The Office of Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurship will address the income inequality gap for overlooked communities by helping community members learn about wealth creation, innovative thinking and community stewardship that will result in social impact. The office will work with both UT Austin students and nontraditional students along with community leaders, government, private enterprise, and NPO’s to create strong networks upon which new for-profit sustainable ventures can be launched that will uplift communities.
- innovate and launch startups from underrepresented founders.
- include overlooked communities in the process of creating wealth and prosperity.
- invest in our young people and empower them to build solutions that impact their community in a positive manner and drive economic development and upward mobility.
In recent years it has become clear we can’t address poverty and economic disparity without talking about capital–who makes it and how it’s made. More specifically, we need real discussion around how to give those from lower economic backgrounds the skills and opportunity to create value and aggregate wealth. Skills related to building social capital and financial wealth and capital are transferable, but we have not been intentional about transferring these skills to historically overlooked communities. University of Texas at Austin President Greg Fenves has made it a university-wide goal to create pathways for economic development and upward mobility for our students and our community.
Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurship was launched in the fall of 2018 by Dr. Leonard Moore, vice president for diversity and community engagement. Dr. Moore wanted to create an initiative that will serve as a bridge and an example of how both private and public interests can work together to address the disparity and inequity wealth gap between communities.
Moore recruited Rubén Cantú, whose career has spanned local, state, national and international circles to serve as director of Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurship. His background includes working with private corporations, nonprofits and government agencies.
For example, Cantú has worked with local government to implement economic development policies that include youth entrepreneurial programs, launching initiatives like Work from Home Day and Austin’s Mobility Week. He has advised the Federal Reserve Bank on how to implement policies that can positively impact the community and its businesses on the grass-root level. He has also worked with the United Nations and its Foundation to launch a global activist network that helps craft strategies to promote and implement its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
In 2016, Cantú created the LevelUp Institute, a career accelerator tailored for first-generation college students from low-income backgrounds. This program takes students through a rigorous curriculum where they are tasked in learning how to build a venture and all the aspect of building a business and that surrounds them with a community of expert mentors who are there to help them navigate their way through their journey. Their final deliverable is presenting their pitch to seed investors who have the opportunity to invest or donate to their company.
The Case for Diversity and Innovation
Over the past several years, studies by many different organizations demonstrate that having a diverse workforce actually drives profits and increases morale within companies. Not only does it serve as a competitive advantage for companies because they are able to bring in the best ideas from perspectives they normally would not have been able to find on their own, but it serves as a way to drive community equity within the company.
The problem is that in the past companies have not looked beyond standard approaches to recruiting applicants and miss attracting highly talented diverse candidates who often graduate from non-ivy league, non-traditional institutions. Many companies have been delegating diversity as an afterthought. There are new companies, however, that understand the importance of diversity, are nimble, and not entrenched in old systemic thinking. These are the companies creating opportunities for diverse talent to drive new innovations and initiatives. We inherently cannot have an innovative company that is not committed to bringing innovators from outside of their circle of influence.
The second issue we see in the corporate world is companies that are tied to the concept of “culture fit.” Companies often hire diverse talent only to see them leave within six months to a year. Why? Because companies are telling these hires—often by their actions–“you are now one of us, you must do things the way we do them, and you must let go of any individual characteristics of what makes you unique. If you want to succeed, do things the way we do because our opinion matters more than yours does.” Afterward, companies will express their confusion on why these new hires don’t stay, further reinforcing their bias towards integrating diverse voices into the company.
For diversity to work, we must first focus on the concept of inclusivity. In order to be inclusive, you need to create a space where each person has an ownership stake in the “game” and know that their voice matters. To be truly innovative, you must allow all to freely speak up. When employees feel engaged, with a sense of ownership, they will start innovating. This in turn drives company profits upward. This is what this next generation wants. The ability not just to be free to move about, but knowing they are doing so in a place that is theirs.
We aim to help foster young talent that can go into companies and drive innovation, but also the talent that can create their own ventures and address this disparity head on.
We believe in three things.
- True innovation creates inclusivity because it removes barriers. Innovation calls for the best ideas to come forward regardless of who or where they are from.
