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Photo courtesy of Dalysia Saah
Photo courtesy of Dalysia Saah

Nationwide, the need for increased diversity and inclusion in the startup space has (rightfully) gained more attention. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal government’s anti-discrimination watch dog, recently held a rare public hearing to examine disparities. We asked local leaders in the innovation class to weigh in on what St. Louis is doing right and how the city can improve as we move forward.

Dalychia Saah is the Global Startup Competition manager at Arch Grants.

From your perspective, what is the current level of inclusivity in the tech/startup community in St. Louis?

I think if St. Louis has learned anything from the issues that were raised after the death of Mike Brown, is that we as a community have deep rooted systematic racial & economic issues and that we have a lot of work to do to build a more just and inclusive community. Our entrepreneurial ecosystem is not immune from this reality.

What would a more inclusive ecosystem look like?

I do think there is a bias in our ecosystem that favors particular types of entrepreneurs or tech startups. We love BioTech, AgTech, & all things Big Data. This does not necessarily make for the most diverse community and doesn’t take into consideration how certain groups don’t have as much access & opportunities to the type of education or experiences that lead to these type of companies.

What are a few things that could be done to get there?

I also think we are more excited about bringing new talent to St. Louis than we are about investing in people who are already here. I strongly believe that the African American community here is one of the largest untapped resources in this community. We need to ask ourselves why do our spaces, events, competition, accelerators, investors not have more people of color involved and figure out ways to make these spaces more accessible, inclusive, and welcoming.

What are some wins that you’ve already seen that show we’re taking the right steps as a community?

Prosper Women Entrepreneurs and [BioSTL’s] Inclusion Initiative are doing great work around this issue. Arch Grants has made it a priority to target more diverse entrepreneurs, to diversify judges and to diversify our board.The biggest win is that we’re talking about it and finding ways to address the root causes of inequity.

In your role as a leader in the startup space, how can you use your influence to further progress and make STL’s ecosystem more inclusive?

As a newer ecosystem, I hope that we can learn from more established entrepreneurial ecosystems and tech companies that are now struggling with the issue of diversity & inclusion. We have an opportunity to be intentional about these charges and to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem that prides itself on being diverse and inclusive.

This story appeared in EQ’s Summer 2016 issue.