Case Foundation’s Sarah Koch on the Importance of Inclusivity and Diversity in the Tech Industry

Sarah Koch, vice president of social innovation at the Case Foundation, courtesy photo.


By Laura Lorek
Publisher of Silicon Hills News

Sarah Koch, vice president of social innovation at the Case Foundation, has attended South by Southwest a few times and she noticed a big change and focus on inclusivity and diversity this year.

“Last year it felt like was that first turning point of seeing a lot of attendees who were from diverse communities,” Koch said. “Feeling like there was the beginning of content that spoke to more than just kind of the experience of the privileged white male in Silicon Valley.”

“This year the program coordinators have really hit it out of the ballpark,” Koch said.

Koch spoke about the Case Foundation’s involvement in this year’s SXSW 2018 on the Ideas to Invoices podcast.

Before the interview, Koch had participated in a panel at SXSW at the JW Marriott on “Why Black Women are 2018’s Best Investment,” which discussed some of the successes black female entrepreneurs have had. The panel featured Kathryn Finney, founder of The Budget Fashionista and founder and CEO of digitalundivided, Cheryl Contee, CEO and co-founder of Fission Strategy and co-founder of social marketing software Attentive.ly at Blackbaud and Koch.

That wasn’t the only panel on the topic, Koch said. This year, SXSW had additional panels and conversations around black female entrepreneurs and LatinX female entrepreneurs and other diversity and inclusion panels, Koch said. The Case Foundation also co-hosted a brunch panel with the European Union and the United Nations Women focused on female entrepreneurship focused on the realities and opportunities there.

“I’ve really seen both from a content and attendee standpoint that we’re really starting to have a conversation around entrepreneurship that is encompassing and including all of the different types of entrepreneurs who we knew were out there building businesses today.”

During the Why Black Women are 2018’s Best Investment panel, the panelists discussed how less than 1 percent of all venture capital dollars go to black female-led companies.

While Koch is hopeful change will happen and is happening, she’s also realistic that it’s going to take time. People need to focus on how to change systems and creating an awareness around unconscious bias by investors, she said.

More coverage in the media about diverse entrepreneurs will start to affect the conversation people have about entrepreneurship and inspire others, Koch said.

Organizations that surround themselves with diverse people and look for diverse pipelines can overcome their unconscious bias and perform better than homogeneous organizations in the long run, according to Koch.

“Become more educated on who is out there,” Koch said. “There are some real Rockstars that are building companies now.”

Project Diane, a 2016 Report, showed that only 11 black women in the technology industry had raised $1 million or more of venture capital. That stat has more than tripled in the last few years, according to the panel. The full study is coming out in July, Koch said.

The Case Foundation is the family foundation of Steve and Jean Case. Steve Case co-founded America Online. Jean Case is CEO of the Case Foundation and Chairman of the Board of National Geographic. The Case Foundation has been involved in the inclusive entrepreneurship space during its entire 21 years but it is particularly focused on inclusivity and diversity for entrepreneurship through its Faces of Founders campaign, Koch said. The three ingredients entrepreneurs needs are social capital like mentors and accelerators, financial capital and inspiration capital, showcasing stories of diverse entrepreneurs.

Less than 10 percent of venture-backed companies have a woman on their founding team, Koch said. Less than 2 percent have an African American founder and less than .02 percent have an African American female founder, she said.

“So the capital just isn’t flowing in the right direction,” Koch said. “But the opportunity is there. There are more and more studies saying that investing in diverse teams or investing in women make investors more money.”

The Faces of Founders campaign is the key to the Case Foundation’s inspirational capital. The Case Foundation launched the campaign a year ago and it received 750 stories from entrepreneurs who are building businesses. Koch said.

“They were incredible stories entrepreneurs took the time to write out and be heard,” Koch said.

The top five stories ran in a series with Fast Company, but that wasn’t enough so they launched the FacesofFounders.org to feature more stories from entrepreneurs, Koch said.

And it isn’t a zero-sum game.

“There is so much capital that is being brought into this space that can be deployed in a lot of different ways and support a lot of people,” Koch said.

At SXSW, Case Foundation partnered with Tech.co and Kauffman Foundation on the American Cities House. Case set up a Facebook Live studio and brought through 14 different entrepreneurs, ecosystem builders and investors to talk about what they are doing.

“It was a really powerful moment,” Koch said.

For more on the interview, check out the entire podcast interview on Ideas to Invoices on iTunes and please rate and review the podcast.

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