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I think it’s safe to say that the digital era is here to stay. Even though I’m still lugging around paperbacks on the tube amongst Kindle reading commuters, I’m aware I’m an anomaly. I also think it’s safe to state that the market for innovative tech companies has never been so hot, allowing anyone with creativity, knowledge and a unique idea to create their own stamp on the digital landscape. The startup culture is more tangible than ever before.
If you live in a city it’s likely these startups are all around you, perhaps you’re part of a newly established startup struggling to elbow yourself into a ferociously competitive market. Perhaps you work for an established company that started out with a good idea amongst friends a few years ago. Maybe you’ve never even heard of a startup, or what it is. If that’s the case I suggest you Google it as this piece isn’t intended to be descriptive.
What does interest me particularly though, is the startup culture – the people who probably considered themselves outcasts and nerds at some point during adolescence are putting on their business caps with the hopes of developing the new Spotify or Groupon.
When thinking about startups there are certain things that come to mind. Greasy pizza boxes, nerdy guys with MacBooks, a makeshift office set up in the corner of someone’s living room – ‘investors’ actually being someone’s burning credit card limit. Horizontally organised, hard working, dedicative and creative are all adjectives that spring to mind.
A common idea as well is that this world is dominated exclusively by heterosexual men. While this may be the case, it’s certainly not the rule. Women are increasingly creating a profile on the startup market and so is the LGBT community.
To me this world is quite foreign, but through a series of coincidences I’ve ended up working in the tech industry, specifically within a new sector that would have qualified as a startup a decade ago.
Armed with a justifiable profession, I attended a series of networking events aimed at London’s LGBT community working in tech. These particular events were organised by InterTech, a group dedicated to creating a network of LGBT techies across big names such as Google and Microsoft, but to also set up a useful forum for startups to make connections through.
If you imagine these taking place in anything resembling the basement where The IT Crowd takes place you couldn’t be further from the truth. The final event was held at the very polished central London Google offices where a view over the city was accompanied by sashimi and polenta canapés and a seemingly unlimited supply of wine. They’d gone all out and even managed to upstage the previous event hosted at the Skype offices. It appears Microsoft and Google are competing fiercely for the LGBT affection, and we are very eager to indulge.
If you also thought these techies looked like the stereotypical greasy haired, pale skinned and socially inept manifestation of a ‘nerd’, I’m pleased to inform you that you couldn’t be more wrong. Like an anthropologist observing the appearance and customs of a tribal community, what struck me most was the ‘non-geekyness’ of these individuals.
They were all well spoken, friendly, sophisticated and worldly, sporting accessories from Mulberry, Jil Sander and Balenciaga – as well as those less financially fortunate, such as myself, showcasing trends from ASOS, Urban Outfitters and Topman.
As a non-techie who kind of works in tech, I was barely able to keep up with the conversation – I think I know what a kickstarter is? And I’m almost sure I have an opinion about ‘open source cloud sharing graphic user interfaces’. I normally consider myself quite in tune with digital culture, but in this context I was failing.
A techie friend had to convince me to download the Eventbrite app to show the ticket on, rather than appearing with an email printout like an overly eager relic who thinks CTRL+P is the height of technological sophistication.
Add in the fact that I’m inherently awkward and you got yourself a whole lot of nodding and smiling, and sipping of the red wine. Eventually I transformed into a tipsy Bridget Jones caricature of myself trying my best to fit in – ‘isn’t it terrible about Chechnya?’
As the wine buzz wore off alongside my short and failing career as an amateur anthropologist, I did reflect on how lovely it all was. What amazes me so much is that the startup scene, as well as the wider professional tech community, is finally defining a space for LGBT people. Even more so, larger organisations in tech seem to want to maintain the warm and fuzzy startup culture they once grew from.
Creativity and talent from wider social groups are finally challenging the domination of heterosexual male geeks, leading to technological innovations we can all enjoy. And conclusively, I have to say, the emerging unity of the LGBT tech scene is a fabulous sight indeed – contributing to a new definition of what it means to be a geek.