Profiles in Diversity and Inclusion

How Three Tech Startups Challenge Themselves to Step Up

One of the “behind the scenes” activities we undertake at Inovia Capital is to check in with portfolio companies on how they are building inclusive teams. Among other advantages, these discussions allow companies that have found success in strengthening inclusion, to open their methods and experiences up to other high-tech startups, benefiting all.

In this piece, we profile three companies at various stages who have experiences to share with other startups: Busbud, SnapTravel and Armored Things.


Travel and transportation startup founded in 2011

As a company with a rich, creative culture and the capacity to implement broad programs, Busbud has a series of activities rolled under one brand. Busbud’s initiative, The Omnibus Project, addresses diversity internally and within their global customer base.

Key pillars of the Omnibus Project:

  • Community: strengthening communication and building knowledge through cross-functional lunches, including an event bringing Ladies Learning Code to their offices for a discovery meeting.
  • Product: enhancing the Busbud website and mobile apps to become more accessible to the seeing impaired.
  • Public Reporting: every quarter, the firm reports publicly on actions they have taken that move their diversity efforts forward. Through visibility they hold themselves accountable while helping other organizations learn and grow as well. Follow Busbud’s diversity blog here.

LP Maurice, Co-Founder and CEO shared this detail about how they review and maintain standards: “We review our diversity and inclusion policies from time to time. Although we share our vision for diversity with team members in our Team Handbook, we know that change comes from small daily actions. This is the reason why we created the Omnibus Project, where we invite team members on a rotational basis every quarter to be part of the change.”


Travel and transportation startup founded in 2016

SnapTravel’s story is a reminder of how attention to diversity and inclusion can — and should — begin in a company’s very earliest days. We’re proud of co-founders Hussein Fazal and Henry Shi, who together assessed their future, took action and made real impact while still in their company’s early stage. These gains have laid a pathway to long term success for the company.

At the start of 2018, SnapTravel had 0 employees who identified as women or non-binary. At the start of 2019, we have 30% of our team who identify as women or non-binary, and that number is growing!” — Hussein Fazal, Co-Founder

SnapTravel’s advice is to not overlook the “small stuff”; looking at tactical recommendations, they suggest these avenues:

  • Job Postings — Use a tool that analyzes and helps to reduce the biased language in job postings to ensure you have a more diverse range of applicants. SnapTravel recommends Textio.
  • Careers Page — Ensure your careers page showcases your team’s culture, which is the embodiment of your values. SnapTravel highlighted the fact that they default to transparency, that they are constantly iterating, and that they put benefits like Parental Leave and Flexible Work Arrangements front and center.
  • Providing Opportunities — “It’s easy to say that Diversity in Tech is a “pipeline issue”, and to highlight the problem. We wanted to help create a solution, so we put our money where our mouth is. In 2018, SnapTravel sponsored 2 Fellowships through the Georgia Institute of Technology, providing funding to students from under-represented backgrounds studying in STEM.” — Henry Shi

Similar to Busbud, SnapTravel made inclusion a company-wide endeavor. Their advice for building your own program:

  • Ask fo
    r help! 
    — There are a ton of resources available to those willing to look for them and ask for assistance. Some of our favorites were The Expecting Playbook, The Parenting Playbook and a number of open-source surveys that can get you started.
  • Include the team — Making these decisions in a black box without input from everyone, is a slippery slope — especially if your leadership team isn’t perfectly representative of your employee base or community. It’s important for us to ask the team what they want and what they need — whether it’s relating to Group Benefits Plans, Parental Leave policies or Work From Home structures.
  • Iterate! — As Henry says, “just like we iterate and constantly improve our product, we do the same with our policies relating to people. When SnapTravel started, almost everyone on our benefits plan was single. Now that we’ve grown, and have more families, the needs and ways in which we use benefits has changed, and so we’ve had to evolve our plan to match that!”

Armored Things

IoT security startup founded in 2017

The security space is particularly challenged by a lack of diversity and inclusion, which makes President Julie Johnson a true standout. We wanted to hear how she looks at the issue and what steps she thinks will make the biggest difference.

In response, she shared that a lot of consideration is given to how to advance existing employees through growth cycles. The company pairs employees with more senior leaders to help create natural bridges for advancement.

On the recruiting side, Julie recommends similar tactics as Busbud and SnapTravel, and adds that Armored Things has supported several events focused on advancing women’s careers and interests in technology. At these events, the team tries to maximize engagement with the participants by sending mentors and offering to host workshops.

“Every day, our team is thinking about how we can build our team, our culture, and interact with our community in a way that is inclusive of and collaborative with people from all types of different backgrounds.” — Julie Johnson, President of Armored Things.

The Inovia Capital Take:

As a venture capital firm, we understand that we can play a big role in helping to shift the dynamics of diversity and inclusion for the better. By providing resources, transparency, coaching, and attentive due diligence, we can help startups take real strides towards more diverse and inclusive teams. While our work is ever-evolving, here are some of the endeavors we are pursuing:

  • Enhancing measures to ensure we have a diverse applicant pool at every stage of the hiring process.
  • Incorporating diversity and inclusion as part of due diligence in the investment process.
  • Providing portfolio companies with guidance and recommendations on diversity and inclusion — including monitoring, fostering inclusive cultures, and also discussing the consequences of diversity debt.
  • Establishing the empower initiative, which is an open door policy intended to reach all founders, but especially those from underrepresented groups in tech (such as women, visible minorities, people with disabilities) who seek mentorship and community to fuel their enterprises.