Browse Tag


15 mins read

Colorwave: Driving Diversity and Equity in the Startup Ecosystem

Colorwave is a program designed to increase access to opportunities and support for underrepresented leaders in the tech industry.

In this interview, John Roussel, the Executive Director at Colorwave, shares how the organization is working to build a more equitable and inclusive innovation economy.


What inspired the creation of Colorwave?

Colorwave was born to address the lack of opportunity available to professionals of color within America’s booming venture-backed startup ecosystem.  

While the global start-up economy is worth more than $3.8 trillion (Startup Genome) and has been an engine for societal change and wealth generation for many, communities of color, notably Black and Latinx, have been broadly excluded and underrepresented in this space. In 2020 alone, 14 companies generated nearly $450b via IPO. However, Black, Latinx, and Native Americans were not in leadership of most of the companies. In addition, those most likely to experience the substantial economic upside of a tech company are often the earliest employees – this lack of representation exacerbates wealth inequality within this sector.  

Black and Latinx workers comprise 31% of the US workforce combined. Yet, they are just 12% of the tech workforce (Kapor Center). They are even more sorely underrepresented at the highest levels of tech, comprising roughly 7% of all tech leadership roles (Kapor Center) and less than 5% of startup executive roles (MaC Ventures/Kauffman). Early start-up employee pools often rely on network-based hiring; however, at least 67% of white citizens have white-only networks (PRRI). This lack of diversity often creates less inclusive work environments, as illustrated by many of the large tech companies’ annual diversity reports. The lack of opportunity for communities of color in the workplace has contributed to various societal and business issues.

John Roussel, Executive Director at Colorwave

Beyond these sobering facts of underrepresentation in the innovation economy, Colorwave’s origin story shares a connection to my own personal and professional experience. While growing up in California during the era of multiple tech booms in the late 90s (AOL, Netscape, eBay, Amazon) and early 2000s (Google, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Skype, Youtube), a few things were clear. First, there was little understanding of these nascent technologies within my networks and community as a Black man and almost no pathway to finding a job at these companies at the earliest stages.

Despite being a student in the Bay Area at one of the top places to find talent, UC Berkeley, these companies and industries might as well have been on another planet in terms of our two worlds being connected. The net effect of this as a mid-career professional is that many of my peers went into ‘stable’ jobs in government, legal, nonprofit, healthcare, etc., mainly due to network, knowledge, and access gaps. While others went on to make large or mini-fortunes by working in venture-backed tech, my friends and I remained locked out of this sector’s career and economic upside.

Armed with this proximate understanding of the problem, we officially launched our first program, the Colorwave Fellowship, in January 2021 with 22 fellows. This program was designed to do the following: 

  • Help working professionals from traditionally marginalized communities better understand the venture-backed startup ecosystem
  • Learn about what it’s like to work in a venture-backed startup
  • Support the job search and preparation for open roles across the ecosystem
  • Connect them to growing companies through our venture and startup partnerships

Please describe your model

Colorwave takes a two-pronged approach to make the VC-backed startup sector more equitable and inclusive.

  1. On the talent side, we recruit high-potential, early-to-mid-career professionals of color as Colorwave fellows. Candidates participate in a free, virtual, eight-week educational and networking program that helps them understand and navigate the venture-backed startup industry more effectively. At the end of the eight weeks, we facilitate connections and placement in roles with our partner companies and the startup sector more broadly. Upon completion and placement, we continue to engage program alums with career pathways, industry networking, and entrepreneurship advisory support.
  2. On the industry side, we partner with venture capital funds, their portfolio companies, and other venture-backed startups to unlock access to opportunities for our fellowship participants and support companies in building more inclusive pipelines and organizational culture practices.  

Ultimately, Colorwave is building a virtuous network of investors, startups, and diverse talent committed to making the innovation economy more equitable and inclusive of all communities. 

In just two years, nearly 300 fellows across 60 cities have completed our program. More than 100 and counting have transitioned into new roles across the innovation economy, with most seeing an average $52K increase in their total compensation. We are building a movement to inject more leaders of color into the startup ecosystem. We are encouraged by the progress we have seen thus far and hope to continue growing our movement and impact.   

How do you select partners? Which have you identified as doing impactful work in this space?

We take a targeted approach to our fund and company partners. We prioritize partners committed to supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion and are aligned with our organizational mission to increase access to opportunities for underrepresented leaders. 

A few of our fund partners have made impactful efforts to advance inclusion within the ecosystem. One is Concrete Rose Capital which has not only built inclusion into its investment approach but has also committed to giving 50% of its fund carry to non-profit organizations helping to close opportunity gaps for communities of color.

