Introducing the Cultural Leadership Fund Non-Profit Partners

Chris Lyons

“If me and Future hadn’t made it with this rappin’
We’d prolly be out in Silicon tryna get our billions on”
—Drake, 6pm in New York

I am not supposed to be here.

You hear people say that a lot, but I am really not supposed to be here: an African American technology investor in Silicon Valley.

So how did I get here?

I grew up outside of Atlanta, where none of my friends or family worked in technology. I began my professional career as a producer and audio engineer for Jermaine Dupri at Southside Studios, during the golden era of Atlanta music. I understood how great creatives move across mediums, and I could see that technology was taking over the industry. I wanted to be part of that movement. 

I began by teaching myself computer engineering and design—and finally decided to take a risk, move to California, enroll in an accelerator, and start a tech company. I was convinced that I could build the next billion-dollar business. Like many founders, I went through the ebb and flow of building a company, learning much along the way and experiencing many highs and lows. Though I didn’t achieve the business success I had hoped for in my startup, something else happened: the previously unfamiliar world of Silicon Valley began to notice what I could do. They didn’t see my color or view me as an addition to their diversity numbers. They saw my talent, my skills, my drive, and my potential. And that ultimately led to the world of venture capital as Chief of Staff for Ben Horowitz at Andreessen Horowitz.

I began this post by saying that I was not supposed to be here, but we all know that mindset is wrong. As African Americans, we often think that the tech industry doesn’t want us in this world, or that venture capitalists won’t buy into our startup ideas. The reality is that they just can’t see us. They can’t see our talent, our intelligence, our magic, and our brilliance. They can’t see it—but it is 100% there. We can bring a new level of genius to the technology ecosystem that is in turn transforming every industry. We just need to shine bright enough so that everyone can see us. 

When we are seen, we change the face of entrepreneurship entirely. It’s already happening in Atlanta and Washington D.C.—both cities with black tech workforces of 20.6% and 17.1%. A similar change can and should happen here in Silicon Valley. There isn’t a “pipeline issue.” African American students are 1.5 times more likely to be very interested in learning computer science, and the engagement in technology from the African American community is stronger than ever

Now that I am here, I can see my opportunity to contribute to Silicon Valley very clearly. 

To that end, last year we announced the Cultural Leadership Fund with two goals in mind in mind: 1) connect the greatest cultural leaders in the world to the best new technology companies; and 2) enable more African Americans to enter the technology industry

We bring our network for strategic investments together with leaders like Sean “Diddy” Combs, Shonda Rhimes, Chance the Rapper, Will Smith, Quincy Jones, Kevin Durant, Nasir Jones, Kevin Hart, Don Thompson, Robin Washington, Richelieu Dennis, Shellye Archambeau, and more. Our portfolio companies and LPs share their expertise, creativity, community, and influence directly into the technology industry. These relationships have already resulted in meaningful relationships and strategic partnerships for portfolio companies such as Lime, Mercury, Overtime, Hipcamp, Sandbox VR, Skydio, Propel, and many more. 

The Cultural Leadership Fund donates 100% of its annual management fees and future potential carried interest to a select group of nonprofits helping advance more African Americans into technology. 

Today I’m proud to share the first group of nonprofits that the CLF will be supporting. Please meet the incredible organizations that we’ll be working with, who are helping bring people into the world of tech who might not otherwise be there:

  • Capital Preparatory Schools: A K-12, year-round college preparatory model developing scholars into responsible engaged citizens for social justice.
  • CodePath: An innovative education nonprofit building the largest pipeline of high-performing, underrepresented software engineers in the industry, with courses at over 49 universities including Mississippi State, Howard, and Virginia Tech.
  • Love, Luck & Faith (LLF): Provides opportunities for long-term economic sustainability in underserved communities by inspiring and empowering young boys and girls with career readiness resources to pursue entrepreneurial and skilled professions in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM). With a focus on automobiles and art, LLF will partner with All Star Code and Eagle Academy Foundation to support young men of color to develop a creative mindset, networks, and necessary career skills development and create a 21st Century automotive tech-talent pipeline.
  • Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT): Provides African Americans, Latinx, and Native Americans with a winning playbook, professional coaching, and door-opening relationships to advance at all career stages, including senior leadership.
  • nPower: Creates pathways to economic prosperity by launching digital careers for young adults from underserved communities.
  • Per Scholas: Drives social change through rigorous and tuition-free technology training for adults from overlooked communities, creates onramps to businesses in need of capable and diverse talent. 
  • Pursuit: Helping to close the prosperity gap in America, and transform the lives of adults with the most need and potential by helping them launch careers in tech and raising their salaries. 
  • SMASH: Empowers brilliant underrepresented students with rigorous science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, culturally-relevant coursework, as well as access to resources and social capital that pave a path for successful careers in tech and entrepreneurship.
  • Social Works: Empowers the youth through the arts, education, and civic engagement to inspire creativity, build dreams, and advocate for youth success in all its forms.
  • The Last Mile: Provides technical training to prepare incarcerated populations for successful reentry, and help break the cycle of generational recidivism.
  • #YesWeCode: Cultivates future tech leaders and entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds, creating a pipeline of diverse talent that will shift the culture of the tech sector.

In my job and my life, I see it as my duty and obligation to make sure that what people saw in me, I find in the next person. The CLF recognizes these partners for their commitment in finding new ways to develop undiscovered talent for the technology industry. We’re confident that they’ll work diligently to continue developing a world of rising stars who, maybe like me, didn’t initially consider having a career in this industry. 

Software is eating the world.

Sign up for our newsletter to get the a16z take on the future of technology.

Thanks for signing up.

Check your inbox for a welcome note.

MANAGE MY SUBSCRIPTIONS By clicking the Subscribe button, you agree to the Privacy Policy.