Obama Urges Entrepreneur Diversity At White House Demo Day

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Calling attention to the low numbers of women and minorities heading startups, President Barack Obama on Tuesday called for increased diversity among entrepreneurs.

More than 30 startups exhibited their work at the first White House Demo Day, which was held as part of Obama’s Startup America initiative to support emerging ideas and innovation.

“We’re taking full advantage of this moment by tapping all the talent America has to offer, no matter who they are or where they set up shop,” Obama said.

That message is particularly resonant among the country’s startups. Only 3 percent of venture-funded companies are headed by a woman, according to a 2014 Babson College study. Just 1 percent are led by African-Americans.

“Capital is tough to come by, but it’s even tougher if you’re not in one of a handful of cities that have a well-developed venture capital presence,” Obama said. “Sometimes it’s harder if you’re a woman or an underrepresented minority who all too often have to fight just to get a seat at the table.”

Despite this reality, studies have shown that venture capital-backed startups with at least one female founder are more successful than male-only ones.

“The next Steve Jobs might be named Stephanie. Or Esteban,” Obama said. 

It seems that some companies are beginning to take notice. Intel announced in June a $125 million investment in startups led by women and minorities.

Other private companies are following its example. Major venture capital firms including Andreessen Horowitz, Insight Venture Partners, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers have committed to ramping up efforts to attract women and minority candidates, and bringing them into their portfolios.

Obama also announced a 10-city expansion of TechHire, which promotes initiatives like coding boot camps, events that will help cities give entrepreneurs easier access to licenses and permits, and the further development of the National Science Foundation’s innovation program.

 “We hope that these efforts are going to open up new opportunities for all of our entrepreneurs — all of our would-be entrepreneurs,” Obama said. “And in the months ahead, I look forward to seeing more folks across this country — investors, accelerators, universities, civic leaders, corporate giants, growing startups — all take new steps to build on these actions.” 

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