In addition, at the fund level, Concrete Rose supports its portfolio companies in designing inclusive cultures from Day 1, helps connect those companies to diverse talent as they scale, and connects companies to their well-respected network of operators and LPs. Seven of our alumni have worked within their company portfolio network. We believe they’re building a model that demonstrates outsized returns and transformational social good are not mutually exclusive and can co-exist in investing.   

Another fund partner we work closely with who is doing transformative work to build more inclusivity in the space is Insight Partners. In 2020, the fund announced a bold commitment to support diversity, equity, and inclusion within the fund’s broad sphere of influence. We have worked closely with their Talent Center of Excellence to support connecting candidates to roles across their expansive portfolio of companies. In addition to supporting their portfolio companies in tracking and benchmarking key diversity metrics, we were excited that their pledge removed minimum commitment requirements for Insight’s future funds to enable HBCU Endowments to invest and that they recently were an LP in Monique Woodard’s of Cake Ventures most recent fund announced in January 2022.

A more recent partner, Andreessen Horowitz’s Cultural Leadership Fund, is also doing impactful work to attract Black LPs into their funds and building out a network of cultural icons, talent, and community organizations to broaden access to the tech ecosystem. These particular funds’ management fees and carry generated are donated to nonprofit organizations showing their commitment to doing well and doing good.     

A few other funds and portfolios that have caught our eye include Base10 Ventures, with their Advancement Initiative aimed at leveling the playing field for HBCU endowments and their students. Additionally, Kapor Capital has focused on investing in new companies that close gaps of access for all and often integrate efforts with the SMASH program and Kapor Center into their company support. Lastly, Slauson & Co., via its investment thesis and Friends & Family program, has prioritized broadening access for traditionally overlooked communities.    

All of these efforts are helping to advance inclusivity in the ecosystem. Meaningful change will occur when embedding more inclusive practices into investing criteria, company building, and organizational culture development becomes the norm across the sector.  

 How do you identify ideal candidates for your program?

Our programming prioritizes early-to-mid career, underrepresented professionals with transferable skills to a startup environment. 

The majority of our fellowship participants have come from referrals. Our program has a 100% recommendation rate. We accept candidates twice per year, usually during the Spring and Fall. Applicants undergo a two-part screening process: an initial application review and a virtual interview with our Interview committee, including staff and alumni.

The typical candidate has roughly six years of work experience, proven functional experience, and a desire to transition to a venture-backed startup. Participants come from various industries, including consulting, banking/finance, big tech, higher education, nonprofits, and government. Roughly 75% have non-technical backgrounds such as finance, HR, operations, and strategy. Another 25% are technical, which includes engineers, product managers, data scientists, and designers.    

We encourage candidates to check our website and Linkedin pages for application alerts and other opportunities to join our talent community.     

Can you share any success stories or notable achievements that your organization has had in placing Black talent in these types of roles?

To date, our fellowship program has supported roughly 300 fellows across 60 different cities and six countries. Approximately 110 and counting have transitioned into roles across the venture-backed startup ecosystem. Once placed, our most recent survey in 2021 found that fellows experienced a $52k increase in their total compensation when transitioning. 

There are many success stories from our first couple of years, but the stories below demonstrate different ways people find successful outcomes. 

  • Colorwave Industry Network – Through our relationship with a fund partner, Insight Partners, one of our alumni connected to a growing clinic trials SaaS company. He took a role under the CFO, seeing both a jump in his salary and earning equity ownership in the company, which is an essential aspect of our curriculum and model. More on this here
  • Colorwave’s Peer Network – Four of our alumni could transition to a late-stage, e-commerce company by connecting with a previous alumni who connected them to roles across the company. Three of those who transitioned came from higher education and nonprofit roles, which significantly improved their salary and provided them with company stock options. More on this here
  • Colorwave’s Curriculum and Resources – A recent alumni leveraged the curriculum to narrow down roles at several startups. Using our resources and tools, she landed a job with a growth-stage healthcare startup helping to scale their model. She now has a meaningful role at one of her top-choice companies. 

What future do you envision for Colorwave?

We envision a future where many of our alumni are in prominent positions across the startup world as executives, entrepreneurs, and investors. We see our alumni as leaders who will help transform the future of tech and societal change by holding seats at companies and within industries that are shaping society. In their personal family legacies, they will represent generational change by accessing more opportunities and income to help close the wealth gap and improve their local communities.  

