” Nucci said. “They’re worth nothing if you’re not enforcing them on a super consistent basis.”

A borrowed phrase Nucci said he repeats constantly is “culture trumps strategy,” meaning that a company can change its strategy all the time, but if you don’t have the right team in place, the strategy isn’t going to work.

Daniel asked Nucci about Guru’s hiring strategy, for which he shouted-out three pipeline resources the company has heavily relied on: PowertoFly, Hire Tech Ladies and People of Color IT. Of Guru’s approximately 140 employees, currently 41% are non male and 21% are people of color, he said.

“These are just our baselines right now, for us to improve upon,” Nucci said.

The pair also discussed the importance of representation in tech, especially when developing artificial intelligence that’s supposed to support and enhance employees’ skills.

Youngmoo Kim, director of Drexel University’s ExCITe Center, and Uva Coles, associate VP of civic and global engagement at Widner University, lead the second portion of the evening, an interactive table discussion around topics of inclusion and equity.

Folks were asked to discuss questions such as “What practical steps have you taken (or experienced) that support inclusive hiring or promotion practices?” and “What inclusive partnerships are you working on or have participated in?”

Attendees called out public-private sector partnerships, resources for hiring and even wide-ranging ways to think about diversity.

“Yes, diversity is looking differently, but it’s also age differences and differences in cognitive ability and familial structure,” said Sally Guzik, director of the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC).

As the evening was wrapping up, Kim prompted attendees to pull out their phones for a tech-assisted musical moment to Sam Cooke’s “What a Wonderful World.”

The night ended with Daniel shouting out of groups and individuals in the city who are actively working toward inclusion by creating “seats at the table.”

Those included PHL Diversity Conference, Venture Cafe and CIC, North Broad Renaissance, Caphe Roasters, B.PHL, Jumpstart Germantown, Comcast Accessibility Product Manager Mikey Ilagan,HUE Tech Summit, Technically Media (hi!) and Young Dragons — Summer Steam program with Malcolm Jenkins.

After wrapping up, Smalls told Technical.ly that three words came to mind: “energized, excited and hopeful.”

Her intentions of moving the dinner to later in the fall to correlate with Founder Factory is serving the intended purpose of being able to continue larger conversations of equity and inclusion into more tech-focused talks Thursday, she said. Smalls also emphasized that half of the dinner’s attendees were new to the event this year.

“We are continuing to add to this ecosystem,” she said. “That is a highlight for me.”

Founder Factory events continue Thursday with a full day of talks, mentorship, networking and entrepreneurial resources at La Peg in Old City.

Companies: Philly Startup Leaders

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