85 episodes

The tech world has a diversity problem: gender diversity, racial diversity, and more. That’s why I decided to start the Tech Forward podcast. Every week, our host, Cheryl Chotrani, interviews entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, media and tech leaders, and diversity advocates. The show features the incredible stories of innovators and trailblazers from underrepresented groups in the tech industry. We also discuss everything from the lack of venture funding for women and minorities, to how underrepresented groups can advance their careers in the sector, to how to hold companies accountable for diversity — and more. Episodes cover all the aspects of diversity: gender, racial, and ethnic, as well as sexual orientation, immigration status, and neurodiversity.

Tech Forward Cheryl Chotrani

    • Investing
    • 5.0, 19 Ratings

The tech world has a diversity problem: gender diversity, racial diversity, and more. That’s why I decided to start the Tech Forward podcast. Every week, our host, Cheryl Chotrani, interviews entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, media and tech leaders, and diversity advocates. The show features the incredible stories of innovators and trailblazers from underrepresented groups in the tech industry. We also discuss everything from the lack of venture funding for women and minorities, to how underrepresented groups can advance their careers in the sector, to how to hold companies accountable for diversity — and more. Episodes cover all the aspects of diversity: gender, racial, and ethnic, as well as sexual orientation, immigration status, and neurodiversity.

    Rebroadcast: Using Artificial Intelligence and Comedy To Open Hearts and Minds

    Rebroadcast: Using Artificial Intelligence and Comedy To Open Hearts and Minds

    Hello listeners, and welcome to another exciting episode of Tech Forward! This week, we're rebroadcasting my covnersation with award-winning comedian Ana-Marija Stojic. Over the last several years, she’s participated in numerous comedy competitions, and been featured in the NBC Showcase at the Women in Comedy Festival Boston 2018. She was also a recipient of Netflix's 2018 Diversity of Voices fellowship at the Banff World Media Festival. On her latest project, “Artificial, the Podcast,” Ana-Marija will be joined by a unique co-host: a functioning AI chatbot. Today, we’ll be talking about her plans for the show, what it’s like to co-host with a chat bot, and some of the important topics they plan to tackle together.
    A self-described nerd, Ana-Marija has always been fascinated by the idea of collaborating with artificial intelligence. In recounting the inspiration behind the show, she touches on the story of a  chess tournament that paired humans with robots. Rather than the “top” performers of each category, the winning duo consisted of a human and a robot who worked well together. “I’ve used this approach when working with anyone, human or AI. The success of a collaboration is based on the least amount of friction.” Together on the show, Ana-Marija and her co-host will tackle politics and the human paranoia towards artificial intelligence, all through a lens of comedic absurdity.
    So what makes this format a good fit to uniquely and effectively address such important topics? According to Ana-Marija, the answer lies in the powerful combination of comedy and imagination. “Comedy is the best way to get people’s guards down and get them thinking about alternatives, really challenging their beliefs. ...Suddenly, anything is possible. Everything is based on the limits of our imagination. If you can expand someone’s imagination, you can change the world.” Currently, she sees her target audience as a mix of comedy lovers and AI enthusiasts, and hopes to someday evolve the podcast into a fully produced talk show.
    While the process of crowdfunding to get the show started was a stressful one, Ana-Marija came away from the experience with valuable feedback from potential investors involved in the AI community. The proof of concept video, which she shot just days after our interview, was a key missing piece that has since played a role in moving the project forward. Ana-Marija has also been quick to adapt the project over time, and incorporate new information in the show’s evolution. She realized fairly early on that the campaign’s success could not be accurately measured by the amount of money raised, and shifted her focus to engagement with the idea and the content around it.
    Ana-Marija, thank you so much for coming onto the show to share your fascinating project with our listeners. I can’t wait to see where this podcast takes you and your co-host. Thank you, also, to everyone out there listening, sharing, and reviewing the show. See you next week!
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    • 17 min
    Rebroadcast: Building Tech Solutions for Social Impact Using Blockchain Technology

    Rebroadcast: Building Tech Solutions for Social Impact Using Blockchain Technology