In this particular segment of our economy, we want to play a supportive role in getting companies to think about and embed inclusive practices in their earliest stages. We’ll know our efforts at Colorwave and so many others within this space are impactful when we no longer need to ‘make the case’ for diversity; instead, it is a modus operandi for a successful high-growth business.

by Tony O. Lawson

Interested in investing in Black founders? If so, please complete this brief form.

2 mins read

She Created the Largest Commercial Real Estate Conference Focused on Diversity

Adeola Adejobi is the Founder and CEO of Diversity in Commercial Real Estate (DCRE), the nation’s leading conference for professionals of color in commercial real estate.

DCRE hosts the largest conference in the U.S. that focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion in commercial real estate. The national DCRE community includes 4,000+ professionals, entrepreneurs and developers.

Annually, DCRE facilitates masterclasses, training, workshops, networking, real estate tours and career opportunities supported by corporate partners committed to closing racial equity gaps in commercial real estate.

This year, DCRE will host its 4th annual conference from July 28-31, 2022.

Attendees will participate in four days of dealmaking, keynotes, masterclasses, panels, recruiting and networking at Columbia University.

diversity in commercial real estate
Diversity in Commercial Real Estate Conference attendees participating in an engaging mainstage industry session.

“This conference is about leveling the playing field, working with the right partners who are dedicated to diversity and connecting them to talent and entrepreneurs”, says Adejobi. “DCRE creates a space on a national level to help bridge the wide diversity gap in commercial real estate. Our conference is known to help attendees find career opportunities, business partners, and secure capital for their deals. We are committed to increasing our results and impact, year after year.”

Key industry leaders participating in this year’s conference include: Tammy K. Jones, CEO and Founder of Basis Investment GroupH. Jerome Russell, President of H. J. Russell & Company and Russell New Urban Development, LLC, Dr. Gina Merritt, Principal at Northern Real Estate Urban Ventures, LLC, Buwa Binitie, Managing Principal at Dantes PartnersWarner Walker, Director of Global Store Development at StarbucksYarojin Robinson, Managing Director of Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group (UIG) at Goldman SachsOla Oyinsan Hixon, Executive Director and Assistant Portfolio Manager at PGIM Real Estate.

Register at Sponsors and recruiters may contact to learn more. Follow DCRE on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.

2 mins read

Young Couple Creates Culturally Inclusive Toys because Representation Matters

Matthew and Marnel are the parents of three children (all under the age of five) who love puzzles!

Frustrated with the lack of diverse images shown on commercially-produced puzzles, they created Puzzle Huddle,  a business that offers pocket sized puzzles for children and toddlers.

puzzle huddle
Marnel and Matthew

We spoke to Matthew to find out more about the business, future plans and balancing parenthood and entrepreneurship.

puzzle huddle

What is the most rewarding thing about your entrepreneurial journey so far?

I absolutely love being able to provide a product that parents trust in their homes in front of their children.

I regularly hear feedback from parents about children opening our products and exclaiming “it looks like me”. Being able to add a layer of cultural affirmation and inspiration in the lives of children is extremely rewarding.

puzzle huddle

Most of my high school and college classmates now have young children. There’s an extreme emotional reward sending products to parents that I knew back when academics and social events where our priorities.

puzzle huddle

What is the most challenging part of the journey?

The most challenging part of the journey is balancing business and the commitment to be very present in interactions with my children and spouse.

How do you balance being parent and a business owner?

Attempting to balance parenting and business is a process that I challenge myself on everyday. Children are impressively uninterested in their parents business priorities.

They very easily disrupt any business related multitasking to make themselves the priority of the moment. 100% of the time, interacting with my children is more fun and fulfilling than responding to an email

Where do you see the business in 5 years?

I expect the products to eventually become a standard for children at home and in schools.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Fall in love with process, both the successes and challenges. Also anchor your happiness, self confidence, and self esteem in something other than your business.

-Tony O. Lawson

Subscribe and Follow SHOPPE BLACK on Facebook, Instagram &Twitter

 Get your SHOPPE BLACK Apparel!

3 mins read

TONL Creates Stock Photos That Reflect Global Diversity

As someone who regularly looks for stock photos to use for different articles, I know all too well that quality images that reflect the diversity of Black experience.

Enter TONL, a stock photography company that showcases the many ethnic backgrounds of every day people.

We caught up with co-founder, Karen Okonkwo to find out more about the business. This is what she had to say:

TONL founders: Karen Okonkwo and Joshua Kissi
SB: What inspired the creation of TONL?

KO: TONL was initially inspired by my realization that there was a lack of culturally diverse images online when I was running a separate online business and I needed images.

