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If you’re on a mailing list for any news organization, chances are good you’ve heard that technology startups struggle with diversity. Articles like this one (and this one, and this one) pop up daily, highlighting the issue and any attempts at solutions.

This is a bad thing (in case it’s unclear), and there are multiple sources that prove why diversity is good. McKinsey has a report, FirstRound Capital highlights female founders in its 10 year project, and the National Center for Women & Information Technology actively tracks data. Just recently, Techstars released a report titled “Tech Startups: Diversity & Inclusion, How to Become a Leader.”

Key takeaways from the Techstars report included:

  • 81% of founders say diversity enhances creativity and innovation
  • 67% of founders say that diversity improves problem solving
  • 63% of founders say that a diverse workforce provides greater access to talent
  • 92% of founders are familiar with the term “unconscious bias,” but only 45% are taking steps to reduce it
  • Only 23% of founders say that a diverse workforce improves financial performance

To be clear, this is not just a Silicon Valley problem (nor just a tech problem, but for the purposes of this post, that’s what we’re focusing on). The numbers are stark everywhere a startup/technology company cluster exists. Increasingly in the last 10 years, that has included Ann Arbor, which brings us to the 2016 Entrepreneurial Services Survey.

Every year, the SPARK Entrepreneurial Services Team conducts a survey of all companies served. It is a requirement of the LDFA funding that we receive, and also gives us an opportunity to learn more about the startup companies that we have interacted with over the years.

This year, we sent the survey to 396 companies and got a 57.1% response rate (225 companies responded). 57% is a record response rate, and this volume of responses yeilded some striking results, especially regarding demographics of full time employees.

According to our survey, Ann Arbor startups are more diverse than the national and state averages.

Of course, caveats apply:

  • These are companies served by Ann Arbor SPARK over the last 10 years by the Entrepreneurial Services Team. The companies are or were tenants of the incubator, virtual tenants, bootcamp attendees, etc. This self selects the survey pool to technology companies served by SPARK who were considered startups within the last 10 years.
  • They survey captures a moment in time – a snapshot of the demographics of the survey pool. It is best viewed as a representation, not exact numbers.

What’s important about these numbers is that companies in Ann Arbor are doing something right, and should keep doing it. And, though these numbers look good today against the national averages, they could still look better. We hope to see the stats increase each year.



Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau, Gallup Poll 2015