Startupfest Launches The Inclusion Initiative
Most of us believe in the benefits of diversity. Studies have proven that diversity improves company financial performance, helps identify new target markets, and more. After all, various perspectives help to eliminate blind spots.
An organization that truly values diversity intentionally seeks a wide-range of employees and creates initiatives to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table.
Montréal’s Startupfest is a prime example of an organization taking proactive measures. This year they’ve launched The Inclusion Initiative, a program that offers 1,000 discounted tickets to underrepresented communities in entrepreneurship. The hope is to connect entrepreneurs from underserved communities with needed and deserved opportunities.
Getting conscious about who has access
To help publicize the program, Startupfest has appointed Martine St. Victor as a Diversity Emissary. A prominent Montrealer, St. Victor is the founder of Milagro (a public and media relations agency), and she was the host of CBC’s A Seat at the Table (a weekly talk show with guests shaping pop culture).
When The Inclusion Initiative was in its primary stages, Startupfest founder Philip Telio personally called St. Victor to see what she thought of it — and then asked if she would be the Emissary. St. Victor was thrilled, but not surprised that Startupfest would head in this direction.
“I’ve known Philip for a couple of years,” explains St. Victor, “and we had talked of working together since we met. This initiative represents what Startupfest has always been, since its first edition: inclusive and diversified. That’s always been reflected in its roster of speakers. Now, the objective is that it’d be reflected in its attendees.”
More than discount entry
Over the past several years, Startupfest has become an internationally-recognized event for entrepreneurs, investors, and innovators in general. The five-day festival is small enough that newcomers are able to meet who they need to meet, but big enough that plenty of bigwigs are there. Sure, there are over $750K worth of prizes and investments up for grabs, but the networking and mentorship opportunities go beyond easy quantification.
The Inclusion Initiative is already more than just free passes to the Startupfest.
“It’s access to resources on-site,” states St. Victor, “it’s education, it’s mentorship, it’s tools, it’s networking — and all of these things often spill out long after the event itself wraps up.”
A seat at the startup table
Plenty of studies have shown that gender, race and sexual orientation biases are alive and well in the workforce, and this includes entrepreneurship. St. Victor, however, considers herself an outlier.
“Here in Montréal,” states St. Victor, “I was lucky to start two companies with few — if any — hurdles related to the fact that I am a woman and that I am Black. I also know that’s not the case for everybody.”
As progressive as the startup community can be, it is still not a meritocracy. Opportunities are not always handed-out equally, which is why St. Victor believes that those who’ve had opportunities, fair chances and luck, need to reshuffle the cards.
“Every entrepreneur,” she adds, “should have the chance at a fair shot to succeed.”
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