While startup activity in the St. Louis region and in the United States is rising, women and minorities consistently have lower rates of entrepreneurship. Addressing the gender and racial equity in the startup community has become a core priority for the region. To align efforts, the St. Louis Equity in Entrepreneurship Collective was formed. The initial Collective comprises twelve St. Louis area nonprofit and governmental organizations, including the St. Louis Regional Chamber.
The Collective is one of 12 recipients of the Kauffman Inclusion Challenge grant nationwide and will receive $420,000 over two years from the prestigious Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to help female and historically underrepresented entrepreneurs of color in high-growth sectors. The Collective will help ensure that St. Louis’ high-tech, high-growth entrepreneurial pathways are open for all to participate and benefit. “Entrepreneurship is a pathway to prosperity for all communities, but especially for communities of color and women in St. Louis who have been historically disenfranchised or underserved,” said Dr. Cheryl Watkins-Moore, head of the Inclusion Initiative for BioSTL, the organization that conceptualized and submitted the grant on behalf of the Collective. “Together, we want to help ensure there is gender and racial equity in the start-up community, which means an entrepreneur’s success cannot be predicted based on their identity.”
In awarding the Collective a grant, Kauffman signaled that the group has the potential not only to transform the way St. Louis supports underrepresented entrepreneurs, but could also serve as a model for replication in similar regions across the country. “Entrepreneurship in America should be available to everyone, yet women and minorities continue to face more obstacles to starting businesses when it comes to accessing funding, education, mentors and markets,” said Victor Hwang, vice president of Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation. “The Inclusion Challenge grants will enable these outstanding support organizations to expand their services to empower more entrepreneurs and help them succeed. The nation and our economy as a whole will benefit from more entrepreneurs generating income and wealth in traditionally underserved markets.”
The importance of racial equity in policy, program design, and resource allocation – as a step beyond diversity and inclusion – became the focus of the Ferguson Commission report after the unrest in Ferguson in August 2014. The Collective is working to purposefully align its work with the report and organizations working to apply a racial equity lens in other areas of the community. This alignment provides a framework that can be used to advance gender equity and address other identity-based inequities that may exist. The Kauffman grant will help the Collective gather regional baseline data and build ongoing tracking systems, receive individual anti-bias training for ESOs, complete a needs assessment and pilot new activities.
Initial members of the Collective that have committed to a more intentional and rigorous process of building an equitable entrepreneurship ecosystem are (in alphabetical order): Arch Grants – BioSTL – Center for Emerging Technologies (CET) – Cortex – IT Entrepreneurship Network (ITEN) – Missouri Small Business Development Center – Prosper Women’s Entrepreneurs – St. Louis Economic Development Partnership – St. Louis Makes – St. Louis Regional Chamber – T-Rex – Venture Café. The Collective membership is expected to broaden and, over the course of the work, members will engage a wide range of partners working to build a robust entrepreneur start-up community in St. Louis.