Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s alone. Rodney Sampson is founder of Atlanta-based Opportunity Hub, as well as OHUB’s Kansas City minority accelerator, OHUB.KC, which operates through a partnership with the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, Missouri. Opportunity Hub is a non-financial partner of Startland News.
Hello tech, startup and ecosystem family.
I hope that this note finds you as safe, sound and sane as possible during these unprecedented times.
It’s been a painful week, month and year for all of us. Especially painful for Black Americans the past week.
As many of you know, we’ve been doing this work at the intersection of #racialequity and #ecosystembuilding for a while. This brief video of my interview with the parents of the late #TrayvonMartin in 2013 at Kingonomics demonstrates this reality.
With all sincerity, I’m calling out you so called allies right now for being quiet and silent when it comes to venture capitalist #TomAustin in Minnesota, the white vigilantes and cops who are killing Black men and women like #GeorgeFloyd, #AhmaudArbery and #BreonnaTaylor; or #AmyCooper’s suggestions to historic comic writer #ChristianCooper that she will have him killed for simply asking her to leash her dog.
Candidly, your sorrys, OMGs, and WTFs are falling on deaf ears. Here’s why.
Your silence and your dedication to false objectivity are investments in the racism in the industry. The return on this investment is the continued perpetuation of white supremacy. To the non-Black ecosystem builders on social media saying they are “short for words,” “sad,” “can’t believe this is happening in 2020”… sure. But how and why are you so oblivious to what’s really going on?
Have you not been hearing us at every tech, startup and venture conference?
From our main stage keynotes and breakouts on inclusion, we’ve echoed the multiple credible data sources on the investment and provision of capital, resources and market access for Black ecosystem builders, entrepreneurship support programs, accelerators, funds and founders. Can’t you see the racism in this? This isn’t unconscious bias. This is conscious racism.
Don’t you see the connection between the negligible investment in the Black ecosystem and the personal, systematic and institutional racism that has existed since the first enslaved Africans were brought to this soil in 1619?
If a VC can threaten the lives of four Black founders in a WeWork-affiliated gym by questioning their legitimate presence and threatening to call the police, they definitely can find excuses not to invest in Black founders that happen to make it past their top of funnel screening processes.
According to Harlem Capital’s 2019 report, there have been only 200 Black and Latinx founders that have raised over $1 million in venture in the past two decades. I was one of the first ones in 2000. Just 200. Yes, just 200. Less than one funded per month, in 20 years. Compare that to the 25,000-plus founders that were funded in 2019 alone, to the tune of $131 billion. Note that 3 out of 4 venture-backed startups fail. With a 75 percent failure rate in this industry, investing in Black funds and founders should be a no-brainer. The data don’t lie: Black-owned, high-growth, venture-backed startups yield 35 percent more ROI.
Supporting diverse ecosystem builders, especially Black ones, is integral to the continued success of the tech industry. Funding Black spaces and entrepreneurship support programs beyond pilot programs isn’t rocket science either. In 2013, we bootstrapped to launch the first and largest Black owned multi-campus co-working space and technology hub in the world. Yet, when I have visited some of your spaces across this nation, I have been treated like a strange outsider. I have received cold shoulders and side eyes by your front desk patrols and “tech bro and sis members” when I check in to visit you. I and others have tolerated micro and macro aggressions in this ecosystem, in this community and yes, at your events where I keynote, for too long. All while watching many of you appropriate our authentic diversity, equity and inclusivity strategies, programs and initiatives and water them down to underfunded pilots and press releases yielding false negatives and null impact.
We are the same people who you admire from afar as we tell you our outlier journeys to this ecosystem; all while seeing you look over your shoulders and clutch your bags and purses if we happen to be walking behind you on the way to the restroom or on the elevators to our respective hotel rooms after a full day of “inclusive ecosystem building” talks at major tech festivals and hackathons.
So, my ask is that you all check on Black ecosystem builders, funders and founders everywhere. Listen to us and believe us when we tell you what we experience every day of our lives in this industry.
Next, don’t ask us to teach you how to not be racist or un-learn your bias for free. That could take you a lifetime and we don’t have the emotional wherewithal or time to do this for free or while we are just working to build our companies. You invest financial resources in every other resource and training or coaching to better your life and work. Invest in your own soul’s salvation.
Study the works of the late Dr. Roosevelt Taylor.
Kingonomics is a resource.
The Federal Reserve Bank’s guide on “Building Inclusive Entrepreneurship Ecosystems in Communities of Color” is a playbook for racial equity based work.
OHUB is a model, platform and potential partner.
There are others doing great work of course.
Next, please ask your community to stop calling the cops on us, to stop killing us, and start funding us. For the “I started with nothing, too” and “what about Black on Black crime,” save it. Regardless of your other identities and experiences, your whiteness affords you access and privilege centuries in the making. Until you want to have a true convo on about your privilege and “white on white” crime or just “crime” as you call it which is then obfuscated as Black crime, I’m not interested.
Most of us understand and embrace the laws of connectivity and believe in the six degrees of separation (or two degrees in 4.0). Reach out to your extended family and tell these people to stop. Hold these conversations with your parents, siblings, cousins, and aunts and uncles. Don’t wait until the family reunion.
Embrace and find #racialequity in your operations and hire us to execute; and if you are applying for the $1.5 billion in EDA Cares Act monies as Economic Development Districts, University Centers or via competitive grantees, include our programs in your grant proposals.
That’s a start.
There’s so much more to do.
It was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “Rioting is the language of the unheard.”
Are you listening to Us?
Grace and peace. Let’s make history.
Rodney Sampson is founder of Opportunty Hub and an accomplished technology entrepreneur, inclusive ecosystem builder, venture fund investor, selective advisor and published author. This piece was originally posted by Sampson; republished here with permission.
Click here to donate to the Opportunity Hub Foundation’s efforts.