Gaming, Staffing, and Diversity: Techstars Picks 2018 Class for Seattle

Diversity has been a thorny problem for the tech industry—specifically its lack of minority and women-led businesses. Techstars has made a point of the issue, and promised over the last few years to try to make diversity a priority as it selects companies for its various accelerator programs.

Seattle’s Techstars program announced some progress this morning on that front, noting that two founders of the 10 companies it has selected for 2018 accelerator class are African American, according to managing director Chris DeVore. Three of the founders are women.

It’s a definite change from a year ago when DeVore, who is also a general partner at Founders co-op, wrote a blog post about his disappointment in the lack of diversity for the 2017 Seattle Techstars class, which he picked. For the 2018 class, DeVore says he spent time trying to encourage minorities or women who may have previously opted out to apply.

“It was about building some serious trust,” DeVore says. “I’m here, coming to you with serious intent to try to make a difference.”

There is still work to be done, DeVore says. He would like to have more women-led companies and wants more Latino founders in the future. There are none in the 2018 group.

Seattle Techstars has had success in finding Canadian companies with founders of diverse backgrounds, including one from Jordan, two from Pakistan, and another from Iran. However, the program is also dealing with a hiccup because of it, too.

The Iranian founder of one company, Vancouver, BC-based Sprocket, hasn’t been able to obtain a visa to the U.S., DeVore says. He is working in the program remotely from Canada, while his team is with Techstars in Seattle.

The companies come from a wide variety of industries, including healthcare IT, gaming, and enterprise infrastructure—all sectors that DeVore says he believed would benefit from being near Microsoft and Amazon. A large number of the companies somehow work in labor or labor marketplaces, too, he says.

Here’s a list of the 10 startups that are taking part in Techstars 2018 cohort, with descriptions from DeVore and Techstars. The group will present at a demo day in April:

Educative, Seattle: It provides “self-directed, adaptive technical skills training platform for professional software developers.”

Downstream, Seattle: Downstream helps third-party advertisers sell on “leading e-commerce sites by combining catalog optimization, on-platform paid search, and integrated analytics.” The company was founded by two Amazon executives, who have a method for automating advertising sales on Amazon that’s unique compared to how it’s done for other sites, such as Google.

Ganaz, Seattle: Currently an app for helping farmers find farm workers, Ganaz is “a marketplace that connects good growers with good workers.”

Halo, Portland, OR: A connected-car mobile marketing automation and customer retention service, “focused on connecting automotive dealers, car owners, and third-party service providers.”

Launchboard, Vancouver, BC: A project management platform that’s focused on innovation, aimed at validating new business ideas, according to the company’s website.

LegalPad, Seattle: A software company that aims to automate the legal work for obtaining business visas, DeVore says. It is focused on “repeatable business legal tasks and workflows that are ripe for automation.”

Locumunity, Vancouver BC: This is a labor marketplace for “temporary staffing of doctors and other licensed medical professionals.”

Rainway, Atlanta, GA: Rainway has a “low-latency streaming platform” that allows gamers to play PC games on remotely devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Spocket, Vancouver, BC: A wholesale marketplace connecting certain suppliers directly to online retail entrepreneurs, a process known as drop shipping.

WeSolv, Chicago: A recruiting tool that connects businesses and MBA students. Companies can submit a project or problem to WeSolv, interested students work in teams on the project and eventually submit a solution. The company picks a winner, according to the startup’s website.

David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at dholley@xconomy.com Follow @xconholley

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