    Hello listeners, and welcome back to Tech Forward! This week, we're rebroadcasting my conversation with Aishwarya Balaji, Founder and CEO of Impact Chain Lab. By using blockchain technology, Impact Chain Lab is focused on building equitable communities around the globe. Aishwarya became interested in the disruptive power of blockchain in her previous roles as a consultant and leader at Build Academy, and now identifies ways to apply this technology to create solutions in the global development landscape. On this episode, we discussed her entrepreneurial journey, and the various ways Impact Chain Lab uses blockchain technology to drive positive social impact.
    As someone who knew from a young age that she wanted to go into business, Aishwarya’s entrepreneurial spirit is imbued with her natural curiosity and affinity for calculated risks. Her role as employee #1 at Build Academy gave her real time insights into the process of building a company from the ground up. That, combined with her firsthand experience in the venture capital and angel investing sphere, played a significant role in the creation of Impact Chain Lab. Aishwarya noticed that while support for impact investing has been growing, that increased interest has so far not been reflected in the flow of capital. With Impact Chain Lab, Aishwarya wants to use blockchain to funnel funds to social enterprises in a meaningful way.
    Impact Chain Lab’s main focus right now is a project called Bystander, which Aishwarya summarizes as “a cross between Reddit and Wikipedia.” Bystander allows users to retain and to benefit from the digital assets that they create — a power that users of the largest crowdsourced platforms generally lose the moment they hit “submit.” Users on Bystander can share and discuss information around a variety of topics, and when the community decides that information is valuable to them, individual users are rewarded for collecting and sharing high integrity, reliable data. “On our platform, the people producing the data are also the people consuming it.”
    Currently, the team at Impact Chain Lab is more than 50% female — which Aishwarya says was an intentional choice. “I’d like to keep building a team that is very diverse in all ways. In building any company, and especially a consumer facing one, it’s critical to have people on the team who represent the people you want using the platform. I want to make sure that we do that.” Her advice to other entrepreneurs who are ready to grow their team is to hire slowly. “Bring in people who are aligned with your business goals as well as your personal mottos and morals.”
    Aishwarya, thank you so much for joining me on the show to talk about your work with Impact Chain Lab and some of the exciting potential of blockchain technology. Thank you as always to our listeners for sharing and reviewing the show. See you next week!
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    • 27 min
    Rebroadcast: Using Technology to Mobilize Capital for a Diverse Group of Funds

    Rebroadcast: Using Technology to Mobilize Capital for a Diverse Group of Funds

    Welcome back to Tech Forward, listeners! For this week's rebroadcast, we're featuring my conversation with Leslie Jump, founder and CEO at DifferentFunds, which is the first platform designed and built for investing in venture funds. Leslie has spent the bulk of her career building, advising, and investing in new companies, both in the US and worldwide. Most recently, she served as a Partner in Sawari Ventures, LLC, a Cairo-based early stage venture capital firm that invests in entrepreneurs across the Middle East and North Africa. Today, Leslie will share her inspiration for launching DifferentFunds, and how she’s helping a diverse network of more than 800 funds access the resources they need to support entrepreneurs globally.
    DifferentFunds began as Startup Angels in 2013, with the initial goal to match angel investors with startup investment opportunities. Eventually, however, Leslie and her team realized something critical: venture capital has a math problem. While the vast majority of venture funds have a median size of $60 million, most investors don’t consider funds under $100 million. What was really needed was a product that would allow the two sides of the marketplace to interact and transact with each other. On the DifferentFunds platform, qualified individuals and institutions can find, research, and invest in venture capital funds. The platform has a database of 900 highly diverse US-based firms, investing in everything from AI, to blockchain, to robotics, and more. In Leslie’s words, “Our job isn’t trying to guess who’s going to be the top of the top performers. We’re not trying to find the needle in the haystack that is the “best possible” fund. We’re building the haystack.”
    The diversity on DifferentFunds is also reflected in the makeup of the funds themselves: 65% of the funds have a woman, a person of color, or both at the helm. Rather than a unique outlier, Leslie asserts that the diversity is a reflection of reality, and the fact that, both in the US and globally, society is shifting towards true multiculturalism. With multiple studies showing that diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams, performance is a key benefit to highlight to the limited partners. “You want your investment to be high performance? This is how. These folks have a propensity to outperform others, they see opportunity where others might not. They are dialed in.” Venture capital is a young industry, which has historically relied on pattern matching in lieu of true business intelligence. Leslie and her team are aware of this, and actively collecting data and building models that will better equip investors to make smarter decisions.
    Thank you so much for coming onto the show this week, Leslie! I loved hearing about the work you’re doing with DifferentFunds, and your keen insights into the world of venture capital investing. Thank you also to everyone out there listening, reviewing, and sharing the show. See you next week!

