By Mike Jones and Kate Rogers

This year’s PHX Startup Week focus, empowering diversity through intentional inclusion, was reflected at the very beginning of event planning and is the cornerstone this event was built on. The startup community, entrepreneurship in general, and PHX as a community have a reputation for being very male, very white and not only lacking in diversity but unwelcome to anyone who doesn’t fit the stereotype.

We knew changing that reputation would take deliberate, intentional effort, and a community of determined people to execute.

It started with a clear vision and mission

Build PHX into a diverse, entrepreneurial hub where innovation and ideas thrive, by connecting PHX entrepreneurs to a community which cultivates and empowers the entrepreneurial spirit, by providing resources, education, and support; one person, conversation and event at a time.

Acknowledging this is year one- we aren’t expecting to do it perfectly- however, our intention is to do our best, listen to the community, and take the learnings from this year and use them moving forward, to continue to build PHX into a diverse and inclusive ecosystem for businesses.

Next, we established core values to shape the culture of SUW 2019, the core organizing team and the commitments from that team, to be in alignment with an inclusive event for our community.

  • Core Values
  • Diversity through intentional inclusion
  • Innovation through collaboration
  • Betterment of the whole community
  • Entrepreneurs empowering entrepreneurs

How would we know we’d been successful? We created event goals to work towards and reflect on as we made choices to guide the event planning process:

  1. Bring entrepreneurs from across the state together for education, connection and support.
  2. Represent AZ’s entire entrepreneurial ecosystem
  3. Engage people from every: Industry, Background, Identity,
    City, Stage of business
  4. Proactively bring diverse voices to the table through intentional inclusivity
  5. Build community, Drive innovation, Empower action

What began as a feeling, empowered diversity, became the theme, Thrive Together- representing the vision of a connected, united PHX Valley, where all entrepreneurs, businesses, industries and people of all types can Thrive. Knowing we’ll go further when we go together, and we wanted to facilitate that vision.

The Thrive Together vision has been woven through the entire event- from forming the core planning team and moving forward- the choices made were intentionally framed with the question, “how can we be more inclusive?” Each team took that vision and ran with it in their own way, which is how we have the conference we’ve been experiencing with you this week.

Core planning team: We built a core planning team of 49 people rather than the traditional team of 11, which meant we could represent more people, in more industries, with more experiences and backgrounds- just by building a large team full of talented people from all corners of PHX and representative of the talent available in PHX. Our core team was also representative of the genders, races and ages of our entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Marketing: Developed messaging and an action plan to ensure diverse audiences were included and welcomed to contribute to content and attend PHX SUW- as well as reaching out to organizations and groups to share the event- and cross-promoting events from other organizations in PHX.

The marketing team knew we could write all the pretty words we wanted, but if we weren’t making an effort to reach outside of the traditional communication channels then our words would be meaningless.

Operations: Our operations team was challenged with finding multiple locations in multiple cities so PHX SUW 2019 was accessible to as many people, in as many parts of the greater PHX Valley as possible. They intentionally sought out locations that were accessible to light rail and other public transportation to make the event even more accessible.

While there have been challenges with each location, we’re relieved those challenges are even diversified and change according to location. (That was a joke.) Really though, three locations in six days is a tall order and require more work from our team of volunteers, but it means more people can attend and connect to our community, it’s worth it.

Sponsorships: Sponsorships this year made a concerted effort to reach out to potential sponsors with the goal of the event — messaging inclusiveness was a win for sponsors as well.

Programming: Our programming team intentionally set out to recruit speakers who would represent the diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem in Arizona, not only diverse for gender and ethnicity, but also for industry.

The programming team viewed over 20 hours of video submissions and every video was viewed and graded by at least three members of the programming team. The result is 22 sessions each day, over six days for a total of 132 sessions. There are 150 speakers between keynotes, workshops, speakers and panelists.

While men still outnumber women 2-to-1 at conferences (according to Bloomberg in Nov 2018) PHX SUW 2019 is shattering that statistic – 46% of the speakers identify as female.

Volunteers: Charging for tickets this year was a very controversial move, after all, PHX SUW has always been a free event. How were we going to make an event more inclusive and more diverse while also charging admission? The answer was, “you can still get a free ticket.”

In addition to sponsoring tickets for ASU and other students, it takes a lot of people working together to pull off an event of this size and length of time. Anyone who volunteered a few hours could get tickets for the rest of the week- if you were unable to volunteer, there was a scholarship sponsorship available.

We are thrilled with what we have experienced so far this year at PHX SUW 2019 and hope to continue to work to bring PHX together, so we can all thrive. This is year one, and we are imperfect and certainly have more progress to make, we are open and ready for feedback about how we can improve and do better.

We are so glad for those that have made it this week, it just wouldn’t have been the same without you. — Mike and Kate