- Inclusivity results in innovation. When you foster an inclusive culture, innovation will be the natural by-product of exchanging and building on ideas. As a reference, hip-hop forty years ago built off of jazz, blues, disco, funk and electronic music to create what we have today.
- Innovation cannot be stopped it can only be rejected or redirected. The best way to direct innovation is to embrace it and be part of the evolution. Those who resist inclusivity and innovation will become irrelevant.
We will focus on collaborating with the business community and share with them how to be more inclusive in order to drive innovation.
How will we do this?
- The Office of Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurship will address these three forms of capital by fostering a culture of conscious and servant leaders who will become the executives of tomorrow and the catalysts for generational wealth.
- We will create programs and initiatives that will bring college-age students into the new economy by partnering with high tech/high growth sector companies to engage our students and provide an opportunity for them to work within their walls.
- We will foster system thinkers and teach them about building their network so that it does not just benefit them, but also their community.
- We will leverage the University of Texas’s presence to serve as a convener in the community to provide a platform that students alone might find challenging.
- We will serve opportunity youth and non-traditional college age students who demonstrate the capacity and potential to serve their community by learning entrepreneurship and launching ventures.
- We will be intentional about creating initiatives and programs that uplift women and overlooked communities into entrepreneurship and leadership roles.
- We will work within the University’s robust entrepreneurial ecosystem to plug our students into the many activities and opportunities for seed funding.
- We will help partner and create a region-wide collegiate and corporate mentorship network for entrepreneurs working with neighboring universities and our business community.
- We will teach our students how to not only to create wealth but also how to manage and invest their money so that it grows and can provide a platform for other opportunities to serve their family and their community.
- Finally, we will teach our students the process and practice of social entrepreneurship, and how to create sustainable ventures that respect the community and the environment.
Why create this office now?
There has not been a time in our University’s history where both movements of innovation and inclusivity were leading the conversation.
Innovation is defined by the merging of two great ideas or concepts.
Inclusive Innovation is the future of innovation because it
- democratizes the process of innovation,
- allows us to see blind spots and areas that previously were overlooked, and
- allows the pathway for wealth to be created in new unseen areas and communities, thus allowing for generational wealth.
What is Inclusive Innovation?
- Inclusive Innovation is the highest form of innovation as it takes into account all aspects of the community and allows for the best ideas to come forward.
- We believe that if we are to create a world where equality is one of our greatest ideals and values, we are unable to consider this until we talk about equity.
- We cannot consider equity until all forms of equity have been addressed. Economic equity is one of the most influential and dominant forms of equity.
- Inclusive Innovation fills this gap by leveraging design principles because it’s centered on empathy and helps us understand where our community’s blind spots remain.
- Furthermore, it asks us to think about how we can create a space for those segments to also contribute and benefit equally.
What does Inclusive Innovation look like in action?
Before we talk about what it looks like, lets about what it does not look like.
Inclusive Innovation does not look like our world today. With access to power and resources being held within a few corporations, people, and governments, and many more being left out, we cannot blame this on lack of effort from those left in the margins but rather a systemic oversight, that has led to a time in our world where the most wealth has ever been created, yet so many are still left out.
Education, which was supposed to be the equalizer, has also become victim to this paradigm. Higher education and access to it has become cost prohibitive and is the reason why we are currently in so much debt as a country. The jobs that were supposed to come after a college degree simply are not there, yet we currently promote that our unemployment numbers are at an all-time record low. These two statistics sit at odds with each other.
If we are complicit and are unwilling to collectively solve this problem by influencing policies and rolling up our sleeves to get involved on the ground then we will only expedite the inevitable. That is a breakdown in our society. We can no longer act like a country where everything is ok as long as people get a four-year degree. This belief that college graduates will automatically gain access to the middle-class with a piece of paper is simply not true. This is not to knock a collegiate education but rather to ask that we look at this by the numbers. There are many graduating today without the skills to compete; they join the labor market underemployed. The old formula for success has simply eroded for many.
