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Dancing to diversity

Norris Krueger

At the recent Idaho Business Review Breakfast Series forum on building inclusive businesses, Anselme Sadiki, head of the Children’s Home Society of Idaho, reminded us of an old saying: “Diversity means inviting people to the dance. Inclusion means asking them to dance.” I don’t agree! Let me explain… ;)

As I’ve worked with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s amazing ESHIP initiative for supporting ecosystem building (and ecosystem builders), it’s hard not to see inclusion as an imperative. As the Kauffman folks put it, if there are barriers to entrepreneurship for anyone, it’s impossible to truly grow your economy.

However, it’s not enough to just invite the underrepresented to “dance” for them to feel an integral part of the entrepreneurial community. Even if it is well-intentioned, it is not enough. So don’t just ask them to dance, why not ask them to help pick out the music?

Better still, why not have them host the dance?

Instead of events where they have a panel of, say, women entrepreneurs… why not have women’s business groups host entrepreneur/tech/small business events themselves? Or other underrepresented groups like vets, rural, Hispanic?

I saw this in the energy at WICON, Sheli Gartman’s Women Ignite conference, at Venture Capital.Org’s WeROC event, at the Veteran Entrepreneurs Alliance event, and of course the Idaho Business Review Breakfast Series forum.

I was joyously energized by Megan Bryant’s Feb. 22 “Connect the Dots” events and am looking forward to VCO’s April 7 Idaho WeROC.

Years ago when CES was Comdex, they decided to reach out to female attendees with a “Girl Geeks” track that featured… makeup tips? Yikes! While Idaho events are less tone-deaf, I constantly witness subtle (and not so subtle) evidence that we’re not there yet. (You’ve all heard the stories. Yup, they are painfully true.) However, the Idaho Business Review’s event showed me that the glass is more than half-full. There’s no shortage of rising leaders in our entrepreneurial ecosystem who aren’t the “usual suspects” – besides Diane, Megan, Anselme, Sheli, Isaac (VEA) and John (VCO), we have Zions Bank’s Karen Appelgren, Kathleen Nelson-Shue (immigrant entrepreneurs), Idaho STEM Action Center’s Angela Hemingway and Finia Dinh and Commerce’s iGEM gem, Carmen Achabal. I’m sure I’ve missed a couple – if so, yell at me! But what if we brought all of these gems together?

The people with the big money to invest like Kauffman and NSF and SBA and EDA are watching Idaho – they see the potential. They see we are on the knife’s edge. When they ask who I think they should keep an eye on, when Kauffman asked who they should invite to ESHIP, I gave them these names. Each time, their reply? “We KNOW.”

So… anyone feel like dancing??

(P.S. and thanks again to the Idaho Business Review for inviting the neurodiverse guy* to dance)

* and registered Republican! ;)

Norris Krueger is a Goal Champion for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s ESHIP initiative to grow ecosystem building. He is also a leading academic expert on growing entrepreneurial communities, active mentor for Venture Capital.Org and a much-decorated entrepreneurship educator and global consultant to OECD, EU and others. He can be reached at Norris.krueger@gmail.com, on social media or at www.norriskrueger.com/my-last-12-months.

About Norris Krueger