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Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of Tomas Peña

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.

Tomas Peña is partner/CFO at S4.

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

I feel it’s very open. In my SixThirty cohort, we have a lot of people from all over the world. Nobody cares where you’re from; they’re just listening and ready to relate to you. I feel very comfortable in that sense.

What would a more inclusive ecosystem look like?

I feel that what is really important is that entrepreneurial drive. If you have a dream and you want to fulfill it, nobody should stop you because of your race or gender. That drive has to come from within.

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

Everyone in this space goes to networking events because they want to meet people, so if you see someone who’s shy or not talking to anyone, go up to them and make that introduction. People want to connect in the ecosystem.

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

We have BioGenerator, we have Arch Grants, we have Arch Angels and other angel investors; it’s like a big shelf of opportunities and you have to go and reach for it.

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?

You have to build a sustainable business. You’re in the trenches and you select your team based on good vibrations, but you have to be very open when you hire.

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.