AI and robotics fields benefit from strong investments in diversity

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Women who want to work in artificial intelligence, robotics and tech hardware have more opportunities today than ever before. Universities are actively recruiting more women into their engineering, computer science, and MBA programs, and these women are going on to found and grow exciting companies.

Perhaps of equal importance, female tech startup founders are building value and selling their companies, and then making the choice to become investors themselves.

I work for Innovation Works (IW), one of America’s most active investors in early stage technology companies. At IW we’ve seen the value of diverse teams in tech. More than 50 percent of our portfolio companies have a founder who identifies as a woman and/or a person of color.

During our 20-plus years working with early stage companies, we’ve learned that when women and other underrepresented founders work in, lead, and invest in robotics and other tech companies, their teams incorporate more diverse points of view, and the products they develop are designed to meet a broader range of customer needs.

Increased diversity in startup teams is also helping to drive conversations around the ethics of technology. Six months ago, it was rare to have the topic of data ethics or transparency raised in boardrooms, VC meetings, or pitches. Today, we hear about it every day and with almost every company we invest in.

Ethics and values are critical topics for startups, and we encourage founders to think about them from the moment they start their companies. By the time a company has grown to hundreds of employees, people at all different levels are making a constant stream of small decisions that can have major impacts on a business. Founders need to ingrain guiding principles early, and at IW, we’ve found diverse teams are one of the best ways to ensure a company’s values reflect, and appropriately balance, customers, employees and society’s needs.

Next month, Innovation Works is hosting its second annual AI/Robotics Venture Fair in Pittsburgh, where over 100 investors will meet top robotics and AI companies. This year, the fair will be held in conjunction with the International Finals for the Hardware Cup pitch competition.

As part of this event, IW is co-hosting a panel discussion to delve into some of the thorny issues around ethics in tech.

While robotics and other hardware companies are only a subset of the technology world, they are poised to have an outsized impact on people's lives. As technology itself becomes more inclusive, these products will have to work well for everyone and the AI/Robotics Venture Fair will be a great opportunity to see how Pittsburgh is meeting the challenge.

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