Brad Feld

Category: Philanthropy

As chairman of the National Center for Women & Information Technology, I’m always on the lookout for real evidence that there is causal impact between various programs aimed specifically at women in helping with IT and entrepreneurship and long term competitiveness and economic development.  The Center for Women’s Leadership at Babson College just released a study that shows that Women’s Business Centers (WBC’s) are driving entrepreneurship among economically disadvantaged women.  WBC’s were created in 1988 through the federal Women’s Business Ownership Act – there’s some good stuff in the report summarizing the current state of play of WBC’s.

This study was done in conjuction with several organizations (including the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation which I have a long standing respect for an a historical relationship with) and – if you are interested in this sort of stuff – worth taking a look at.

I spent a day in Washington DC last week on my continued mission to evangelize for the National Center for Women & Information Technologies.  We had an evening event that was kindly hosted by the folks at McKenna Long & Aldridge with our local Colorado Congressman Mark Udall keynoted the evening.

In between my normal daily email and phone calls, I had three completely fascinating meetings concerning women and information technology.  The Honorable Paula Stern was my guide for the day (Paula used to be the chairwoman of the International Trade Commission and is a huge friend of NCWIT) and she generally kept me out of trouble.

My first meeting was with the folks from the Committee for Economic Development (the people that gave us the Marshall Plan). Charles Kolb and his team had a major clue, got the issues we were discussing immediately, and laid some groundwork for future collaboration.  I left their office with a pile of scintillating material to read, including publications such as (a) Making Trade Work: Straight Talk on Jobs, Trade, and Adjustments and (b) Learning for the Future: Changing the Culture of Math and Science Education To Ensure a Competitive Workforce.  These dudes are smart, data driven, and intensely logical thinkers – I look forward to more interaction with them.

Next up was a short meeting with Bruce Mehlman and Karin Hudson at Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti.  Mehlman is the Executive Director of the Computer Systems Policy Project – an affiliation of CEO’s from nine computer companies: Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, NCR, Unisys, Motorola, EMC, and Applied Materials.  One of NCWIT’s core messages is that we need to encourage women to join the US IT workforce to increase the long term competitiveness of the US computer industry.  We thought this would resonate with Bruce.  It didn’t.  Karin got it however so there’s hope that we’ll make some progress in the future with them and CSPP.

Finally, I wandered over the Russell Senate Office Building (nope – I’d never been there before – man those ceilings are high) to meet with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s chief of staff Tamera Luzzatto.  Tamera is a total rock star – she got it immediately (even while watching the house vote on stem cell research out of the corner of her eye) and committed to include the NCWIT messages and agenda in their future thinking.  I had to split early because of a meeting with one of our LPs, although Paula stayed behind and finished the meeting.  Unquestionably the most powerful meeting of the day.

Paula was a little disappointed that we were only two out of three for the day (three out of four if you include the awesome evening event.)  I explained to her that two out of three is a phenomenal result for a VC and that – while I was only marginally more clueful about Washington DC then I was at the beginning of the day – I was delighted to have spent it with her.

While Amy and I are involved in and support a number of non-profits, I limit the number of non-profit boards I sit on at any one time to a total of three as I’ve seen way too many “passive non-profit board members.”  While this might be good for the person’s resume, ego, or the non-profit’s external perception of involvement from meaningful people in the community, it’s just not my way – if I’m going to sit on a board, I take it seriously and give it the energy, time, and attention it deserves.

Currently I’m chairman of the National Center for Women & Information Technology and on the boards of the Colorado Conservation Trust and the Watershed SchoolNCWIT and CCT both released radically updated websites this week.  If you are interested in either organization or have looked at their sites in the past, it’s worth a refresher.

Last year at about this time I hosted a fundraiser for the Boulder Philharmonic and was the guest conductor. Prior to this I knew nothing about conducting and – while I like music – have no real musical aptitude beyond singing in the shower – so it was both a fun time and a good learning experience for me. In addition to conducting, I was also the guest auctioneer for the live auction (which was much easier).  Amy and I chose the Boulder Phil as our major philanthropic initiative last year and our efforts (among others) at the fundraiser resulted in over $130,000 of additional contribution, helping the Boulder Phil land in the black for the first time in a while.

