Diversity & Inclusion


At the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, we strive to be a hub for entrepreneurs and business-owners of all backgrounds, while also increasing the probability of success for startups.

How do we define diversity?

We define diversity as the presence of a range of entrepreneurs from all walks of life. This means entrepreneurs of different industries, races, educational experiences, gender identities and technical skills. Specifically, we acknowledge and value:

  • The Inherent Diversity of our entrepreneurs - Characteristics that you are often born with or assigned and groups you identify with, such as race, age, ability, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression.

  • The Acquired Diversity of our entrepreneurs - Learned skills which you have developed over time and experiences that impact your perception of the world. Some examples are personality difference, business expertise, skill set, and educational experience.

How do we define inclusion?

In addition to the value we place on building a diverse community, we aim to be a place where all members feel welcomed, included and seen for their ability to contribute to our community and our city.

What is the purpose of this toolkit?

Our goal is to make Nashville the best place in America to start a business. Since our founding in 2010, we have made significant progress towards this vision. According to Inc, we are now the #4 best place in America to start a business, and boast some of the most optimistic small business owners in the country.

Despite this progress, we also know that there is still untapped potential in our community, and understand that the only way we will achieve our goal is if we address the systemic barriers that can prevent business owners from fully living their dreams. Namely, we still see persistent representation, funding and revenue gaps among businesses owned by women, people of color, those born outside the United States, and LGBTQIA+ members. As we have listened to our community over the past nine years, themes arose around key areas of education and action to make our entire ecosystem more diverse, inclusive and equitable. We want to:

  • Equip founders of all backgrounds with the tools, resources and education to grow their businesses with sound practices around diversity, inclusion and equity

  • Equip investors of all backgrounds with the tools, resources and education to address disparities in funding across our ecosystem

  • Equip underrepresented founders with the social capital, inspiration capital and knowledge capital to grow their businesses, while building affirming communities of support that acknowledge their unique experiences

Everyone has a role to play in making Nashville a city in which an entrepreneur of any background can access what they need to make their dream a reality. It is our hope that this toolkit will inspire you to take the actions, big and small, that will impact the success of all entrepreneurs.

DIVERSITY & INCLUSION Best Practices and Resources


D&I for Companies

For employers who want to foster a diverse and inclusive cultural community in their workplace and take action to change representation across industries

You’ll learn:

  • Best practices for recruiting and keeping diverse candidates

  • Marketing strategies and brand communication methods

  • Ways to create policies that promote diversity


D&I for Investors

For individual investors and firms seeking ways to connect with minority entrepreneurs in order to expand their opportunities for success

You’ll learn:

  • Trends in lending and capital investment

  • How to find and engage startups with underrepresented founders

  • Activities to increase accessibility to funding for founders of all backgrounds


Resources for Founders

For Minority-led startups looking for funding to launch or expand their businesses and opportunities to connect with fellow entrepreneurs

You’ll learn:

  • Different categories of investment

  • Resources and opportunities for minority-led startups

  • Local networks to meet fellow entrepreneurs


Recruitment and Hiring

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The Basics: What You Can and Can’t Ask

  • It is illegal to directly ask the following in an interview:

    • Age, race, ethnicity, gender or sex, disability, marital status, pregnancy status, religion, country of national origin

    • For more on how to stay out of hot water, check out this round-up

Look for Candidates in a Variety of Places

  • Yes, elite colleges have a large pool of candidates who can become potentially valuable and successful employees. However, you can find talent in less obvious places (i.e. community associations, news outlets, networks and targeted organizations).

  • Don’t rely too much on employee referrals. While employees often have their own network of individuals who would be great additions to your organization, these people are most likely from a similar background as the person referring them, given statistics that demonstrate the relative homogeneity of our social circles. If you want to create a more diverse organization, increase the diversity of the network you pull candidates from. Seek assistance from those who have different networks than you do. That is, different racial groups, industry affiliations, undergraduate schools, and Greek organizations. By broadening your collective network reach, you’ll more like find applicants you would never have come across otherwise.

  • Partner with minority organizations. They have members who are not only diverse, but highly motivated and talented.

Strive to mitigate the impact of bias

  • Review your hiring technology to ensure that it isn’t programmed to automatically eliminate diverse candidates based on factors that seem meaningless but have potentially biased implications, such as geographic location, gendered language, and educational background.

