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Not a traditional founder? Learn how to use it to your advantage at TC Disrupt 2023

Not a traditional founder? Learn how to use it to your advantage at TC Disrupt 2023


The list of reasons why venture investors don’t fund diverse startups is long, legion and ludicrous, to put it politely. Nontraditional founders still face a ridiculous uphill slog. Here’s some good news: If you don’t fit the “pale, male from Yale” stereotype, you can use your experience to your benefit.

We’re excited to share a highly anticipated panel taking place on the Builders Stage at TechCrunch Disrupt 2023, which runs from September 19–21 in San Francisco.

Join Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, founder and CEO, of Promise; Ruben Harris, co-founder and CEO of Career Karma; and Ritu Narayan, founder and CEO of Zūm in a session called “How Founders with Nontraditional Backgrounds Can Use Their Experience to Excel.”

The panel will address issues within three intersecting areas that impact founders who don’t fit the typical Silicon Valley stereotype: class, gender and race. How do you network effectively when you lack access to golf clubs and other elite social clubs?

What can you do to hold your own in investor meetings against people with sexist bias — whether unconscious or conscious? What are the advantages of growing up as part of an ethnic minority in the U.S., and how can you use lived cultural experience to your advantage?

Come to this panel for strategies that can help turn your “outsider” background into an effective tool for success.

Learn more about our speakers and their qualifications for tackling this important topic.

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins: Promise founder and CEO

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins is an American social justice advocate and businesswoman. Prior to Promise, a payment technology platform that simplifies government debt, Ellis-Lamkins ran revenue and operations at Honor, a home care technology company. Before Honor, she worked with the musician Prince and led the effort to secure ownership of his masters. She is a labor and community organizer by trade who is committed to making measurable change.

Earlier in her career, Ellis-Lamkins served as the executive officer of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council, an organized labor federation representing more than 100 unions and more than 110,000 members in California. She was also executive director of Working Partnerships USA, a coalition of community groups and labor and faith organizations working to address economic disparities in Silicon Valley. She also served as the CEO of the anti-poverty organization Green For All.

Recognized for her leadership, Ellis-Lamkins has been honored by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader; Essence for their 25 Most Influential African Americans; Ebony for their Power 150; The Grio for their 100 History Makers in the Making; and Black Enterprise for their 40 Next: Emerging Leaders for Our Future. Also, San Jose Magazine named her one of the 100 most powerful people in Silicon Valley. She serves on the boards of Honor and Tipping Point.

Ruben Harris: Career Karma co-founder and CEO

Five years ago, Ruben Harris co-founded Career Karma — a company that creates software to help employers attract, reskill and upskill employee talent. He raised $52 million from the top-tier investors in Silicon Valley to create the world’s greatest workforce development platform.

On the consumer side, millions of people use the platform each month seeking career advice. On the enterprise side, Harris works with Fortune 500 companies like Google to reskill and upskill thousands of people

Prior to Career Karma, Harris worked at three different startups in healthcare, education and politics (Honor, Altschool and Hustle). Before entering tech, he worked as an investment banker for three years. Harris has been playing the cello for 30 years.

Ritu Narayan: Zūm founder and CEO

An accomplished entrepreneur with 20+ years of experience as a tech industry leader, Ritu Narayan has been named one of Inc.’s Top 100 Female Entrepreneurs, recognized as one of Entrepreneur’s 100 Women of Influence and received the 2023 Power of Women Award from Global Silicon Valley and Arizona State University.

Prior to founding Zūm, Narayan led teams at Oracle, Yahoo, IBM and eBay. A Sloan Fellow and graduate of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, Narayan earned her undergraduate degree in computer science at the Delhi Institute of Technology. She lives in San Carlos, California, with her husband and two children.


TechCrunch Disrupt 2023 takes place on September 19–21 in San Francisco. Tickets will sell out. Buy your pass now and save $400 before prices go up at the door. For a limited time, when you book your Disrupt hotel room at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Downtown SOMA you’ll automatically be eligible to enter a raffle for a chance to win two spots for you and a guest to attend the exclusive TechCrunch Disrupt Speakers & Editors Dinner. Book your room today. More hotel raffle details here.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TechCrunch Disrupt 2023? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.



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