I couldn’t find images of anyone outside of the white race.

SB: How did you and your co-founder connect for this project?

KO: I was well aware of Joshua’s talents through his girlfriend and my friend, Mekdes Mersha. I approached her about the idea and asked her if I should connect with Josh about the idea.
She endorsed it and so I reached out to Joshua and that is how we started the initial dialogue on the business.
stock images
Joshua and Mekdes

SB: Why is representation important?

KO: Representation matters because people need to see themselves in order to feel like they are welcomed and that they belong.
When one race is pushed in media, it doesn’t send the message of inclusion and subconsciously makes other races feel inferior.

SB: What factors do you feel will make TONL a successful stock photo company?

KO: TONL is of the times. We position ourselves in front of current waves so we are appealing to the general public and our target audience.

We achieve this through our more modern looking images, our voice on social media and the personal appearances we make to deeply connect with the consumer.

SB:Where do you see the business in 5 years

KO: In 5 years I see TONL as the premiere, diverse stock photography business. We will be the go-to for all people and businesses looking to showcase more diversity in their media

SB: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

KO: Know your ‘why’ and make sure it’s strong. It will get you through the inevitable low points of building a business. Your why will keep you results-focused rather than process-oriented.

When you’re process-oriented, you care about all the little steps along the way that it often discourages you. Start each day with the end goal in mind.

Find more TONL images on their website.
-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson aka @thebusyafrican
7 mins read

Husani Oakley of Goldbean speaks Candidly about the Need for Diversity in Tech & More

Husani Oakley is the Chief Technology Officer at GoldBean, an online investing platform that helps people start their investment journey with companies and brands they love, know, and buy.

This week, he will soon be joining technologists and community leaders at the White House to discuss the Obama Administration’s TechHire initiative, and how we can continue to work towards a more inclusive workforce after “he-who-shall-not-be-named” takes office.

I caught up with him to discuss his work at Goldbean and the issue of diversity in the tech industry. This is what he had to say:

SB: You’ve been dubbed a Technologist. What does that mean to you and how did you develop an interest in technology?

HSO: As nerdy as it sounds, my technology interest came from being seriously into Star Trek as a child. My friends, who were also into Trek, wanted to be Captain Kirk, but I wanted to be Scotty. I liked being the person with his hands on the keys, on the buttons making things work.

SB: Goldbean is a tool that helps people learn about investing. Why do think there’s this idea in the Black community that investing in stocks is hard?

HSO: I think the resistance of people in the Black community to being a stock investor comes mainly from being unfamiliar with the terminology. When you make a Goldbean account, you plug in your bank account details and we pull your transactions and we analyze where you spend your money.

Then, we are able to put together a recommended profile for you that includes companies that you know. You might not know what a P/E ratio is, but you certainly know Nike versus Adidas, you know Whole Foods versus Trader Joe’s. We’re trying to show people that this stuff is easy to learn.

Imagine if, right when the iPhone was launched, you saw that suddenly, all of your friends were buying iPhones. That might’ve given you an indication that maybe Apple is an interesting investment target for you as an investor. We want to help people grasp that you can participate in this economy as more than just a consumer.

SB: What is the target demographic for your product?

Husani: Our average age is 29, we have a 50/50 split, male-female, which is great, and the average deposit in an investment account is about $4000. We’re actively talking to young people, particularly women and particularly people of color. The underserved groups who the large financial institutions, frankly, don’t give a shit about.

SB: In terms of diversity in tech, do you see things getting better?

Husani: I think it is getting better, if getting better is defined as the number of people who are not straight, white dudes who are in the field. If you look at the big brand names and look at their diversity reports, it’s fucking awful.

Facebook has two Black designers globally. It’s insulting and ridiculous, but I don’t look at diversity in tech on that level because tech is so much more than Google, Facebook and Apple.

There’s hundreds of thousands of startups alone on the East Coast of the US. We’ve got to count for something in terms of diversity in tech. Everyone at the large companies seems to use the excuse of the pipeline. “It’s a pipeline problem, there aren’t enough applicants.” Of course there aren’t, you’re only looking at Stanford. Have you been to Howard?

Have you been to Morehouse? Did you send your senior engineers to sit there and talk? Do you give money to these computer science programs? No, of course you don’t. So don’t blame the pipeline when you’re not doing shit about it.

SB: Well, damn. Tell us how you really feel.

Husani: I’m just the kind of guy who says this stuff. I’ve been in this field for 20 years and I’m senior enough to not give a shit what anybody actually thinks.  You can’t blame the pipeline and then not do anything for real to solve what you blamed. You can find women, and you can find Black people, and you can find gay people. We’re out here, we’re all everywhere.

