Building an Inclusive Speaker Lineup

Building an Inclusive Speaker Lineup

PHX Startup Week 2019 planning began with a very specific intention — build an event representative of the diversity of the PHX Entrepreneurship Ecosystem, inclusive of all people, industries, and stage of business.

This charge was given to every single one of the teams who came together to build the event, but as the programming team, we knew an event that claimed diversity and inclusion would fall flat if our speaker line-up didn’t reflect that goal.

As a programming team we are proud to say, mission accomplished!

We set out to have an inclusive event with speakers that are age diverse (both at heart as well as in age), ethnicity diverse, and gender diverse. Most notably, while the national average for speakers at conferences is a ratio of 2-to-1 male to female, PHX SUW 2019 has 46%, female-identifying speakers and panelists.

Our daily track has representation from tech startups as well as non-tech startups. We dove into functional areas of marketing, branding, design, development, operations, founder, growth, sales and legal. Did we succeed? Oh hell yes we did!

But it certainly wasn’t an accident.

So how do you start tackling a community event that’s focused on diversity?

We started by developing Core Principles to integrate throughout the event. Huge props to Abby Rudd and Tari Thomas for all their hard work fleshing out the Core Principles and clearly defining them for the programming team.

Core Principles:

  • Diversity
  • Transformational Leadership
  • Collaborative Problem-Solving
  • Grit — Failing Forward
  • Customer Obsession
  • Future is Now
  • Navigating Technological Change
  • Culture Embedded in Business

After identifying the functional areas we outlined industries for speakers:

  • Tech
  • Non-tech
  • Social Entrepreneurship
  • International

Over time, expectations from prior years of Startup Week, sponsor desires and commonality of speakers, we started grouping people into various “vertical” tracks.

While there is benefit from learning high-level concepts at a conference, the struggle for many entrepreneurs is finding the time to distill that information down into action items that they can take and move their business forward. I wanted to incorporate an idea I’d seen Nikki Nixon incorporate into the Flip My Funnel conference, to deliver actionable takeaways from every session. That central goal became a question to ask ourselves, “does each and every session of 2019 Phx Startup Week deliver actionable takeaways that entrepreneurs can take steps TODAY to move their business forward?”

We certainly hope so!

We were going to start small and “test” an idea to have workshop-style sessions this year and only have one workshop a day. Then the submissions came rolling in, and content around branding, fundraising, sales, gaining PR exposure, leadership, metrics and so on and soon we had two workshops scheduled for each day.

We planned to cut down on the total number of sessions each day, focusing on quality over quantity of speakers. Then, as the deadline for speaker applications came and went, it became apparent that we had too many quality speakers, passionate about sharing their experience with fellow entrepreneurs, we decided to add more sessions to the lineup to accommodate, and still had difficult choices to make.

We started with 14 sessions a day, 4 for a technical track, 4 for a non-technical track, 4 for functional content and then a keynote and panel, resulting in 70 sessions for a 5-day conference. The ~200 submissions we received from amazing people throughout the Valley made it apparent that we needed to adjust (heck, isn’t that what entrepreneurs do all the time anyway?)

We now have 22 sessions each day, for a total of 132 total sessions (that’s after we expanded to add on Saturday as well). Every day there is a technical track, a non-technical track, two functional content tracks, two introductory 101 style sessions, two workshops, and two keynote/panel sessions. Adding all the people that are co-presenting, on panels, and sponsored content, we’ve got over 150 amazing people donating their time to help you learn and grow yourself and your business.

Speaker Selection

A common question, especially for anyone that didn’t get selected to speak, is how did we choose speakers? I’ll tell you how we did it, though we already have learned and heard from other people’s ideas that might make this better next time around.

If you haven’t seen it mentioned before, the entire group of people that put together PhxStartupWeek is completely volunteer-based. This shows that there are a bunch of people interested in and invested in the success of the entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Phoenix. One of the challenges is that the group may not have in-depth knowledge of each industry or have deep connections into well established, large businesses. We have to rely on people stepping forward to say that they want to speak, whatever connections and knowledge our group already has, as well as what information we can gather from individuals to select a bunch of people to speak.

