'Chicago: Blend' works to increase diversity within tech, startup industry

CHICAGO (WLS) -- New data released Friday shows startups in Chicago are becoming more diverse, however, the industry stills has a long way to go.

Garry Cooper doesn't see many Black and brown faces in tech in Chicago, an industry that is overwhelmingly white and male.

"In Chicago, I can almost count all of the Black and brown founders on two hands," Cooper said. "And they make up about all of the Black and brown founders who have venture capital backing in Chicago."

Cooper is the CEO and Co-founder of Rheaply, a startup that helps organizations share materials and resources. He said he's faced many hurdles getting his idea off the ground.

"It was hard to find who I knew who could, like, write an investment check; who had liquidity in their own portfolio," he said. "I didn't have that person."

Chicago: Blend, which was founded by a group of venture capitalists, is working to increase diversity within their industry and the startups they invest in.

"We firmly believe that Chicago has an opportunity to be the most inclusive tech ecosystem in the world," said Lindsay Knight, a venture capitalist at Chicago Ventures. "One thing we're pushing toward, is building a tech and a VC ecosystem that matches the city of Chicago."

Diversity and inclusion experts said more companies are now focusing on their workplace culture and demographics.

"It has taken organization such a long time because, one: there was no coordinated effort or understanding, or someone speaking to what we were seeing happening in our workplaces," said Angeles Valenciano, National and Global Diversity Council CEO.

Cooper and some other local startup CEOs are putting together a fund to support Black and brown, and women entrepreneurs.

"What I'm really hopeful for, is that we can get more Black and brown founders and leaders who are building technologies, who are building products, who are building awesome services that can serve those communities," Cooper said.
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