Boston Innovation Leaders Align to Launch Diversity Initiative

The New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA) today announced the launch of Hack.Diversity, a public-private partnership designed to tackle the underrepresentation of Black and Latino employees in Boston’s innovation economy.

“I applaud our entrepreneurial industry and academic leaders for launching Hack.Diversity, connecting our promising, diverse talent to the city’s growing innovation economy” says Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “As Boston celebrates continued growth within the high technology industry, Hack.Diversity is a welcome resource to ensure more of our residents have access to the industry’s career opportunities.”

Like TechGen, another NEVCA-led student engagement program, Hack.Diversity attacks talent inefficiency at its source, in higher education. But unlike TechGen, which grew out of schools like MIT and Harvard, Hack.Diversity aims to bridge the gap between the local innovation economy and typically-overlooked urban colleges, universities, and two-year institutions.

Inaugural participating companies include Carbonite, DataXu, HubSpot and Vertex Pharmaceuticals, while intern candidates in the first cohort come primarily from UMass Boston, Bunker Hill Community College, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. A pipeline of additional employers and talent sources exists, and is expected to grow in the coming months.

“At UMass Boston, we are intensely focused on expanding the opportunities for minorities in STEM careers, and on producing smart, prepared graduates to fill those roles” says UMass Boston Chancellor Keith Motley. “We’re excited to collaborate with the New England Venture Capital Association, Hack.Diversity, Carbonite, DataXu and others to achieve these shared goals.”

The program was co-founded by Jeff Bussgang of Flybridge Capital Partners and Harvard Business School. “Boston’s innovation community has two major, related issues right now — a massive talent crunch and a glaring lack of diversity, particularly amongst Black and Latino engineers” says Bussgang, who also serves as a member of the NEVCA Board of Directors. “Organized in the right fashion, we have all the resources right here to address this market failure and social justice issue.”

Once they enter Hack.Diversity, both the students and the companies that hire them gain access to wrap-around support and services. Companies receive diversity and inclusion training to enhance their hiring policies and ensure that the work environment is more welcoming to diverse candidates. In parallel, each intern is paired with a mid-level or senior executive within the Hack.Diversity Mentor Network — comprised of dozens of Black and Latino engineers and executives throughout the innovation community — who establish a one-on-one relationship and coach students through their professional journey.

Melissa James is a Hack.Diversity co-founder, and CEO of a diversity recruiting firm, The Tech Connection. Previously with Google, James helped develop the program’s dual approach — training and preparing the hiring companies as much as the hired students.

Supporting both the students and companies throughout the process is a consortium of providers with deep expertise in diversity recruiting, hiring, and training, including the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, the Boston Private Industry Council (PIC), The Tech Connection, Year Up and YUPRO. Joining the founding underwriters are The Boston Foundation and SkillWorks: Partners for a Productive Workforce, who together have agreed to co-invest substantially in the program.

“Hack.Diversity will begin small, but our ambitions are large. We will bring together a coalition of business, civic, and nonprofit leaders to systematically attack this critical issue in our community” says Jody Rose, a Hack.Diversity co-founder and Executive Director of the NEVCA. “Through our success on a local level, we hope to build a national model that can be replicated in other innovation hubs around the country.”

Here’s what some other folks in the community had to say about the program.

James E. Rooney, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce:

“Workforce development and talent retention is a key public policy priority for our members. An important part of this work is ensuring that all of our region’s talent has the equal access and opportunity to the skills and jobs training needed to grow their careers and keep Boston successful in the long term. The Hack.Diversity program is a great way to achieve this goal, and we’re so pleased to be a part of this coalition.”

Jeffrey Leiden, M.D., Ph.D. President and CEO of Vertex:

“Massachusetts has a thriving innovation-based economy, and we can’t afford to leave any talent behind if we’re going to remain competitive. Building on our company’s ongoing efforts to spark an early interest in science among young people in our community, we’re thrilled to help train and one day employ many of these future innovators.”

Pam Eddinger, President of Bunker Hill Community College

“Our students are gaining the skills necessary to excel, but the idea of working at companies like DataXu or HubSpot isn’t something they naturally think about because that’s not where they see their peers going. Highlighting these opportunities, exposing the hiring managers to them, and breaking that cycle is huge.”

Mohamad Ali, CEO of Carbonite:

“Internally, Carbonite has made diversity a priority over the past several years. Participating in this program allows us to continue to do that, and also to take it a step further and really set an example for action in the community.”

Melissa James, CEO of The Tech Connection:

“Getting fully involved with the students, the schools, and the companies is something that sets this program apart. There is a wealth of talent out there, but the road into these companies isn’t clear, and once inside it can be a tough environment. By developing this kind of partnership, we’re clearing the pathways and setting our students up for success.”

Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of The Boston Foundation:

“Our mission is to forge partnerships that help close the income inequality gap. Bridging the gap between cutting edge companies and overlooked talent sources and populations is integral to that mission.”

Katie Burke, VP of Culture and Experience at HubSpot:

“We strongly believe creating a remarkable culture that is inclusive, dynamic, and diverse is integral to our company’s growth and improvement. This partnership is a critical step to attracting and fostering the top technical talent necessary to realize that goal.”

Kevin Bitterman, Partner at Polaris Partners and Chair of the NEVCA Board of Directors:

“We’re especially excited that this program is a unified effort across the Technology and Life Science communities. It’s an issue that affects every facet of the innovation economy, and cuts across industry verticals. A full spectrum approach is critical.”

Mike Baker, CEO of DataXu:

“Participation in Hack.Diversity was as much a strategic decision as a socially responsible one. As a company, we have a duty to our customers to put together the best teams possible to create the best product possible. If we aren’t recruiting and developing from every available talent pool, we aren’t doing our job.”

New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA) members support entrepreneurs winning. Great VCs depend on great entrepreneurs.

New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA) members support entrepreneurs winning. Great VCs depend on great entrepreneurs.