Accelerating Diversity

Update (2/18/12)- You can find an extended version of this post on Women 2.0.

Demo Days can be pretty exhausting experiences of information overload as you try to capture the energy of the various pitches & teams (YC has 65 this round) while chatting with old and new connections. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the StartX event last night, which began with quick pitches from their 9 startups followed by dinner and plenty of time to speak with the teams and others in the room directly.

For me, the most impressive aspect of the event was the diversity in the room, from the teams to the investors to alumni. More than enough has been said about ethnic and gender diversity in Silicon Valley, and I don’t wish to add to any of the complaints. I’d much rather focus on the solution and I believe that StartX exemplifies some of the progress that we need by selecting, supporting and launching a diverse group of energetic and brilliant entrepreneurs. Almost 50% (4 of the 9 teams) had female co-founders, as well as representation from several degree programs (not just CS) and age groups. With a mission focused on developing founders through experiential education, I believe recruiting a diverse cohort deeply improves the StartX experience for all and hopefully inspires increasingly diverse applicants in the future. In furthering that inspiration, I spoke with several of the female entrepreneurs about presenting to and mentoring programs that help encourage young girls to explore STEM fields and opportunities, such as the Technovation Challenge.

For anyone trying something new it is vitally important and deeply motivating to see people like you creating opportunities and success for themselves. (This is definitely true for first-generation college bound students and I imagine it’s the same for first-time entrepreneurs –it helps if someone is blazing the trail with you.) I’m thrilled with the role StartX is playing and am anxious to see how they will scale this to other universities and communities in the years to come. Just Start It!

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Just StartX It!

StartX, aiming to establish themselves as the “YCombinator of Stanford,” hosted a successful demo day today, leaving standing room only at Annenberg Auditorium. The teams, consisting mainly of Stanford undergrads, grad students and alumni, were chosen out of hundreds of applications and were full of praise for the accelerator program that introduced them to the lingo, mentorship and relationships necessary to launch their startups. The event started with a quick message from Board Member and long time supporter, George Zachary, from Charles River Ventures.

Half of the companies in their portfolio pitched today (see below for a list) and did a great job conveying their energy and enthusiasm. While the teams and product ideas were impressive, I was most excited by the program itself which is explicitly providing educational support to entrepreneurs, encouraging them to explore the unique opportunities available to them as part of the Stanford and Silicon Valley community. One of the speakers captured the theme of the day in their statement, “I know many of you could get a job with Google or Facebook tomorrow, but I highly encourage you to join one of the startups you see here, even as a side project.” I loved the positivity around the program and the overall message to explore entrepreneurship and take advantage of the resources right here in front of you (especially StartX.)

Applications for the next round are due this Wednesday, October 5th and they are aggressively recruiting for staff positions as well.

StartX companies that pitched today (in order of presentation):

  1. Morpheus: creating the first patient-specific airflow simulation software for medical applications.
  2. Kitchit: bridging private chefs and event planners to create personal, in-home fine dining experiences
  3. Modewalk: creating the most emotionally engaging shopping experience online for luxury goods
  4. 6Dot: developing a new portable, easy-to-use braille labeling device based on unique labeling technology
  5. Black Swan Solar: making solar energy cheaper than coal
  6. WifiSlam: enabling a technology for indoor positioning, location based tagging/check-ins in indoor spaces
  7. qWhisper: social search platform that will revolutionize the way people discover and find information from their social graph
  8. HungryTribe: meal planning and nutrition information targeted for corporations to save money on healthcare costs
  9. ClassOwl: online app for students/teachers to create personalized planners
  10. MotionMath: pioneering movement-based learning games for mobile devices
  11. Tactilize: creating the first publishing app for tablets
  12. diffbot: applies computer vision techniques to extract useful metadata from web docs.
  13. Loki Studios: utilizes GPS-enabled mobile devices to bring content-awareness to immersive social gaming
  14. FountainLoop: website and mobile application to help you find campus events and discover nearby friends.
  15. AiryLabs: creating the next generation of social learning games for kids
  16. Gameclosure: multiplatform. multiplayer. HTML5.
  17. Lark: enables the mobile phone to monitor, alert and improve sleep