Sakti3, NextEnergy Represent MI at First-Ever White House Demo Day
Xconomist Ann Marie Sastry, founder of the Ann Arbor, MI-based advanced battery startup Sakti3, has collected many accolades during her career. But this week might have been the first time she got an in-person “atta girl” from the leader of the free world.
Sastry was in Washington, DC, Tuesday for the first-ever White House Demo Day. The event, hosted by President Barack Obama, was meant to showcase the nation’s most promising technologies as well as the diversity of America’s tech founders. Unlike most at demo day events, where companies pitch their innovations to a room full of investors and network with their contemporaries, the White House participants were telling their companies’ creation stories and highlighting their technological achievements to a very elite audience.
“Being invited to talk to the president and the White House staff is a very deep honor for all of us at Sakti3,” she said. “How often does the president tell you to keep up the good work?” (Check out the video below for more from their conversation.)
The demo day event seemed to confirm the Obama administration’s desire to highlight smaller tech companies creating good-paying jobs, and those companies doing so inclusively. After all, study after study proves that diversity is vital to spurring innovation. As the female founder of a tech company, Sastry is somewhat of an anomaly in her field—only about 3 percent of tech ventures are led by women—and she said inclusivity is a bedrock of Sakti3’s corporate culture.
“We’re a very diverse organization, and as such, we offer one model of how to be inclusive,” Sastry explained. “By collecting stories and examples of inclusivity, the government can be more effective in directing programmatic funding. It’s a deep honor to be thought of as a role model, and we’ll provide whatever insights we can.”
Sakti3 takes a two-prong approach to cultivating an inclusive team. Its management asks the recruiters the company works with to help make sure there’s a diverse pool of applicants. The company also makes it clear in its employee handbook and other official materials that it values diversity.
Sastry and her hiring managers “search every corner of the planet” to find qualified candidates—they go to universities and make the case to students about to graduate and they’re active in trade organizations. Sakti3 has learned over the years, Sastry said, that a company can’t simply wait for a diverse workplace to happen; it takes effort and a proactive approach.
“We still face issues of deficits in the pool of available colleagues,” Sastry said. “It’s both a hiring issue and pipeline issue. You have to consciously want to have a diverse workplace. It’s important to be transparent about unconscious bias and be clear with recruiting partners.”
Sakti3 is also an example of a company that have grown out of state and federally funded university research, and it highlights the kind of success that can be achieved when the public contributes money to science and technology development. Sastry was a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Michigan when she started her company.