Diversity & Inclusion
Builders Conference / Philly Tech Week / workforce development

To build an inclusive innovation ecosystem, seek partnerships, improve quality of live and practice ‘relentless incrementalism’

Insights from a keynote panel session at the 2024 Technical.ly Builders Conference.

Kory Bailey of UpSurge, Danae Mobley of 1Philadelphia, Maria Underwood of Birmingham Bound and Charles Mansfield III of InnovatePGH during the 2024 Technical.ly Builders Conference (Sameer Rao/Technical.ly)

Following is a recap of one of the sessions at the 2024 Technical.ly Builders Conference, a daylong convening on building better innovation ecosystems. Notes for this piece were documented in real time on our community Slack — join here. Find other takeaways from the conference here.

Across geographies, organizations are springing up with the mission to diversify local tech scenes and ensure more people get to participate in regional innovation economies. 

That goal isn’t just relevant to current entrepreneurs, according to Danae Mobley, CEO of STEM nonprofit Coded by Kids and executive director of 1Philadelphia. The effort will affect how cities can achieve digital equity and strengthen youth career pipelines, she said, urging decisionmakers to think broadly.

“There can be some hopefulness,” Mobley said, while crafting the narrative of who belongs in and needs to be in tech ecosystems.

Baltimore’s UpSurge sees ecosystem development as inextricable from equity principles, said Kory Bailey, whose title at the organization is CEO — that’s chief ecosystem officer. “It’s about economic impact and social value,” Bailey said.

It’s about treating those people who want to be there like peopleMaria Underwood Birmingham Bound

It’s critically important to track data around inclusive ecosystems, he said, but don’t give up if the stats don’t show progress right away. He shared a mentor’s term he keeps front of mind: “relentless incrementalism.” In other words, “You have to get comfortable with making a little bit of progress.” 

Partnerships are key to making this work actually work, noted Maria Underwood. As president of Birmingham Bound, she’s made efforts to coordinate with the local business alliance and avoid duplication of services — “for the sake of funding,” she said.

That’s especially true in such a small ecosystem like Birmingham, she said, where there are also preconceptions to overcome. The Alabama city had a house at this year’s South by Southwest, staking out a place on the world stage. But at first, many at SXSW thought it was run by folks from Birmingham in the United Kingdom. (“What’s the deal with your accents?” people wanted to know.)

Underwood’s org often brings outside resources in to help locals, like VC firms from elsewhere in the country, but it’s about more than just money. 

Quality of life is a big factor for founders, she said. People don’t move somewhere to launch a company — they move somewhere they want to live and then launch a company there. “It’s about how someone can integrate into and learn to love Birmingham,” Underwood said, “and treating those people who want to be there like people.”

For Charles Mansfield III, the community and research manager at InnovatePGH, getting founders to see themselves not as outliers but integral parts of the community is a key part of inclusive ecosystem building.

“That’s the stakeholder group,” Mansfield pointed out, “with the greatest amount of incentives and resources to be truly impactful.”

➡️More from the 2024 Builders Conference

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