The technology market has changed dramatically in the past couple of decades. When computers were first being developed, they were expensive, difficult to use, and impractical for personal use. The earliest computer developers made their products for governments. For a long time, technologists were largely creating solutions for other technologists, not consumers. Even with the advent of the personal computer, companies were more interested in developing products for corporations or even small businesses—the consumer was not the primary target. However, the explosive growth of the smartphone, which puts a powerful computer in the consumer’s hand, has changed the market—and developers need to pay more attention to consumer demands than ever before.
The Need for More Diversity in the Technology Industry
Still, the technology sector historically has lacked in diversity, with many groups and populations, particularly black Americans, struggling to enter the tech workforce.
However, a recently created fund seeks to change this. Launched by legendary venture capital fund Andreessen Horowitz, the Cultural Leadership Fund has two primary goals. First, it seeks to facilitate the entry of young black entrepreneurs into the technology industry. Second, the fund works to connect modern cultural leaders to rising stars in the tech startup sector.
With limited partners such as Shonda Rhimes, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Chance the Rapper, Quincy Jones, and Kevin Durant, the Cultural Leadership Fund has written checks to various startups, such as Propel, which facilitates the management of food stamps, and Overtime, a network focused on sports media. Some of the backers of the fund have even offered personal investments in the supported companies. For example, Will Smith gave additional backing to Hipcamp, a company that allows landowners to rent out campsites.
While these investments are exciting, the real value of the new fund is in its support of the nonprofit industry. All the money generated by the fund goes directly toward increasing the participation of black entrepreneurs in the technology world. The fund recently announced that it has selected 11 organizations to receive all management fees and future carried interest.
The Wide Variety of Work Undertaken by Supported Nonprofits
The 11 organizations that will benefit from the Cultural Leadership Fund are quite diverse. These organizations include The Last Mile, which teaches computer science and coding to individuals who are incarcerated, and Management Leadership for Tomorrow, which provides leadership training to black, Latinx, and native individuals.
Another supported organization, All Star Code, offers a summer coding program for young men of color. More than 440 young men have graduated from the program since its start in 2013, and 95 percent of them went on to study at four-year colleges. Also, more than 80 percent in college chose to major in computer science. The money All Star Code will receive from the fund will help to expand its reach even more.
These supported nonprofits are what make the Cultural Leadership Fund stand out among funds in Silicon Valley. While several venture funds choose to invest in tech startups founded by women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups, which does not necessarily make it easier for minorities to get involved in the technology industry, the Cultural Leadership Fund hopes to get to the root of the lack of diversity in tech by supporting nonprofits that are directly working on strategies for increasing inclusion and building key skillsets.
The Exciting Future in Store for the Cultural Leadership Fund
Moving forward, it will be exciting to see how each nonprofit uses its funding. All Star Code is already thinking of unique ways to expand programming. The organization recently partnered with Eagle Academy, an all-boys school in New York City. All Star Code is set to institute a year-round computer science program to give students a solid base for further education or development work. Other supported nonprofits may begin announcing similar program extensions in the months and years to come.
For its part, the Cultural Leadership Fund is also thinking about the role it can play in creating a better professional network for black entrepreneurs. The fund sees its work with nonprofits, startups, and popular culture icons as the creation of a larger, overlapping network that can get talented people with diverse backgrounds in the spotlight.
The ultimate hope is that the individuals helped by the supported nonprofits will find jobs at the companies backed by the fund. This pipeline will develop more in the years to come as the fund gets more involved with nonprofits and expands its investment portfolio.