I’m doing it again this year.  As part of the auction last year, I auctioned off the opportunity to conduct the orchestra.  Peter Johnson, who recently married my friend Carrie van Heyst, won the right to conduct (at Carrie’s prompting – I think she might have actually been the one bidding).  Peter then roped me into co-conducting with him since I was “experienced” and it was apparently my fault that he was “getting” to do this.

So – if you are in Boulder on April 9th, come to i due Maestri to see Peter and I conduct (guaranteed to be entertaining), participate in the live and silent auction, and enjoy the beautiful new St. Julien Hotel in downtown Boulder while contributing to one of Boulder’s key arts groups.  I’ll be the auctioneer again and you never know what I might auction off (last year it included a day with my parents – which was happily picked up by our friends Larry and Pat Nelson.)

I hope to see you there.  Tickets can be bought online here.

I’m chairman of the National Center for Women & Information Technology.  A lot of my friends ask me why an organization aimed at women has a guy as chairman.  I respond by telling them that NCWIT is not a women’s issue focused organization (although I’d still be supportive if it was) – it’s all about the long term negative impact on innovation of the gender imbalance that currently exists in the IT industry, especially on the technical side – which obviously involved both men and women. 

Lucy Sanders – the CEO of NCWIT and ex-CTO of Avaya Labs – is much more articulate about it than I could ever be.  She has a great interview in Saturday’s Rocky Mountain News that describes the issue clearly, including the following sound bites:

  • Goal of NCWIT: Gender parity in the IT work force in 20 years.
  • Evidence of Today’s Situation: Only 16% of high schoolers taking the AP Computer Science test are girls.
  • Why Does This Matter?: Men and Women bring different creative skills to the innovation table and we need both in the invention of technology.
  • What Does NCWIT Plan to Do?: First – build a national community around the issue and figure out what’s really going on.  Then, create alliances, build community, mobilize for change, and use effective practices based on research results.

I recently agreed to be chairman of the National Center for Women & Information Technology – an organization run by Lucy Sanders (ex-CTO Avaya Labs) – whose mission is to ensure that women are fully represented in the influential world of information technology.  Lucy and NCWIT are the real deal – in its first year we’ve raised over $4.5 million from the National Science Foundation, Avaya, Microsoft, Google, and a number of other technology companies.  Lucy has an ambitious multi-decade vision which – when you sit and listen – makes you say “wow – that’s perfect – yes – absolutely” and other unambiguous affirmative phrases.

Several weeks ago, Larry Summers – the President of Harvard University – generated a predictable controversy when he suggested “that innate differences between the genders could help explain why fewer women succeed in science and math careers.”  I cracked up when I heard this for the first time since I figured he was simply being sarcastic and poking fun at his crosstown rival (my alma matter) due to the recent appointment of a woman (Dr. Susan Hockfield) as President of MIT.  But it was clear that he was deadly serious, and after an uproar, several apologies from Summers, and a lot of public discussion, the topic of the level of participation of women in IT has real visibility.

We had a NCWIT board meeting the week of Summers’ remarks.  At the meeting, we decided that the right approach was not to castigate Summers, nor join the “backlash”, but rather to invite Summers to get involved and help us better understand and address the issue (I suggested we ask him to join the NCWIT board).  To that end, Lucy wrote an op-ed the other day that follows.

As CEO of the National Center for Women & Information Technology, I’d like to thank Harvard’s President, Larry Summers. His recent remarks – that innate gender differences might explain the dearth of women in science and engineering – call attention to a critical issue even as they misconstrue it.

Innovation is inherently a creative and highly personal process: from Penicillin to iPods, the most influential innovations of our time reflect the perspectives and experience of their creators. Employing gender diversity in the innovation process yields different products and better ideas, contributing to stronger U.S. economic performance.

