ATL Takeover: The Silicon Valley Edition

October 3, 2017

Diversity is in Atlanta’s DNA By Kornelius Bankston, director, bioscience ecosystem expansion, Metro Atlanta Chamber

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Last week I traveled with a delegation of Atlanta’s business leaders and influencers to the tech mecca, Silicon Valley, from September 25-26. The ATL Takeover arrived in Silicon Valley to open a pipeline of resource sharing around two themes: health innovation and diversity in innovation.

Through a range of events on both days, we successfully introduced Atlanta’s thought leadership to Silicon Valley’s top representatives, like Andreessen Horowitz, 23andme, eBay and the Kapor Center for Social Impact.

One of the most impactful panels we hosted was Silencing the Shame, which featured Tariq Meyers, head of inclusion and diversity for Lyft, Shanti Das, founder of Silence the Shame, and Arshya Vahabzadeh, M.D., chief medical officer of Brain Power. We talked about the role of technology and culture in driving mental health innovation. The conversation brought perspective to the advocacy and awareness work that Silence the Shame is leading with media impressions. Tariq shared the importance of having a corporate culture that offers services and resources that can provide an outlet to get mental health support in real time. The Silicon Valley tech community is highly competitive and has shown very high rewards for success, but it can also take a toll on one’s mental health. Dr. Vahabzadeh urged the need to observe changes in individual’s behavior that might be a sign that he/she may need to seek some help.

What was great about this experience was the range of backgrounds on display – from hip hop culture and traditional corporate America to the not-for-profit sector and high-tech world, everyone had a voice. I am reminded of the structure of DNA that provides human beings with our unique identity. While we are all inherently the same, our genomic elements arranged or paired differently give us our individuality.

I believe our diversity is our strength in the innovation community. The power to create solutions and technologies to problems that can address a diverse community can be life-changing. Leading the Bioscience practice for the Metro Atlanta Chamber, I recognize that it’s imperative to have diversity at the center of innovation. In order to develop the most effective health care from therapeutics to health monitoring systems, it’s necessary to address the complexity of our differences.

Atlanta understands diversity – we’re the city too busy to hate. I strongly believe Atlanta can be a solution to Silicon Valley’s diversity problem. Our universities are producing very skilled and inquisitive talent. We also have a diverse and experienced senior leadership community that can occupy board of director seats at some of Silicon Valley’s tech companies to help guide direction for the team. We must continue these engaging conversations with Silicon Valley leaders, and in the process, provide real solutions that advance innovation to include all people.