The path today for communities of color and those underrepresented is being challenged, the quest of inclusivity and equality appears even further off. A four-year degree does give some an advantage but with it becoming commoditized good, some see a four-year degree as what a high-school diploma once was. And to further move the goal-post, today large tech companies are moving towards eliminating the four-year degree requirement. They are seeking employees who are innovative, diverse and can think on their feet. This would seem like a move in the right direction, but when you don’t live in those communities where these companies hire and you don’t have the social capital it might as well remain a dream.
We live in a world where your zip code is more of a determinant of quality of life and lifespan than any other factor. When you learn that neighborhoods have been intentionally divested by municipalities and financial institutions in the past to either thrive or decline, you begin to ask, “if we keep going down this path will this be sustainable over the long term?”
Short-sightedness from our previous leaders has led us to a point where access to quality education, health care, housing, employment, upward-mobility, political representation, and wealth creation have been restricted or are unattainable for certain populations.
How would we begin implementing Inclusive Innovation?
- Become aware of our grave economic and social disparities and learn about how we arrived here.
- Understand that while no one person individually caused these disparities, we as a society must take responsibility to help solve this gap. That is both from a policy and governance standpoint to the individual effort from both the aspiring innovator to the experienced professional who can support and share knowledge.
- Create a culture of curiosity and one that is continuously learning and innovating.
- Embrace failures, early and often, as a leader and as a community.
- Apply human-centered design principles when creating new solutions to ensure that the product or service is able to be used by those communities often overlooked.
- Remember that one individual opinion and the strongest voice can no longer be the dominating factor. We must advocate bringing new voices to the table.
- Focus not just on expanding “diverse thought,” but diversity in its central essence which includes race, ethnicity, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, language, military status, and disability. For when you truly solve for these factors you will end up with many more diverse thoughts.
- Pave a path to leadership for these communities and remove obstacles that typically limit their professional advancement.
- Focus on creating an inclusive environment, which means not just making space, but giving them ownership in the creation of that effort.
- Share knowledge and insights, as doing so will create a community of trust and help advance innovative thinking throughout a society.
- Engage and commit to bridging the gap by working with organizations who are involved in the space of empowering underserved communities. Advocate and bring other partners on board to expand this practice throughout.
Theory of Change
Through the creation of institutional initiatives and policies that help address the inequality gap in all forms, but specifically with education and economics, we can help address and solve for our disparity because of a couple of factors.
- Innovation is inherent to all people; however, some communities have more resources to bring it to fruition and commercialize it than others.
- By exposing and sharing these commercialization skills of innovation embedded with social impact on young people, we can give them the opportunity to create a better world tomorrow and rectify our missteps today.
- When we cultivate more young people to be innovators, entrepreneurs and inventors, they can own their intellectual property and capitalize on it. When they can build wealth, they will scale companies and invest back in their communities.
- When these communities are invested we will see an increase in the quality of education and wealth aggregation as a whole.
- When the economic wealth of a community increases so will the health of that community, and thus their lifespan increases.
- When people live longer lives they create more stable and dependable families where knowledge is passed down and that leads to creating generational wealth.
- Because there is an impending demographic shift in the next 25 years in our country, it is imperative that we invest in what are currently considered minority communities. We will depend on these communities to help lead our country forward.
- When our communities create economic prosperity our states and country benefit and it reflects not only in our Gross Domestic Product but also in our Social Progress Index and Happiness Index globally.
- When a country has these high level of index rankings, it has been shown that they have a more stable, thriving and equitable government and peaceful society.
- When societies are free to think, explore and experiment without the fear of survival they help humanity advance forward because inherently humans are all creators and innovators.
What can you do?
- We need advocates in business and government who will lend their time, resources and energy to help train and foster a new generation of leaders.
- We need financial donors, investors and institutions to get behind this movement and help cultivate, train and empower our youth towards launching sustainable ventures.
- We need friendly policies to be implemented that support the growth of new high growth ventures from underrepresented founders.
- We need the business community to commit to not just opening the door for our students but investing in them over the long term so they are ready to lead our tomorrow.
- We need to invest in early childhood entrepreneurial training from kindergarten through grade 12 in underrepresented communities so that they can see themselves building future businesses.
- LevelUp Institute (Spring 2019)
- Inclusive Innovation Week (Fall 2018)
- Women’s’ Initiative for Entrepreneurship and Leadership Development (Spring 2020)