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Innovate Raleigh logo
The fourth annual Innovate Raleigh Summit is on September 10th, and this year, we’re changing things up a bit with a new theme, a new format and some refined goals. 

With just two weeks to go until the event, we’re sharing our thought process behind these refreshed elements. 

The theme 

Why did we decide to focus on inclusivity and diversity? For one, our team has a personal interest in the topic. Innovate Raleigh is operated by two women—myself, and our new executive director, Jenny HwaWe’re familiar with the statistics: only three percent of US companies that receive venture funding are owned by women and only one percent have African-American or Latino founders. Tech giants like Google, Apple, and Facebook recently released some disheartening employee demographic data, especially within their leadership teams. (There’s a great updated graphic here via the Wall Street Journal). 
Jenny Hwa Innovate Raleigh
Jenny Hwa is executive director of Innovate Raleigh. She previously served as development director for the Hopscotch Music & Design Festivals. Credit: Jenny Hwa/LinkedIn
This transparency, and the commitments many organizations have made to increase diversity, is a step in the right direction. And while it will be a long-term process, we’re aiming to use the Innovate Raleigh Summit as a platform to continue the conversation and build upon the work that groups like e51SOARTriangle Startup Weekend: Trailblazers and others have started locally. 
For two, it’s about community. As we work towards our mission of making Raleigh a top-five center for innovation, we’re constantly reflecting on the elements required for a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem: open community culture, education, resources, capital, and corporate engagement. These elements simply cannot thrive if the faces, backgrounds and perspectives at the table are all the same. 
It’s because of this community-centric approach, and because “diversity and inclusivity” are HUGE discussion topics, that we’re focusing on the theme both in terms of organizations and of city development. 
You’ll notice that the Summit kicks off with a panel discussion featuring five of Raleigh’s major developers—Kane Realty, Hobby Properties, Holt Brothers, Grubb Ventures, and Tonic Design + Construction—and our former Chief City Planner Mitchell Silver. We’ll explore how their work impacts the cultural identity of Raleigh, and how the built environment can encourage interconnectivity among residents and different communities around Raleigh. 
The panel is followed by a keynote address from Nzinga Shaw, the chief diversity and inclusion officer at the Atlanta Hawks (and the first person to hold such a position in the NBA). In a post for Recruiting Social last week, Zing noted, “There are 7.3 billion people in this world and every single one is different.” 

She’ll discuss how these differences can make a huge impact on innovation and provide actionable insights for organizations of all sizes to implement effective diversity practices in an intentional, respectful and meaningful way.  

The format 

You’ll also notice there aren’t breakout sessions this year, but instead, a new component called the Innovate Raleigh “Leadership Lab.” 

As “lab” denotes, this is a bit of an experiment. We’ve invited 25 local executives and startup founders to share their career story, the lessons they’ve learned along the way, and how their organization has addressed diversity and inclusivity. Again, it’s about inviting a range of perspectives to the table—from leaders at corporations like MetLife and Citrix, to the entrepreneurs behind Stanbury and Raleigh Denim, and even the new president of Shaw University—as we continue to develop the innovation ecosystem together. 

So what’s the end goal? 

This isn’t about checking off a box. It’s not about good PR, it’s not about tokenism or doing whatever we can to improve Raleigh’s collective stat sheet, and it’s not about promoting growth for the sake of growth. 
It is and always has been about cultivating and nurturing a community for innovators of all backgrounds. The Summit is about convening the individuals, companies, and developers who are shaping the future of our city, and this year, we’re making sure we do so with inclusivity in mind—continuing to grow a diverse talent pool, developing work, live and play spaces with affordability and flexibility in mind, increasing collaborative discussions amongst startups, corporations, and universities, and making sure everyone is part of the process. (Read about last year's goals here.)
Grab your seat at the table by September 7th here.