EDA, Rutgers team up for business-focused diversity roundtable

Diversity remains an important topic as New Jersey works to bolster its economy, and the need for equitable innovation was on display at the first New Jersey Founders and Funders Diversity Roundtable, held Thursday in Newark.

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority and Rutgers Business School teamed up to put on the event, which drew public-sector leaders, academics, investors and entrepreneurs, according to an EDA news release Friday.

“One of New Jersey’s greatest assets is its diverse population,” EDA CEO Tim Sullivan said in a prepared statement. “As we continue to build a stronger and fairer economy and work toward Gov. (Phil) Murphy’s goal of creating the most diverse innovation ecosystem in the nation, we need to leverage this strength and create opportunities that drive equitable economic growth.”

Participants included Darlene Gillard of Newark-based economic empowerment firm digitalundivided, as well as state Chief Diversity Officer Hester Agudosi and EDA Vice President of Technology and Life Sciences Investments Kathleen Coviello.

Part of the discussion during the roundtable.

“Black women-led startups are historically undercapitalized compared to other startups, and that’s something that needs to change,” Gillard said in a statement. “At digitalundivided, we see yesterday’s diversity roundtable discussion as a good first step and look forward to more conversations like this one in the weeks and months ahead.”

The event focused on ways to ensure equity in programs, initiatives and policies affecting business, as well as fair allocation to entrepreneurs of color and other ways of supporting minority-owned businesses.

“This roundtable is one of several events designed to send a clear message that the state of New Jersey is committed to increasing diversity within our innovation ecosystem,” Agudosi said in a statement. “Active engagement among the public and private sectors and our world-class higher education institutions is key to turning this vision into reality.”

The event took place at the Rutgers Business School in Newark, and the hosts noted the event was held during Women Entrepreneurship Week.

“Rutgers’ Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development has spent a decade fostering opportunities for entrepreneurs of all races,” Jeffrey Robinson, an associate professor and academic director at CUEED, said in a statement. “Racial disparities among entrepreneurs are very real and all too frequent, and it is impressive to see the Murphy administration addressing the critical issue of closing this divide.”