“Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on
What’s going on”
Last week the country watched the slow and heart-wrenching murder of George Floyd and many exploded in outrage, protest, and desperation. Witnessing a murder would be jarring in isolation, but it followed several similar incidents in the immediate past from Ahmaud Arbery to Breonna Taylor and countless others before.
But even these incidents do not really get to the heart of the outrage among the African American community; they were just the matches that lit the powder keg underneath. Unlike these highly visible incidents, the powder keg has been built on deeds done in the dark, without cellphones to show the world what’s always been going on.
Police treating African Americans both differently and less than other races is pervasive. So much so that our own partners who now work in VC have their own stories to share (you can listen to some of these on Clubhouse, on Twitter, or find some of them here and here).
Being equal before the law, but unequal before law enforcement, is atrocious. It is wrong. It is against our firm’s values.
The knock-on effects of this are significant and can easily knock a person off the fast track of life. If your skin is dark, you’re born a suspect. If you do not have the education, the mobility, the network, the social proof, the mentors, the business knowledge, then the Venture Capital world cannot see you. It’s hard enough as it is for people who DO have all these things to get funded, so how are those who have the talent — but not the network and the know-how — going to be seen?
Our firm culture is based on the idea that words by themselves are empty. A culture is not a set of beliefs. It’s a set of actions.
This is why we’re announcing The Talent x Opportunity Fund (TxO) and program. Designed for entrepreneurs who have the talent, drive, and ideas to build great businesses but lack the typical background and resources to do so, this fund is something we’ve been working on for 6 months — including figuring out the prototype model; planning a training program for pre-seed; doing research and taking names on hidden genius founders you would not see in Silicon Valley. The effort will be led by Nait Jones, who’s been a partner at Andreessen Horowitz for the past five years; previously, he worked with our portfolio founders on their go-to-market plans. He moved to Silicon Valley from the midwest almost a decade ago when starting his own company, and as an outsider himself had to overcome some of the same challenges these founders face.
We will fund and train a small group in the first year, then expand in subsequent years. We are looking for entrepreneurs who did not have access to the fast track in life but who have great potential. Their products can be non-tech or tech; they should be from underserved communities (all backgrounds welcome); and ideally, their business will have an interesting model, niche market, and/or a little traction to indicate the promise and potential.
In addition to seed capital, we will provide these potentially great entrepreneurs with the knowledge and the network of the firm through training programs and more. The goal of this is to give these entrepreneurs a chance to then get further funding (much like an accelerator for the unseen, where the outcome is to go get VC money) or to grow their businesses their way based on the learnings. Here’s more details on how it will work:
We’re venture capitalists, not activists. We support the amazing work that people are doing to fix policing specifically, the criminal justice system more generally, and many other efforts, but our direct contribution will be doing what we do best: To help entrepreneurs be better entrepreneurs, so they can build great businesses that in turn create jobs and value for others.
We know the greatness is out there as we have seen it in entrepreneurs such as Andre Harrell, Madame C.J. Walker, and Diddy. But let’s take the hidden potential that’s out there right now and make it seen. This fund and program aims to fill a gap between the cultural leaders who have made it, and those who haven’t had a chance to make it. Entrepreneurship hasn’t been accessible to everyone, but the fact remains that being an entrepreneur is one of the most powerful ways to own your own future, to increase mobility across time and place, to invent new ways of doing things, and to forge a new system. As we emerge from this tragic moment, let’s build.
If you’re an ambitious founder with a working business and don’t feel you have the network and knowledge to build it into the success it could be, apply to the TxO Fund by clicking here. UPDATE: We’re so grateful for the outpouring of interest! We’re now working our way through the applications that have already been submitted to select the first cohort of founders, so are temporarily closed to new applications.
If you’d like to become a partner along with us in TxO Fund and help talented entrepreneurs realize their full potential, you can donate by clicking here. (If you have questions about your donation please email [email protected] or [email protected].)