Entrepreneurs of color 'can’t wait to be invited to the table' - Generocity Philly

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May 4, 2017 8:07 pm

Entrepreneurs of color ‘can’t wait to be invited to the table’

"We have to make the tables ourselves," according to YIKES, Inc. cofounder Tracey Levesque — and other takeaways from a #PTW17 panel on Philly’s social impact scene.

Mo Manklang, Nate Bronstein, Tracy Levesque and Marc Coleman.

(Photo by Albert Hong)

Philly Tech Week presented by Comcast is organized by Generocity's parent company, Technically Media.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the event's organizer. (5/10, 4:03 p.m.)
As more and more companies consider implementing values of corporate social responsibility into their models, it’s also becoming more important to make sure it’s being done right.

It’s something that’s being taught to students even before they enter the workforce — lessons like how CSR “shouldn’t be an afterthought.

Last night, three local for-profit company owners — Nate Bronstein, CEO of an online inventory and asset management system for schools called SmartTrack; Tracy Levesque, cofounder of web design and development firm YIKES, Inc.and Marc Coleman, founder and president of web design agency The Tactile Group — talked about what other for-profit companies and nonprofits should be thinking about when implementing socially conscious initiatives.

The panel, “Framing Philly’s Social Impact Scene: Where Business, Nonprofit and Philly Meet,” was put together by the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Business Resource & Innovation Center and hosted by Generocity’s former community manager, Mo Manklang, who among other things is now chief of operations for the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture.

was hosted by Generocity’s former community manager, Mo Manklang, who among other things is now chief of operations for the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture.

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She kicked off the discussion by asking how each panelist got into the work they’re doing now. Bronstein, who previously taught in a school in North Philly, said that at some point he realized that he could only do so much as one teacher to change what he saw were systemic issues affecting the youth.

“My mind was very wired in empowering other people, especially young people,” Bronstein said.

With YIKES, a B Corp, Levesque and her wife and cofounder Mia Levesque always knew that they wanted to own a socially responsible business — they had already been making websites for nonprofits and activist groups for free before starting YIKES in the mid-’90s.

Now, Levesque said they’re “really out about that” CSR aspect or their business, even with their interview process to make sure potential employees know what the company’s about. She said she gives her team two paid volunteer days a year.

Coleman also voiced support for that internal culture of wanting to do good and said he makes sure that enough time in a workday is given to employees to think about what passion projects they’d like to pursue. He himself is currently involved with an effort to collect data from 11,000 after-school programs to provide to the Department of Education.

As for the difficulty of maintaining social responsibility in a business, Bronstein touched on how it can be easy to lose a sense of purpose and mission down the line, especially depending on what kind of stakeholders you have — but there are tight-knit communities around the social responsibility space, even if just locally, to offer support and keep you focused.

“So far, cities remain pretty siloed,” he said.

It didn’t take long for the discussion to shift to the issue of diversity, something Levesque said has been a particular calling of hers with her work in #TechInColor, a meetup formed to encourage diversity within the tech scene. While she said the issue of “unconscious bias” is all too real, she emphasized that a way to combat that is for people to just start their own businesses.

“We can’t wait to be invited to the table, we have to make the tables ourselves,” Levesque said.

Levesque added that there needs to be more educating of “straight, white males” in how diversity within a company can bring new perspectives and experiences to the table. As a self-identified straight, white male, Bronstein admitted that the edtech community in particular has been slow on this front, but if anything, he said that if someone is good enough to overcome those barriers, he knows that they’re “damn good at what they do.”

In a room made up of a somewhat even split of people working in either nonprofits or for-profit companies, several questions followed up on the diversity issue, with one audience member asking what the stakes were if we don’t address diversity.

“The core of the city will fall apart,” Coleman said.

But Levesque is optimistic about it, with her meetup group displaying more and more how many diverse candidates are out there for hiring. Last she counted, there were 960 members part of #TechInColor.

“When people say that ‘I’d love to hire more diverse people’ and think they don’t exist, I just know that isn’t true,” Levesque said.

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