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What does it mean to be unvalley? At its core, being unvalley means embracing and leveraging your tech hub’s unique local culture rather than trying to be Silicon Valley. In doing so, we’ll create tech ecosystems so vibrant that we will, over time, correct market inefficiencies such as access to capital and talent.

But these are largely business stakes, and there’s far, far more impact tech can create by aligning business stakes with cultural ones. A prime example: diversity and inclusion (or D&I), two related but separate issues. D&I leader Vernā Myers distinguishes them nicely: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Why Being Unvalley Is Crucial to Improving Diversity and Inclusion

I’ve been working on a D&I article for Thinkruptor magazine, and as I’ve been writing, it’s occurred to me that D&I issues are not something Silicon Valley appears positioned to solve. Entrepreneur-turned-investor Ade Olonoh pointed out on our Fuse50 Cincinnati diversity and inclusion panel that the Valley lacks the demographics to innovate much in D&I. He points to the Bay Area’s black population, which is around 9% (it’s about 6% in San Francisco). Compare that to Cincinnati, whose black population nears 45% (about 12% for the metro area).

“Our assumption is there’s more diversity on the coast, when that actually isn’t the case,” Olonoh says.

And then, of course, Silicon Valley has its own history working against it. Its several-decades head start over other tech hubs led to the entrenchment of some repellant cultural elements (think brogrammer culture).

If it’s true that talent will determine the where the next tech investment hubs will be, and that VCs recognize talent as a reason Silicon Valley is losing its gravitational pull, then it seems regional tech hubs have a prime opportunity to innovate around D&I.

But we still face a big problem. As long as tech resources remain disproportionally concentrated in Silicon Valley, our attention will remain disproportionally concentrated on Silicon Valley, even when the Valley isn’t where we should be looking.

The Rising Tide of Diversity and Inclusion

If the problem is simply critical mass, then we have cause to be optimistic. Brick by brick, we’re seeing more and more VC firms, accelerators, and other resources making D&I a core part of their business strategy and cultural identity. And many are picking locations outside the Valley.

For example, several weeks ago I had the pleasure of talking with Arlan Hamilton at Launch Tennessee’s 36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival. Hamilton went from homeless to founder of Backstage Capital on a vision of investing in underrepresented entrepreneurs. The firm recently surpassed 100 investments in companies led by women, people of color, or founders from the LGBT community (combined, these groups receives less than 10% of all U.S. venture capital deals). Just last week, Backstage launched a four-city accelerator for diverse startups that includes $100,000 for a 5% equity stake.

And there’s more. So much more. Sometimes we have to dig for it, but examples are all around us of tech leaders outside Silicon Valley who aren’t content to wait for the Valley’s D&I solutions. I mentioned a few posts back how Courtney Jones, CEO of MomSource Network, raised capital from only women-led funds, starting with Chattanooga’s The JumpFund. Earlier this year, Pitchbook put out its list of 25 black founders and VCs to watch in 2018. And then there’s Hypothesis Ventures, a VC firm who sees Opportunity Zones outside of Silicon Valley representing a $6 trillion opportunity.

Diversity and Inclusion = Good Business

Backstage makes it clear that its approach isn’t for charity or a feel-good story. The firm sees investing in underrepresented founders as good business: “Other VCs see this as a pipeline problem. We see it as the biggest opportunity in investment.”

And for good reason. According to Teamable, companies who prioritize diversity and inclusion outperform ones that don’t in multiple ways:

  • Up to 2.3x more cash flow.
  • Superior performance on key metrics such as customer orientation.
  • Team members 1.7x more likely to develop into innovation leaders.

It’s opportunities like these, where business needs intersect with our humanity to the benefit of all, that will usher in the golden age of tech.

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