Kit Mueller opens every installment of the weekly Unstuck Pittsburgh entrepreneurship networking event with a joke about an error in judgment.
“I tell the audience ‘this was a bad idea I had,'” Mueller says. Given the 7:55 a.m. Monday start time, there are plenty who might agree with him.
But Mueller says the event keeps growing, so clearly he and partner Adam Paulisick, who are the team behind Fygment Productions, are doing something right. They don’t want to stop there, however. Mueller says the ultimate mission behind Fygment and its Speak Freely and Unstuck events is to remove the barriers to entrepreneurship for everyone.
“We want to try to take away any excuse for not attending if you want to,” Mueller says.
After taking some heat for the lack of diversity at an entrepreneurs’ panel in January, the pair realized that meant a hard look at how inclusive their events were, and adapting them to make sure they were as open and welcoming as possible. Paulisick was unhappy enough about the diversity at recent events that he assembled a group in the entrepreneurial community to get their input on what could be done to move the conversation forward.
Entrepreneurs come in every shape and size, Paulisick says, and their communities should reflect that. To that end, this week’s Speak Freely lecture, featuring Braddock mayor and Senate candidate John Fetterman, will have free on-site childcare and an ASL interpreter.
“We really try to be active listeners when people raise issues about access at events,” Mueller says. The goal, Paulisick adds, is to make sure it’s possible for the most exceptional talent to be in attendance. It’s a matter of reorganizing the infrastructure, taking what’s already been built and reimagining it. There’s no excuse, he says, for not being open-minded and flexible.
Paulisick says he knows Fygment isn’t the only organization in this space; he pointed to the upcoming Abstractions tech conference, which offers an option of on-site childcare to conference attendees as an example of what people in the entrepreneurship community have come to expect.
The Kelly Strayhorn Theater, where the Speak Freely events are held, has restrooms with gender-respectful labels, he says. But he hopes to spark a conversation among larger organizations hosting events aimed at entrepreneurs, to make sure no one is left out of the conversation. This will be a major theme over the next 10 years, he predicts.