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    • 27 min
    Rebroadcast: Providing Culturally Sensitive Teletherapy to Increase the Life Expectancy of Black Men

    Rebroadcast: Providing Culturally Sensitive Teletherapy to Increase the Life Expectancy of Black Men

    Hello listeners! Welcome back to another episode of Tech Forward. This week, I hope you'll enjoy the rebroadcast of my conversation with Kevin Dedner, Founder and CEO of Henry Health. Henry Health's mobile app provides self-care and mental health support through culturally sensitive teletherapy, serving the population with the lowest life expectancy in the U.S. — black men. Kevin is an experienced public health leader, and through Henry Health, he is committed to leveraging the power of technology to add 10 years to the life expectancy of black men in the next 25 years by focusing on their emotional and mental health. Today on the show, Kevin will be sharing with us some of the challenges black men face when receiving mental health support, and how his product helps address that need.
    “There is a weight,” Kevin says, “a stress associated just with being a black man.” Unaddressed, that stress in combination with untreated mental health issues plays a significant role in the low life expectancy of black men in the U.S. While they do seek solutions, black men face considerable hurdles in receiving culturally competent mental health care. Behind Henry Health is Kevin’s vision of a trusted source for providing mental health services and self care support for black men. At first, Kevin approached this issue from an academic angle, drawing on his experience working in public health and researching the social determinants of health. Along the way, however, he had his own experience with depression, through which he discovered “that my suffering could be helpful to others.”
    Kevin’s first hand experience with depression has been crucial in the development of a product that truly addresses the emotional and mental health needs of black men in the U.S. In fact, he brings many facets of both his personal and his professional life to his work with Henry Health, because he sees his entrepreneurship journey as a mirror of life. “My entire career has prepared me for the work I’m doing now. But when I first started to think about what I could do to address the mental health needs of black men, I met a lot of resistance. As an entrepreneur, you know this happens, and you’re more in tune with it. If you can push through that initial resistance, you will find what you need to advance your idea.”
    Through Henry Health, users have access to teletherapy with professionals who have undergone training to understand the unique experiences of black men in America. They also have the option to participate in moderated groups where they can discuss issues related to stress in the workplace, single parenting, relationship issues, and self care. Also offered within the app are daily motivational messages from lecturer and researcher Dr. Dennis Kimbro. When it comes to utilizing social media in a positive way, “sharing these messages and affirmations really does play a tremendous role in people’s current condition and mental state.”
    Kevin, thank you so much for coming onto the show this week to share the important work you’re doing through Henry Health with our listeners. Thank you as well to everyone out there listening, reviewing, and sharing the show. See you next week!
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    • 24 min
    Rebroadcast: Sparking Dialogue about Race and Racism Through Storytelling and Interaction

    Rebroadcast: Sparking Dialogue about Race and Racism Through Storytelling and Interaction

    Hello listeners, and welcome back to Tech Forward! This week, we're featuring a rebroadcast of my conversation with Catherine Wigginton Greene, Executive Director of content and engagement at Point Made Learning. She directed the feature documentary I’m Not Racist… Am I? (INRAI) which followed a diverse group of teens through a yearlong exploration of race and racism. From there, she led the development of Point Made’s newest offering – INRAI Digital – which uses the documentary as the foundation for a 3.5-hour online antiracism course. She also travels the U.S. leading workshops and facilitating dialogue about race and racism. Today we’ll be talking about some of the insights she has uncovered about race relations through her work, and how companies can improve their diversity training initiatives.
    Catherine’s work with Point Made Films began as a side project during her years as a freelance journalist, but she found herself quickly swept up in both the world of filmmaking, and the work the company was doing. She focuses now on topics related to race and racism, having felt called to that path for much of her life. After switching from a predominantly White Catholic school to a more diverse public school setting in the 5th grade, she noticed even then that her family reacted differently to some of her new friends. This began her internal work of unlearning the unspoken messages she had received throughout her childhood — a process reflected in the efforts currently made by Point Made Learning.
    I’m Not Racist… Am I? follows 12 teenagers over the course of a school year as they engage in discussions about unconscious bias, systemic racism, and other race issues. Despite the prevailing belief that racist attitudes will disappear with generational shifts, growing up in a racial hierarchy will still influence the beliefs of young people — even those living in diverse areas like New York City. “If you don’t explicitly discuss the factors of how we got to this place, you start to make assumptions about who belongs where, and who deserves to be there.” In showing the film at schools all over the country, Catherine and the team at Point Made noticed a common trend: students couldn’t stop talking about the film, and not only to each other. They brought the  discussion to their teachers and their parents!
    Upon seeing the film for themselves, these parents then wanted to arrange showings in the workplaces as a supplement to diversity training. In an effort to create a platform for companies to engage with this work in a meaningful way, Point Made Learning was born. This consulting and programming extension combines an online course with interactive exercises and facilitated discussions for an immersive and engaging experience. Rather than simply “checking a box,” the goal here is a nuanced exploration into identifying and interrupting patterns of bias.
    Catherine, thank you so much for coming onto the show and sharing your work with Point Made Learning — and some of the noteworthy results you’ve witnessed firsthand at the corporate level. Thank you also to those of you out there listening, sharing, and reviewing the show. See you next week!
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    • 29 min
    Rebroadcast: Leveling the Playing Field for Female Entrepreneurs

