In my time at ExitEvent, I have witnessed a series of diversity and inclusion initiatives fly out of the planning stages and into action here in the Triangle.

These programs share a common goal of turning tech from a traditionally white men’s club into an industry more inclusive for entrepreneurs and innovators of all backgrounds. By virtue and statistics, that’s what makes any entrepreneurial community more compelling.

These initiatives are long overdue, though. And North Carolina has yet to meet an insatiable demand for more diversity in entrepreneurship. The state’s tech community has a diversity index of .72, a number that indicates that the sector is less diverse than the state’s general population. That figure is below the national average, ranking North Carolina 21st across all states.

To me, that’s just one statistic in a heap of evidence that North Carolina still has more work to be done in improving diversity and inclusion in tech.

But although the gap continues, it’s certainly not for a lack of trying among the Triangle’s startup community. The embrace of under-represented founders has widened with mentorship, empowerment and support for all facets of launching a startup.

A series of local programs and initiatives are a solid next step in building an attainable future for women and minorities joining startupland. Several established programs such as Soar Triangle and have grown significantly, and others (listed below) have just emerged within the past few years to build on the mission.

Though it will likely take years for the giants in Silicon Valley to set the precedent for widespread diversity and inclusion in tech, the Triangle is setting a good example.


Research Triangle Park recently announced the latest effort in a year of initiatives to support women entrepreneurs—a contest called TrailblazHER for female-founded, owned or focused businesses.

To the winner, the organization will hand off $11,000 in free workspace and events for a year, as well as publicity and 20 hours of business development consulting from companies based in RTP’s The Frontier building.

Though the application deadline has passed, the community can expect to find out who won once RTP makes the pick on December 7.

Black Wall Street Homecoming

Running for its third consecutive year, this conference started by Code2040 Entrepreneur in Residence Talib Graves-Manns and others celebrates and connects diverse early-stage entrepreneurs with each other and to the surrounding community.

Black Wall Street Homecoming observes, and is in celebration of, the historic financial district in which Durham’s earliest black communities and businesses thrived. The event remembers the economic development spurred by a diverse entrepreneurial communities through time and into the present day.

Kwame Anku of the Black Tech Angel Fund keynoted Black Wall Street Homecoming 2017 in Durham. Credit: Black Wall Street Homecoming

This year’s iteration, held last week, featured themes of empowerment, openness and community through panels, Q&As and talks with a national lineup of investors and entrepreneurs.

Google for Entrepreneurs Exchange: Black Founders

This program hosted by American Underground in partnership with Google for Entrepreneurs entered its second year earlier this month, welcoming 10 entrepreneurs from seven cities across the U.S.

The six-day bootcamp prepares startups to raise funding and pitch to investors, covering the challenges black founders often experience when starting a business and raising financing.

Crucially, participants also get direct meetings with the Google team, mentorship with entrepreneurs already established in Durham and elsewhere, and face time with local and national investors—this year’s investors included Silicon Valley Bank, Southeast TechInventures, 42 Venture Partners and Backstage Capital.

At the end of the week, participants demo their products and services publically. Five won funding on the spot from Backstage Capital.

Kăt′ l- īz′ er

The product of a partnership between e51, Leadership exCHANGE and HQ Raleigh, the Kăt′ l- īz′ er program is tapping into women innovators’ potential to build startups and strong communities around them.

It’s a two-week bootcamp designed to guide participants—women ages 18-30 from around the world—through the process of turning their vision into a venture. “Kăt′ l- īz′ er” means someone who causes something to happen which might not have ever happened before.

The program, which takes place in Raleigh, has continued since its summer 2015 kickoff. The next cohort will begin in January 2018.

Code 2040 Entrepreneur-in-Residence Program

Code 2040’s EIR program, which empowers black and latino entrepreneurs to build sustainable startups while boosting diversity in their tech communities, expanded to Durham in 2015. It provides a $40,000 grant for an EIR to fund their startup as they launch and support diversity initiatives within the tech hub and surrounding community.

Point AB Consulting Founder Talib Graves-Manns was the first EIR in Durham, during which time he opened access to opportunities for local HBCU students to pursue tech careers and education, and launched Black Wall Street Homecoming, while working on a startup called RainbowMe.

Last year’s EIR, Cathedral Leasing Founder Doug Speight, continued this momentum by promoting the growth of local industries and universities, and communicating the role and impact of diversity within them.

Doug Speight: On Continuing to Build Diversity in Durham from ExitEvent on Vimeo.

Earlier this year, Speight was succeeded by Juan Porras, founder of local data analytics and spreadsheet startup Factivate. Porras has been integral to the foundation of Durham’s BRIDGE Minority Incubator, which debuted in August and will continue through November.

BRIDGE Minority Incubator

This three-month tech incubator in Durham aims to boost venture funding for latinx and black founders, which today accounts for less than one percent of total funds raised nationally.

With mentors from Google and IBM, roundtables with local CEOs and tech industry education, the program uniquely focuses on sales and business development rather than fundraising.

The idea is to focus time and skills on those two elements so startups can sustain themselves independently without raising outside capital.

Code the Dream

I first came across this local coding bootcamp while writing an article about computer science education in North Carolina back in January. I found Code the Dream’s model to be a refreshing iteration from other code schools that tend to overlook the reality that not everyone has 12 weeks of time and thousands of dollars to spend on a full-time program.

