Joshua Driver: My journey to Community Champion of the Year

We’ve come a long way.

I made the leap from health care into tech in 2008. We were a tiny company that took a manual process and evolved it into a SaaS platform. When I used the term “SaaS” on the phone with my mother, she thought we were discussing my sassy communication style, and not any type of technology.

As we grew, and the local tech scene began connecting, I attended my first startup meetup. The energy was exciting! Talented leaders I had read about were totally approachable, however I didn’t have the confidence to connect with them. At the time, I know I didn’t take the right risks and put myself out there like I should have.

When I looked around the room, I was — I think — the only LGBT person. It was intimidating. This was not because the community wasn’t friendly or helpful (It was and still is both.) — I was nervous about “the perception” that a room full of successful people may not look at me as an equal because I am gay. I felt that people would have hesitated to connect, partner, or possibly even fund an organization that I was involved with at the time.

Fast forward to 2015 and tech companies, organizations, social events and meetups like Verge have made a point to welcome the LGBT community and express interest in helping to grow LGBT entrepreneurs.

Open for Service Founder Joshua Driver accepted the Investor of the Year Mira Award during the 18th annual “best of tech in Indiana” gala.

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My “perception” of how this community may have thought of me was as incorrect as the “perception” of what people may think of Indiana and Hoosiers, especially in the tech community.

TechPoint’s Mira Awards have always been something I thought would be out of reach for me. To be honest, after semi-leaving the startup scene — I had put that dream on hold. But when 2015 came around and the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (#RFRA) reared its head, I watched as a city and state banded together to push back on legislation that did not represent us nor the work we were doing.

We watched as people from all political backgrounds, industries, faiths, and ages came together to create a bigger voice. One of the biggest was our tech community. I speak with several city governments and groups in similar metropolitan areas and they are in awe of what we did and seek to find the same strength that we had.

I’m not sure anyone can say that #RFRA was a great moment in Indiana’s history, but look at all of the great work and connections that have come from it!

I did not create Open For Service to target people with different political affiliations, nor people of faith. My first goal was to visibly show that all people are welcome here. You should be able to shop, live, work, and grow here without fear of being turned away for who they are.

My hope is that if someone is walking down the street and may not be feeling good about who they are, they’ll see a sticker and perhaps feel a little bit better about being themselves. I truly believe that in order for us to ask for full equality and inclusion, we must demonstrate and educate — not just about the LGBT community — but of all walks of life, and how we as a human community can do better and supporting each other. And I think our technology has been doing a great job at that.

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During and after #RFRA, I’ve been so honored to have coffee meetings, travel coast to coast, drink beer, hang out, and connect with Indianapolis and technology leaders. I still pinch myself that I’ve had a seat at the table, and we are beyond lucky to have so many inspiring people that live here!

This is the second year for the Community Champion of the Year Award. It is not only an honor to be considered by my peers for this award, but it means so much more to follow someone whom I’ve admired immensely — Denver Hutt. I remember meeting her at an event that I came to by myself at the Speakeasy, (and wasn’t exactly networking) and she introduced herself and had me join the crowd. I’ll never forget that feeling she gave me. She is very missed and I hope I’ve made her proud.

I have to say a HUGE Thanks to the amazing support from the tech community, (Salesforce, Sigstr, Lessonly, Sticksnleaves, Verge, One Click, Techpoint, Angie’s List, Bracket’s for Good, and the list keeps going). We’ve been able to take this energy and promote it across the globe for little money thanks to the help you all have given our organization.

And thank you to everyone who continues to be an Open For Service Champion and supporter of diversity in tech — Kristen Cooper, Ryan Larcom, Mike Langellier, Jillian Walker, Marc Benioff, Joshua Hall, Matt Hunckler, Eric Tobias, Ami Roembke, Kyle Graden, Candy Irven, Scott McCorkle to name a few).
I love this city. I love this industry. If anything comes out of this award, I hope that more people from the LGBT community consider tech as a career and stay or come to Indianapolis to do it. I can tell you from personal experience that you’ll be valued for you and the work you do. From coding schools like The Iron Yard to entrepreneur mentorship from The Startup Ladies, you are welcome to join us.

To my friends in tech: make sure to promote and support engagement within your communities. Donate a license to a non-profit, arrange volunteer opportunities and more. We need your help and we’re glad you step up as much as possible.

Thank you to my friends, and family and especially my fiancé Jeff. I know I’m not around much (or I’m slow to respond to texts) and I’ve missed out on a lot of big things in your lives. I appreciate you continuing to be a friend and hope to see you soon.

My heart is full today and I know I have some enormous shoes to fill. The Mira Awards were incredible and inspiring to start pushing forward with my own startup outside of Open for Service. I look forward to the continued growth of our organization, partnership with Indiana and especially our tech community.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Community Champion of the Year Mira Award winner Joshua Driver founded Open for Service, the inclusive business network and directory.