    Rebroadcast: Leveling the Playing Field for Female Entrepreneurs

    Welcome back to Tech Forward, listeners! For our rebroadcast this week, we're featuring my first double interview: Gerri Kahnweiler and Cayla Weisberg, co-founders of Chicago-based InvestHER Ventures. InvestHER is an early stage investment firm that partners with and invests in female entrepreneurs. As a strong leader in philanthropy and civic engagement, Geri has a track record for empowering women and girls to reach their full potential. Her mission is to create funding opportunities for women who are focused on technology-enabled business services and data driven solutions for large markets. With her background in sales and a focus on people over products, Cayla offers hands-on thought leadership on startup scaling, pivoting, and operation excellence for InvestHER’s portfolio companies. We’ll be digging into the catalyst behind launching InvestHER, and how they’re working to level the playing field for female entrepreneurs across the country.
    Cayla and Gerri joined forces to launch InvestHER Ventures in 2016, a year when female founders received only 2.19% of venture funding. Considering one third of Chicago’s entrepreneurs are women, those numbers clearly aren’t the result of a pipeline problem. Recognizing this massive opportunity, Gerri and Cayla decided to focus on supporting female founders in the post-product, pre-revenue phase. They also assist these companies with customer acquisition, building a scalable sales funnel, and account management. “We have the easy job, really. The entrepreneurs have the hard job, and we’re there to support them. We admire each and every woman we connect with and evaluate.”
    When it comes to working closely with a co-founder, Cayla and Gerri stress the importance of communication, clear division of duties, and presenting a united front. With their very different backgrounds — Gerri in philanthropy, and Cayla in sales and entrepreneurship — they make an effective and efficient team. “All our decisions are made together. I would not make an investment in a company unless Cayla was on board.” They strongly encourage other female founders to “find the yin to your yang,” a partner whose strengths and opportunities complement their own.
    Both Gerri and Cayla have advice to share for women looking to get into investment. For anyone who already has funds to invest, Gerri recommends finding a local angel group, and working to understand the entire process from pitch to investment. Having witnessed this process play out many times, Cayla wants would-be female investors to know “there is no traditional path to investing anymore. A lot of funds are looking to hire people who have taken non-traditional capital risks in one way or another. Just because you didn’t go to business school doesn’t mean you can’t get into investing.”
    Cayla and Gerri, thank you so much for joining me on the show today to share the exciting work you’re doing with InvestHER Ventures. Thank you also to all of you out there listening, sharing the show, and reviewing. See you next week!
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    • 28 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
19 Ratings

19 Ratings

Virtually Natalie ,

Insightful, entertaining and actionable

Cheryl and her guests provide some incredibly compelling content, spotlighting stories and proven tactics from underrepresented people in the world of tech.

Highly recommend listening and subscribing to Tech Forward if you want the knowledge AND mindsets to level up and better understand how tech is drastically shaping our future!

DrPierre ,

Love the show

It’s amazing to hear the voice of amazing women in the tech industry. It’s great to hear from the prospective of those who we rarely hear from.

Dr. Berry Pierre
Host of the Lunch and Learn with Dr. Berry

Jonathan Jones Speaks ,

Cheryl is made for this!

Love the bonus episodes and how you provide relevant and engaging content! Don’t stop.

Jonathan Jones
Host of Speak Your Success Podcast

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