Techstars Seattle 2018 Diversity Update: Getting Better, With Your Help

A year ago I shared my frustration about failing to recruit a more diverse group of founders to Techstars Seattle. In that post, I also asked for help from anyone who had experience or connections to share that could help me do better this year.

The response was overwhelming. I was introduced to so many great people, had so many powerful conversations, and learned so much about the likely root causes of my poor performance that I came to this year’s recruiting effort with a completely revamped approach. I just didn’t know if it would work.

Today we announced the Techstars Seattle class of 2018, and I’m happy to report that our mix of founders is meaningfully more representative of the amazing range of human experience that drives our culture and economy forward.

We were more successful with some communities than with others: this year’s class includes three women CEOs, and two African American CEOs (out of a 10-company class). And — thanks in part to the strong global leadership of the Canadian government — we also have founders who emigrated to North America from countries like Jordan, Iran and Pakistan, adding welcome perspective for those born and raised here.

But while we’ve inched closer to a class that mirrors the richness of our broader society, we fell short of our goals in a few important areas. First and most obviously, in a gender-balanced world, having 30% women leaders is still 20% short of full representation. And in a country that’s nearly 20% Latinx, we made no meaningful progress in attracting Latinx founders.

Most important of all, we haven’t yet proven the real point: that diverse founding teams build stronger companies. Our promise to founders is that being a part of the Techstars network will meaningfully increase their odds of success as entrepreneurs. Being admitted to a Techstars program is just a first step on a much longer journey. Their journey with us, and the fulfillment of our promise to them, has only just begun.

I want to thank all of the incredible people from many different startup communities who responded to my request for help. I have learned so much from you, not just about the needs of your communities, but more importantly about the ways I need to change my own behavior in order to earn and deserve your trust. I still have much to learn on this front, but I couldn’t have begun without your help, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the risk you took in reaching out.

So much more to do…


  1. Farrah

    Chris, your devotion to bettering diversity in your program is commendable. I just want you to know that I appreciate you and all of your efforts.

    1. Chris DeVore

      Thanks, Cassie – the most interesting / surprising learning for me was how many people from our most under-represented communities were actively choosing not to apply because they didn’t see themselves in our brand, leadership or alumni. That was hard to hear, but it started a real conversation about our efforts and intentions that started to build trust, to the point that those leaders were willing to refer us into their networks as people worthy of trust (at least until proven otherwise).

      1. Cassie Wallender

        That is interesting, thank you for sharing. I really appreciate your transparency in this pursuit, and shared learnings can and will help others.

        The idea of being able to seeing yourself in something, being able to imagine yourself there because you have a role model that you can relate to, really resonates with me. It’s one reason I volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters, because I want little girls to know software can realistically be a future for them. (Also a reason I loved the film “Hidden Figures”!)

        If people were not applying before because they didn’t think they matched a type you were looking for, having more diverse cohorts will start to change that and encourage even more people to apply in. In other words, I believe your efforts will lead to a positive-impact snowball, if you will. I’m excited for Techstars Seattle!

        Everyone should feel welcome. Thank you for being purposeful. 🙂

        1. Chris DeVore

          Thanks Cassie + agree – it’s a hard pattern to break out of but hopeful that a small change now will lead to progressively bigger improvements over time, as long as we do right by those who took the early leap of faith.

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