Our programming team started with quite a few hard-working ASU students. They are a great group of people, though as most of us who are young in our careers, don’t necessarily have a wide, diverse network. Additionally, while a few of us had seen a large variety of Phoenix-based people speak previously, the majority of our team hadn’t experienced presentations by some of the larger than life personalities here in the valley.

We decided to borrow the format used last year and have speaker applicants submit a video. Some people who wanted to speak HATED this idea, believe me, we’ve got the emails to prove it. We understand that speaking straight into a camera on your own is very different than getting up in front of an audience and delivering great content with presence. At the time, we thought this method would be most fair as well as get the highest quality speakers that we could. While we have some suggestions for next year’s team, if you have ideas, we’re open to hearing them!

As the submissions came in and we started sorting them, each person on the team chose a primary topic or two they were passionate about helping lead. We then had two other people join into reviewing submissions from that topical area. Using a rubric to grade each submission by the speaker’s presence, the uniqueness of topic, subject knowledge, credibility, and their alignment to the theme. Each area would get scored from 1–5 by three different people with that score totaled.

We averaged all three scores and then reviewed the content to ensure we didn’t have four different speakers from one particular track all talking about the same thing. Additionally, we dove into each area and identified hot topics in the industry that we were hoping would have coverage to give the most current value to attendees. Based on all these factors, we picked out those with the highest average score to be this year’s speakers!

One last item on diversity here. We were very conscious about making sure we had representation from speakers of all backgrounds. Once we got to this list of the submissions from each category that had the highest scores, I did go through and take a high-level view of each topical area to see if we had diverse representation. I was hoping to not “force” diversity into the program and that it would happen naturally.

While there were one or two areas that we pulled up an additional speaker to ensure we didn’t have “a bunch of white guys” for an entire track speaking all day, I’m excited to say that we achieved this diverse line-up that included the 46% representation of women — naturally! Averaging scores from a rubric of items, considering hot topics in the industry and trying not to double up on speaking topics, we found that expertise in our ecosystem is found in a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds and excited to showcase that next week!

For all of you who like data… 200 submission videos, each approximately two minutes long, each reviewed by three people (sometimes more than once, but let’s say one time through for now), means the team reviewed over 20 hours of submission videos to identify speakers for this year’s event.

We really hope you enjoy the event and get a TON of value out of it! We hope each presenter delivers takeaways that help you move forward personally and professionally immediately. We put a lot of time and care into building an event that would allow you time to network with others (since we know and have survey data showing that people really enjoy that aspect of the event) while diving into a plethora of topics and ideas that help you learn new things and perhaps think of things differently.

Whether you love it or hate it, I’ll be at the event all week long, feel free to come by and share how you think things could work better next year. I know there are things we could’ve done better and happy to look for opportunities to incorporate insights from others.

Thank you and I hope to see you at Startup Week!

There is something for everyone at PHX SUW 2019

There is something for everyone at PHX SUW 2019

I’ve spent the last six months working on programming for PHX SUW 2019 and am so excited to share this event with you! I could go on and on about all of the really cool sessions- but let me tell you a tiny bit about why I’m excited about Startup Week this year…

It feels like we’ve got something for everyone, regardless of what stage your business is in, what struggles you might be having, whether you need different perspectives on things from other industries, or want time to get your hands dirty and solve something in your own business with a knowledgeable presenter, we’ve got you covered.

Please note: I am NOT trying to discount sessions I don’t mention or recommend these specifically, they are just ones that come to mind in various categories and used to illustrate the variety of topics. I could literally go through each session and identify people who would find value in it.

