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Photo courtesy of Patricia Hagen
Photo courtesy of Patricia Hagen

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.

Patricia Hagen is the executive director of T-REX.

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

The desire for inclusivity is high; the level of diversity is not as high as we all hope to achieve.  There are many factors that are influencing this, including higher education’s struggle to recruit and graduate minorities and women from science and engineering programs.

What would a more inclusive ecosystem look like?

We need to work as a community at the elementary and high school levels toward increasing diversity in STEM fields, and at the same time, we need to meet entrepreneurs’ needs in the areas in which all our communities want to create new businesses—both STEM related and non-STEM related.

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

More attention and assistance to minority startups and entrepreneurs in terms of capital and operations would be helpful.  More attention to STEM education and outcomes in traditionally underserved communities is important as well.

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

There a number of organizations working in the region on teaching entrepreneurship to traditionally underserved communities.One great example is the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, or NFTE. NFTE’s director, Angela Lewis, is working with teachers to serve over 500 kids in underserved school districts throughout our community.

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?

Continue to make connections and look for opportunities to positively influence this progress. Facilitate and participate in honest conversations about how best to encourage and support current entrepreneurial efforts by minorities and women and ensure the pipeline of talent development is robust for all our communities in STL.  Strengthen STEM programming and participation throughout our region. Seek funding mechanisms to support these efforts, including investment funding for minority entrepreneurs.

This story appeared in EQ’s Summer 2016 issue.

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Kelly is Cofounder/Managing Partner of EQ and Cofounder of ALIVE Media Group. After earning an M.A. in literature at Washington University in St. Louis, Kelly cofounded ALIVE in 2002. He believes becoming an entrepreneur can change not only the life of that entrepreneur, but also his/her community and the world, and that being able to tell stories of transformation like that is the best job one could have.