Branden and Bruce Jones have brought lessons learned from Blk Hack to the city's bootstrap summit.
This week marks the fourth Columbus Startup Week, the annual gathering of the city’s entrepreneurial set for a host of keynote speakers, panels, competitions and networking events. Each year, different people take the lead in shaping the event, and this year’s summit from May 5-11 was organized by Branden and Bruce Jones, who aimed to promote diversity and inclusion.
The twin brothers had an epiphany at a Startup Week holiday party a few years ago. They looked around and saw few other people of color, so they decided to open the doors of the startup scene to a more diverse crowd. Their solution was Blk Hack, a networking enterprise that encourages minority entrepreneurs to grow their businesses and seek capital while also bringing them together. Blk Hack holds monthly events and operates locally from Rev1 Venture’s headquarters. There are also chapters in Cleveland and Cincinnati.
When it came to making Startup Week a more diverse event, Bruce and Branden say they began internally. They made sure their leadership team included other people of color, as well as women and members of the LGBTQ community, so that volunteers, speakers and panelists would immediately see the inclusionary sensibility they hoped to support. Everyone was invited to contribute and participate—sometimes a lack of diversity is as simple as forgetting to reach out to all audiences, they say. They made sure that everyone felt included and had a voice.
Once their team was set up and their mission was clear, the Joneses say the rest developed organically. With more voices present, new ideas have been popping up—diversity breeds innovation, as they say. The brothers hope the experience encourages business leaders to look at their own teams and realize that something may be missing, and it may only require an invitation.
For the week’s final day on Friday, the brothers are looking forward to the live taping of The Playbook podcast with sports marketing expert David Meltzer, who will interview Pelotonia’s Doug Ulman at 1 p.m. They’re also excited for a 3 p.m. talk with Arlan Hamilton, a music industry pro who founded Backstage Capital, a venture capital fund that provides investments to firms founded by people of color, women and members of the LGBTQ community. Both of those presentations take place at Vue Columbus, 95 Liberty St. To see a full schedule and register for the event, visit cmhstartupweek.com