Are you struggling with finance or funding questions:

  • Explore how to get your startup noticed and funded with Dirk Beth, a Managing Partner at Hyalescent Ventures
  • Get rid of those bootstrapping myths and Bootstrap Like a Beast with Arizona’s own Justin Gray, CEO of LeadMD
  • Dive into your numbers in this SaaS Metrics workshop with Stephanie Sims, the founder of Finance-Ability
  • Worried with how long funding takes and how to get organized, learn how Qwick raised $1.3 million in 8 weeks with Co-Founder and CEO, Jamie Baxter
  • Crawl Inside the Mind of an Angel Investor with Tom Fulcher, Founder and President of The Idea Gardener as well as Entrepreneur in Residence of the Chandler Innovations Incubator

Are you building a product:

  • Learn how to create experiences that are comfortable, delightful and meaningful with Ward Andrews, CEO of Drawbackwards
  • Want the Design Thinking mentality but want more hands-on help? Work on the 2 riskiest parts of launching a product business with Kaitlin King, Director of Discovery at NUMA
  • Want insights from someone successful at creating physical products? Check out Lisa Lloyd, of Shark Tank fame, and understand how to validate your product without spending tons of money
  • Wondering how to prioritize development at different stages of your company with Dan Gill, Chief Product Officer of Carvana and successful entrepreneur from Silicon Valley
  • See how to know if you’re building the right thing with 8 Elements of Validation for Rapid Growth with Michael Hunter, Co-Founder of Spiffy

Are you trying to build a diverse culture:

  • Listen to Brett Heising’s story of building a business from the experience of need as he navigates the world in a chair
  • Struggling to manage millennials (guess what, multi-generational workforce issues are not new)? Join Teresa Marzolph to dive into Creating a Workplace for the Ages
  • Hear the dos and don’ts for building a diverse team with Build Your Company Culture like a Rockstar with LT Ladino Bryson, CEO & Founder of vCandidates

If you’re trying to learn or work on your culture, we’ve got that more than covered with some discussion all 6 days of the week:

  • Kick off the week learning your 3 words to Leverage Your Purpose to Drive Results with Nicole Spracale, Chief Strategy Officer & Co-Founder of PowerVision
  • Explore the interplay between a social mission and profitable business with Kelly Smith, CEO & Founder of Prenda
  • Join an introductory session and get customizable culture-development tools with Valerie Cimarossa, VP of Marketing & Technology and Chief of Staff at University of Advancing Technology (UAT)
  • Learn how to Cultivate a Culture of Community that Support with the group of Ebone JohnsonKeiona EadyDevan Cunningham, and Qosmic Qadence

Are you wondering…

  • What is this Blockchain stuff people talk about? Take the Introduction to Blockchain session with Quintin Baker at EZ Crypto Training.
  • Is Blockchain applicable to me and my business? Listen to real-world use cases from across many different types of companies with Alan Zeichick, Director of Strategic Communications at Oracle
  • How do I start scaling my company or help it grow faster? Jump into Greg Head’s session on The Three Levers of Scalable Growth
  • How do I get more organized and help my projects succeed? Join Cerila Gailliard for Project Management: Three Ways to Improve Project Success
  • How to get more PR for your business? Visit Yael Grauer for a workshop on how to pitch your startup to journalists
  • Which platform should you use for advertising? Check out the Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Instagram Ads, or… Agh! Which will be right for you!? Workshop with Adam Arkfeld, Founder & President of ParaCore
  • How do I improve my pitch? Attend Steve Correia’s workshop on Perfecting your Powerful Persuasive Pitch
  • What’s the journey like to build a software company as a non-technical founder? Listen to Lisa Porter of JobDocs share her journey of going from a nurse practitioner to a SaaS Founder & CEO with a product in revenue

Are you a founder wanting to learn from mistakes of others or not feel so alone in things you might have experienced, jump into one of our daily Founder F-Ups panels at 10 AM moderated by Kate Rogers.

I haven’t even mentioned any of our amazing keynotes, or the sessions on culture, social entrepreneurship, networking and happy hours, etc. etc.

If you haven’t found sessions that fit what you need, let me know on social media and I’ll try to point you in the right direction. Whether it’s a session on defining your purpose, expanding internationally, legal concerns you may have, we’ve got sessions spread throughout the week to help those who can only attend in one location. Session titles and vague descriptions sometimes don’t give you enough details to make a decision, so if you’re having trouble deciding hopefully the multitude of track tagging will help you decide, and if not, give me your use case and I’ll see what I can do to steer you in a direction that’ll hopefully give you value.

Hope to see you at Startup Week March 4–9, 2019!