I really do think it’s getting better, if only because there are so many interesting startups doing really interesting things, and I see more and more people of color realizing there’s an opportunity here, whatever here means. AirBnB is a great example of, “All of your people are racist bastards? Ok, we’ll just start our own.”

That’s what I love about this country, the ability to say, “Screw you guys. I’m going to to make my own thing and I’m going to put social progressivism in the DNA of my startup.”

It strikes me as so obvious. It’s a blind spot. If we can walk on the moon and make self-driving cars, we can hire some Black people.


-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson





6 mins read

Introducing INNERACT PROJECT: Educating the Next Generation of Design Gurus

Everyone knows there is a huge diversity gap in design and tech fields. What is important to note is that there is very little work being done with underserved youth at a young age to help prepare them and to combat this disparity.

Therefore, exposure at a young age is essential. My goal with Inneract Project is to provide minority parents from underserved communities with valuable opportunities for their kids to enter design fields.

10314548_10152135114198262_8797767453158308380_nI am dedicated to making sure kids (particularly underserved minority youth) get the best chance in life to be successful. This is REALLY important to me.

ip_ads_collectionI was raised in Richmond, California, where, like most young people in urban communities across the nation, I was primarily exposed to sports and music. I ran into design via a scholarship to play college ball but not every kid in the community will get this opportunity.

While I was in college, I randomly picked design as a major. This was because I liked to draw when I was a kid. Through this random act, I was exposed to a new world. I think every kid in the community deserves to know about design.

There are a TON of career options for youth in these fields. I work in the Bay Area where design is an important skill in the tech industry. Design careers are in demand, and as a result, pay well.


Creative fields are projected to be one of the most promising new opportunities for employees over the next 7 years. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

Design in Context

In today’s world, design is all around us – logos, architecture, furniture, packaging, websites, technology, fashion, and endless other places. Even so, few people really understand what design is.

Design “process” encourages creativity and innovation, which drives our global marketplace. It takes into account; function, human values, social conditions and aesthetics. It makes our lives efficient, informed, sustainable, and more productive.

It is deeply embedded into our culture and is used to move our nation forward. Yet, it is a missing piece in K-12 education and most underserved communities have little knowledge of its existence.


Inneract Project is trying to change this. We know from studies that academic achievement by 8th grade is one of the largest predictors of college readiness.

We want to start working with young minority students at an early age, to give them the proper exposure, education and preparation to enter fields in design.photoIn 2015, only 6% of African American graduates received Art/Design bachelor’s degrees from U.S. degree granting institutions. (Higher Education Arts Data Services (HEADS)

As our nation focuses more on innovation, we must educate our youth on what design can offer and develop their problem-solving skills to prepare them for jobs that meet the needs of our changing world.

We must also educate parents and the broader community so they can support this new generation of design thinkers. We believe parents are the key and invite them to not only sign their kids up for our classes and workshops but pass the word around, be involved, and help us build a network of parents dedicated to improving the quality of life and future for our young people.

1098153_10152118967653262_4630090921166282862_nWe are working on an expansion model, testing Inneract Project programs in other cities as well as entrepreneurship for youth. We are empowering them through design and providing opportunities for them to create products that they believe the world needs.



About Maurice Woods:


Maurice Woods is the Executive Director/Founder of the Inneract Project (IP). Maurice graduated from the University of Washington with a BFA and MFA in Visual Communication Design. He played basketball as an undergraduate and professionally worldwide for 7 years. Since graduating, he has taught undergraduate and graduate level courses at multiple colleges, lectured nationally and internationally and contributed to various media outlets including the Wall Street Journal.


Maurice served as Co-Chair of Education for the AIGA San Francisco and nationally as a Board of Advisor for the Diversity Archive Collection Exhibition. Currently he sits on the board for Design Ignites Change. Professionally, Maurice worked as a designer at the world’s largest independent design consultancy, Pentagram Design. He designed extensive identity, retail, exhibit and interactive programs for clients such as Nike, Greyhound, Symantec,, and Google. He has won multiple design awards, featured in publications and is also a Jefferson Award winner. He currently works as a Experience Design lead at Yahoo.

If you’re looking for a Retail Design Agency to help you with the launch of a product or with a company campaign, consider checking out Mynt.


For specific questions or to get involved to help our mission, email us at We are currently looking for fundraising board members.


Contact Inneract Project on Social media:


facebook: inneractproject

twitter: @InneractProject

– By Guest Contributor: Maurice Woods