When entrepreneur Wayne Sutton left North Carolina in 2011, he had a mission: to change the racial, gender and cultural makeup of Silicon Valley.
He also hoped to find success in business, to create jobs and a product that people wanted and used. But he recognized that would only come with the relationships built accomplishing task number one.
Sutton’s mission proved challenging in 2011. As he worked to gain traction for his now defunct startup TriOut, he also co-founded an accelerator called NewME, the first focused on minority entrepreneurs, and filmed a documentary on the topic in Mountain View. The Valley wasn’t ready to embrace diversity then. Tech giants weren’t under pressure to report the percentages of women in their workforce. There weren’t high-profile gender discrimination cases going on. And there certainly wasn’t a dedication to including underrepresented populations, like African Americans, in workforces.
Much has changed since that time, and the small town guy from North Carolina has propelled himself into the national spotlight as a conversation starter and promoter for the inclusion of minority groups and women in the homogenous tech world.
Connect to people like Sutton who started their careers in the Triangle but are now working in the Valley. People like Ryan Allis, the co-founder of iContact, Doug Williams, a former IBMer and Startup Weekend organizer who took a job at Twitter and made out big at IPO, and Chad Etzel, a former Cisco developer who worked at Twitter and Twilio and now Jelly. For his part, Sutton hopes BUILDUP can be a resource for Triangle entrepreneurs.
“We want to find great entrepreneurs and not say, ‘Move to the Bay Area,’ but get them in the door and then come back here and create an innovative company,” he says.
Finally, make entrepreneurship and innovation cool. Events like Innovate Your Cool are a great start, he says. The Triangle will soon follow it with the Trailblazers Startup Weekend, geared toward entrepreneurs from underrepresented populations.
Sutton wrapped up his talk with a challenge: “I do what I can. The question is, what are you going to do?”
After last week’s visit from Steve Case, who said inclusion and collaboration are our region’s biggest strengths, it’s clear the Triangle is already on it.
The top photo is credited to SocialWayne.com.