Code the Dream welcomes students of all walks of life, but particularly aims to support young people from minority and immigrant backgrounds who want to use their programming skills to participate in the 21st century economy.

The program teaches coding skills in a classroom setting, but it equally emphasizes hands-on learning. Tech entrepreneurs and mentors start off by teaching students the basics of computer science, which gives them the know how to code their own app.

The students then advance to the higher level Code the Dream Labs to work with and develop apps for local nonprofits and organizations like Student Action with Farmworkers, which helps migrant youth in North Carolina find education and work, and Raleigh nonprofit Families Together, which pairs homeless families with housing and living resources.

The Pinkubator

The year 2016 welcomed an inspiring figurehead female entrepreneurs could easily look up to—Cindy Whitehead. The serial pharma industry entrepreneur famously jumped through several barriers to get the FDA to approve the first drug to enhance a woman’s sex drive.

Soon after, she sold Sprout Pharmaceuticals for $1 billion and hung up the startup hat to start mentoring and funding promising female founders. She launched a consulting business in Raleigh called the The Pink Ceiling just last year, coinciding with the launch of a sort of bootcamp and coworking space.

The Pinkubator provides mentorship and connections for women-led businesses or women-focused products, some of which may receive funding from Whitehead.

Pink lockers and huddle areas are among the features of the Pinkubator, which opens February 1 in North Hills. Credit: The Pink Ceiling

As applications opened last December, she told ExitEvent that she firmly believes the next billion dollar company could come from North Carolina. Her incubator wants to see to it that this happens.

Black Girls Code Raleigh-Durham

This national coding education organization opened a Triangle chapter back in 2015 to empower local black and latina girls ages 7-17 to participate in the tech community. The program offers workshops and camps for learning web and mobile app design and development, as well as computer games, websites and other platforms.

The program’s manager told ExitEvent in 2015 that what motivated the Triangle expansion was a high demand—local organization and parents emailed the founder asking to open a chapter.

The program has continued for just over two years, with the latest event held just last weekend.

Triangle TechGirlz

The Triangle arm of the national TechGirlz organization is made up of a group of local volunteers in STEM careers who lead workshops and trainings to help educate young girls in all things computer science.

Each session covers a different topic, from newsroom storytelling and multimedia to logic and programming to website and app design to virtual reality.

When the local chapter opened two years ago, the founder of Philadelphia-based TechGirlz told ExitEvent that girls typically decide they do or do not want to pursue tech around ninth grade. The goal of TechGirlz is to capture girls’ spirit for tech earlier than that, so they can have the passion, knowledge and skills to enter STEM majors and careers later.

Shaw University Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center

The result of a partnership between Shaw University and the Carolina Small Business Development Fund, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center is a new space to support and help launch startups and entrepreneurial projects led by students and community members in Southeast Raleigh.

The initiative that formed the space was crafted by the Carolina Small Business Development Fund in an effort expand its support to minority-owned businesses in and around Shaw University.

New Downtown Raleigh Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center is for Catching Dreams from ExitEvent on Vimeo.

The center, which opened in January, has a co-working space and hosts daily workshops, mentoring and training sessions for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Internships with Carolina Small Business Development Fund companies are open to Shaw students as part of the partnership.

The space also hosts local meetups, events and speakers, as well as a film night featuring documentaries that cover business and innovation. Earlier this year, the center presented a Black Entrepreneurship Week with talks, panels and community-building events.

iNvictus Office Center

This coworking space opened in 2015 with consulting and support for minority entrepreneurs, freelancers, startups and business professionals. iNvictus also offers a comprehensive mentorship program called EMERGE, which stands for Entrepreneurship, Mentorship, Economic Development, Research, Growth and Education.

Its nonprofit arm, iNvictus Forward Outreach, provides education and business development services to ventures with social impact initiatives.

In partnership with Durham-based Scholastic Achievers, iNvictus has developed a six-week program to teach kids ages 9-12 the basics of entrepreneurship. It also has two similar partnerships that are tailored to high school and middle school students.

Rewriting the Code

This nonprofit program was founded by a pair of local tech and entrepreneurship leaders who were concerned with the high quit rates for female computer science majors in college. They began to think up ways to connect with these students directly, offering them mentors and internships with Silicon Valley tech giants.

Rewriting the Code’s website cites statistics around attrition rates for female college students in computer science majors.

This provided the basis for a consulting project with Duke University last year, in which 10 female students were sent to California to intern at big tech companies. After the summer-long program, the fellows returned with renewed passions for coding—all stayed in their majors and most lined up future internships.

The results were formative for the concept of Rewriting the Code. And this year, the program accepted its first cohort of 150 female student fellows from top-tier universities. A portion are serving internships at the program’s partner companies located in tech hubs like Boston, the San Francisco Bay area, New York City and Seattle, in addition to the Triangle.

Applications are open for the 2018 fellowship until November 1.

iFundWomen Raleigh-Durham

Sponsored by RedHat, Pendo, Ward and Smith PA Attorneys at Law and HQ Raleigh, a local presence for the national iFundWomen crowdfunding platform has just kicked off operations.

There’s a representative based in the Triangle to help launch the market, with a group of women-led businesses starting crowdfunding campaigns earlier this month. They span a range of industries from consumer products and apparel to blockchain to petcare to photography and filmmaking, and even a makerspace.

Since the program just launched locally, it’s too early to assess what the impact will be. But the platform has already opened up an opportunity for Triangle women to have a new option to raise money for their startups.