Can a $40 Million Investment Bring Diversity to a Field Dominated by White Men?

Earlier this month, for the first time ever, the White House hosted Demo Day, an event in which entrepreneurs and innovators from around the country gathered to pitch their ideas to potential funders. Attendees included Steve Case, founder of AOL and Chairman and CEO of Revolution; Evan Sharp, cofounder of Pinterest; and Rosalind Hudnell, Chief Diversity Officer at Intel.

The main focus of the day was, of course, to showcase the participants’ work. This included some interesting stuff like Privahini Bradoo’s company BlueOak, which harvests precious metals from discarded cell phones, and Rubi Sanchez’s company Wearless Tech, which has developed a patent-pending, high-tech baby monitor that uses computer vision and cloud-based data analytics.

If you noticed a tech-heavy pattern here, you wouldn’t be wrong. The majority of Demo Day participants’ companies were tech-based. Which brings us to the other major focus of the day—encouraging diversity and inclusiveness in entrepreneurship in the tech field.

At every stage, tech companies and the tech field in general are dominated by white males. There’s no arguing that point. In a 2013 report from Pitchbook, only around 13 percent of venture-backed companies had at least one female cofounder. The software sector fared worse, as women-run businesses only accounted for 10 percent of all VC deals, according the same report. However, there’s some good news, here: Forty percent of all VC deals in retail and 33 percent in consumer services were founded by women.

Good news indeed, but not enough to move the diversity needle in what Wired calls “tech’s ugly gender problem.” Perhaps a $40 million investment devoted to promoting diversity in technology will change the landscape here.

While attending Demo Day, Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein announced that Kapor Capital, the Kapor Center for Social Impact, and Level Playing Field Institute will invest $40 million to hasten the pace inclusivity and diversity in tech entrepreneurship. Here’s how that $40 million breaks down: 

  • $6 million will be invested in Level Playing Field Institute’s five-week summer STEM program Summer Math and Science Honors (SMASH) Academy. The academy links traditionally underrepresented students with academics, technical training, and mentors in STEM.
  • Over the next three years, Kapor Capital plans to make $25 million in direct investments “technology startups working to narrow the achievement gaps,” in an effort to increase diversity in tech entrepreneurship.
  • The Kapor Center for Social Impact is committing $3 million per year to promote diversity in the technology field in the San Francisco Bay area. The focus of the work here will be on scaling the local start-up environment for companies that are working to close the STEM achievement gap. The center will also provide networking, mentoring, and community education workshops for traditionally underrepresented tech entrepreneurs. 

Kapor Capital, the Kapor Center for Social Impact, and Level Playing Field Institute have been breaking down barriers for women and minorities in STEM for years. Upon the announcement of their $40 million investment, Freda Kapor Klein said,

We believe that our $40 million commitment will be a catalyst for others in the tech world to match, so that a decade from now tech will look more like America.

Mitch Kapor also highlighted the importance of such an investement saying, “Genius is evenly distributed across zip codes. Access and opportunity are not."