As two Black women from Detroit and Montgomery, Alabama, we never thought we’d end up working in technology, let alone venture capital.
Growing up in the heyday of AIM, MySpace, and eBay, we thought of technology as a hobby, not an industry or a job option. Technology was like air—all around us, but abstract. We didn’t take the “typical” path to tech: We went to HBCUs, we didn’t major in computer science or engineering, we didn’t rise through the ranks at Facebook or Apple or Google.
Our stories took a turn when we each moved to the Bay Area, where AI and machine learning were common dinner party topics. You could glance at the nearest computer in a coffee shop and see someone typing in an alien language on a black screen with neon lettering. What we didn’t realize early on was that these people were creating, innovating, and, quite literally, changing the world. The depth and complexity that goes into turning inanimate objects into beloved, essential products became clear. We wanted in.
But while we were living at the nexus of innovation, it was glaringly apparent that technologists and entrepreneurs who looked like us were scarce. We each pursued careers in tech to have a life-changing impact on our communities, to build legacies for our families, and to open up doors for future tech leaders. Our stories are proof that there’s no “right” route into tech—and we know we’re not alone. There is space for you here: the Black creator, builder, shaper, and collaborator.
That’s why we joined the team at a16z’s Cultural Leadership Fund (CLF). One of the CLF’s founding missions is to increase the number of African Americans in technology. Last year, we announced that 100 percent of our management fees and carried interest will be donated to nonprofit organizations focused on preparing our community for entry roles in tech. Our nonprofit partnerships are not only financial, but also deeply strategic. Today, to open the pathway for Black creators and builders in tech and to double down on our core mission, we’re introducing the Cultural Leadership Fund Network.
The CLF Network aims to connect Black professionals to the technology industry. Our goal is to surface a broader representation of our community than the traditional, insular, Silicon Valley network. We intend to reach people from a wider set of universities and a more diverse range of career paths—including those looking to change careers or those who haven’t yet worked at a large corporation.
We grew up consistently hearing from our parents and elders that as Black people in America, we had to work twice as hard to get half as far. The implication here is that after centuries of systemic oppression and setbacks, we still had hurdles to overcome to stand on equal footing with our non-Black peers. And arguably, the biggest of those hurdles…networks. Networks provide access: to grandpa’s old college roommate who now leads a Fortune 500 company, to professors who are also venture capitalists and angel investors, or to whatever relationships lower the barrier to entry to high-quality jobs. Too often, these opportunities fall just outside of the grasp of a community that is still working to build a strong foundation. The goal of the CLF Network is to help clear that hurdle by providing strong, career-spanning connections and introducing talent to early-stage companies.
As big tech companies have become increasingly synonymous with Silicon Valley, the startup ecosystem is frequently overlooked. We know the risks of startups can be daunting, but the opportunities are boundless. Working with startups—whether as an employee or a business or technical partner—provides a unique opportunity to be actively involved in building a product and company culture from the ground up, to advance within that company as it grows, and to claim ownership and agency within the firm. In our view, early work within startups can provide a direct pathway to entrepreneurship in the long-term.
We truly believe that by creating an active, Black professional network we can meet a number of needs for our community. There is space for everyone in technology. With this initiative, we aim to champion unapologetically ambitious Black leaders and creators to break barriers and build legacies. We aim to build meaningful relationships from the ground up. Complete the survey below to be added to our network and mailing list for future initiatives, events, and other updates. Opting into this network provides access to meaningful events and valuable introductions, notification of (and consideration for) open roles within our portfolio companies, and a subscription to our upcoming CLF newsletter.
Megan Holston-Alexander is a partner at Andreessen Horowitz where she leads the Cultural Leadership Fund.
Jessica Patton Jessica is a partner focused on the Cultural Leadership Fund.