  • While on the topic of education, be open to applicants with non-traditional career paths. Not all skilled jobs require a 4-year or advanced degree. Plus, isn’t experience the best indicator of future success? Ask yourself if a position actually needs to be filled by someone with a bachelor’s degree or if this standard is another way that you are crafting a workplace that only has a particular kind of employee.

Replace “Culture Fit” with “Culture Add”

  • We understand that company culture is important. However, “culture fit” implies that everyone in the organization is like-minded. There is a thin line between having employees who share the same values and vision for the organization and hiring “yes people”. Embracing diverse perspectives in employees will add to the culture, fostering an environment that is more rich and work that is more effective.

  • Create policies that support diversity

    • Take a look at your current Human Resources policies and identify areas that contradict the diversity that you want to have (Consider: Time off for religious holidays? Paid parental leave? Gender neutral restrooms?).


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Communication is Key

  • Tailor brand communication standards to promote diversity

    • Use gender neutral language in all website content, advertising and job descriptions, etc. Word choice can be directly related to the gender makeup of the candidates you attract.

Represent All People

  • Include representations of a variety of diversity categories in your promotional materials and imaging. Aside from race, gender and sexuality, consider other demographic markers that can go underrepresented and overlooked in the workplace. This includes age, ability, and size, among others.

Optimize Your Reach

  • Be intentional in your use of marketing mediums and platforms. Investigate where and how the audience you want to reach is consuming media. Is it print? Is it radio? Is it online? If so, which websites are they on? Which social media platforms?

Workplace Practices


Make Diversity a Priority by Leadership

  • Many organizations treat Diversity and Inclusion efforts as just a trend or symptom of the changing demographics of society. However, in order to for an organization to become one that is truly inclusive and where the need to be diverse is no longer an effort but a norm that is ingrained in the organization’s structure, leaders need to value diversity. D&I is not something that is simply executed by HR. Everyone needs to realize the importance of diversity and become and advocate for it, beginning with managers leading by example.

Let Your Leadership Reflect the Demographics of Your Organization

  • Make a conscious effort to place qualified individuals from underrepresented groups into leadership positions in your organization. Not only do they demonstrate to the outside world your mission to have a diverse workplace, but it often triggers movement towards having diverse employees throughout the organization. These people can serve as mentors and advocates for other people of color throughout the organization and encourage their upward mobility.


  • It is important for employees to willingly participate in education surrounding how to contribute to an inclusive community. This would include topics related to microaggression, implicit bias, listening to different perspectives, respect for cultures other than your own, communication, and also providing tips on how to step out of your bubble and connect with your co-workers from different cultures and communities, in addition to other topics.

Community Support and Advocacy Groups

  • Sometimes it is helpful for employees who are underrepresented in an organization to have a group of their peers who they can go to and share their positive and negative experiences within their organization. Sharing not only helps them empathize with others and understand that some of their experiences are similar, it also opens up much needed discussions on what can be changed and improved in the organization to make it more inclusive. These groups should also be empowered to share their criticisms and come up with ways they can propose to improve the workplace for members of their group.



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Note to Firms: Hire Diverse Investors

  • Of course, your firm should embody diversity if you have a mission to also increase the diversity of other industries. Aside from that, women and investors of color are more likely to see the potential in startups backed by founders of color based on the fact that people from different backgrounds may view markets and industries from different lenses and thus, see the ability to tap into unseen spaces.


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Search Outside of Mainstream Channels

  • Depending on the industry, there are go-to areas where investors look to find and network with promising startups. Those typically look like major cities where venture capitalists go for opportunities and prestigious universities. Some other areas to consider are: Minority Chambers of Commerce, industry specific minority organizations of color, women’s organizations, historically Black colleges (HBCUs), and Veteran organizations, among other places.

Transparent Application Processes

  • It is not always easy for founders of color to get the necessary information they need when trying to get funding because they are often not given access to certain circles. When investors are open about how entrepreneurs can seek out funding and what it takes to be considered, it makes it easier for diverse founders to pursue those opportunities.

Support Your Community

  • Form your own groups

    • Investors of color are starting to create investment funds that serve the specific group that they want to advocate for. Women investors are making opportunities for women. If you have the means and resources, create the change you want to see.


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