Ron Conway's Philanthropy: A Tech Angel Investor Spreads His Bets in a New Direction

Ron Conway is something of a legend in Silicon Valley. During the 1990s, he rode the dotcom boom to riches with an angel investing fund that generated huge returns—that is, until the party ended with the tech crash. But Conway lived to invest another day, and went on to get stakes in many of the hottest startups of the past decade, including Facebook, Twitter, Buzzfeed, and Pinterest. 

Conway isn't a billionaire, or at least not one listed by Forbes, but he's definitely loaded. And lately, he's been stepping his philanthropy in a big way. His wealth and giving is another reminder that it isn't just tech entrepreneurs who are capable of large-scale philanthropy, but also the sector's investors.

We've covered the giving of billionaire venture capitalists like Vinod Khosla and John Doerr. But what is Conway up to?

Well, earlier this year, he and his family made their largest gift to date, giving $40 million to the University of California, San Francisco toward construction of an outpatient medical facility at its new UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay.

The new "Ron Conway Family Gateway Medical Building" will house a 289-bed hospital complex and will provide emergency and outpatient services for women, children, and those receiving treatment for cancer. Expected to draw more than 1,500 outpatient visits daily, the facility also will serve as a teaching facility for UCSF students.

That's a big give, and as you might expect, it didn't come out of the blue. Conway and his wife have long been involved with the UCSF. He was a member of the UCSF Foundation board of directors for several years and is part of the UCSF Medical Center "campaign cabinet." Conway is also a board member of the Foundation, and has longstanding ties to Marc Benioffwho, of course, is top mega-donor to UCSF children hospitals. 

And here we should pause to note the growing cohesiveness of the Bay Area tech philanthropy scene. As more rich tech types turn to philanthropy—as people do as they get older—years of strong ties among entrepreneurs and investors are helping shape giving. Just as this crowd has played follow-the-leader in exploring trends and companies, leaning on trusted friends for advice, we're seeing some of the same dynamics with philanthropy.

Not infrequently, we should note, the trail of giving leads to Marc Benioff, who's been among the earliest and most vocal proponents of philanthropy by the tech sector.

For those who don't know: When was founded, Benioff had an interesting concept, which he called the 1/1/1 model. His company would donate 1 percent of its earnings and 1 percent of its products, and his employees would donate 1 percent of their time to a charitable cause. To date, this has resulted in more than $80 million in grants from the Salesforce Foundation, free or reduced-cost software to more than 24,000 nonprofits, and more than 840,000 volunteer hours.

But back to Ron Conway: He's also been involved in Bay Area civic life, and has supported the Avielle Foundation. Its mission is to "prevent violence by fostering brain health research, education, and policy." The foundation was created in memory of a student and victim of the Sandy Hook shooting. Related to that, Conway has been a strong proponent of gun control. Conway has also given steadily to Sacred Heart Schools Atherton (at least $500,000 annually over the past few years), and has supported City of Hope, San Francisco Parks Alliance, and KIPP Bay Area Schools.

Related - IP's profile of Ron Conway