While women’s contributions have neared parity in biological sciences and math, women’s position in the information technology (IT) professions has slipped significantly. Women now earn only 28 percent of computer science degrees (down from 37 percent in 1984) and represent only one-quarter of professional workers in IT occupations.

This problem comes at a critical juncture for America: As IT globalizes, many of its products and services become commodities and even high-value IT jobs move off-shore. What will differentiate U.S. performance? Women can, and must play an important role in fostering new IT innovations if the US is to remain competitive.

The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) is a growing coalition of over 40 respected corporations, academic institutions and non-profits working aggressively to understand and solve this problem. NCWIT intends to increase the participation of girls and women in information technology and, through their contributions, to help the U.S. remain at the forefront of IT innovation. From K-12 education to corporate careers, we know that certain approaches work to engage and educate this over-looked talent pool of creative women. We need to put these approaches into action. We are a community of change-agents committed to investing in research and education, determining best practices for progress, and implementing these solutions across the country.

There’s no doubt that women are creative innovators. Debating whether their cognitive abilities match those of their male counterparts is a waste of time; it is in fact our differences that make women’s contributions so essential to our economy and society, no less in IT than anywhere else.

Read it carefully.  It describes the core of what NCWIT is trying to accomplish, why it matters, and how the differences between men and women can impact the innovation process.  Lucy – this is fun!

I’m pleased to announce that the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra ended their fiscal year in positive net worth territory for the first time since 1996. The Boulder Daily Camera just ran a nice article about how it overcame its debt.

Why should you care, you ask?

My wife Amy and I pick one major non-profit to have as our “major initiative” for the year. We give to a wide range of organizations – both money and time – but pick one to “go over the top” with each year. Last year we gave a major “seed gift” to help jump start the The Community Trust of the Community Foundation Serving Boulder County.

This year we decided to help the “new Boulder Philharmonic” get solidly on its feet after a near death experience in the hands of the now defunct Peak Arts. Mission accomplished! It feels great to be able to say this in today’s era of declining financing for arts organizations.

Google just announced the 2004 winners of the Google Anita Borg Memorial Scolarships. The scholarship was awarded to female undergraduate and graduate students earning computer science degrees during the 2004-05 academic year, who were selected based on academic performance, responses to essay questions, and letters of recommendation. Eight received $10,000 awards; eleven received $1,000 award.

The mission for the Anita Borg Institue for Women and Technology is to increase the impact of women on all aspects of technology, to increase the positive impact of technology on the lives of the world’s women, and to help communities, industry, education and government benefit from these increases.

I first heard about the Anita Borg Institute through my work with the National Center for Women and Information Technology. The Anita Borg Institute is one of the hubs for NCWIT which is headquartered out of the Atlas Institute at the University of Colorado Boulder. NCWIT is run by Lucinda Sanders – the retired CTO of Lucent Bell Labs / Avaya Labs. The NCWIT mission is similar – it is to ensure that women are fully represented in the influential world of information technology. Through a nationally connected effort of programs, networks and research, the Center will work to guarantee that women’s perspectives and skills contribute significantly to the creation and application of information technology.

I’ve been on the board of trustees for about a year, along with some other great people including Marie Alexander – CEO of Quova (one of my portfolio companies). Halley Suitt – who has a great blog called Halley’s Coment – is also involved.

Both NCWIT and the Anita Borg Institute are outstanding organizations being run by people dedicated to increasing and advancing the role of women in the field of information technology. Hats off to everyone involved, and kudos to Google for their support of these initiatives.

I had lunch today with Gary Zeff who runs Boulder Open Studios. In addition to talking about Open Studios – which is a very cool thing for the local Boulder art community – we got into a long discussion about why my generation (Generation X – born between 1965 and 1980) is so light on the philanthropic scene.

My wife Amy and I have been very active with our philanthropy for the past five years. At some point, we realized that – at least in our community (Boulder, CO) there was a surprising lack of philanthropic focus. This was even more ironic since Boulder County has a population of 300,000 yet purportedly has over 1,000 individual non-profits (or – one non-profit per 300 people).

We’ve been strong supporters of one of the organized meta-non-profitsThe Community Foundation Serving Boulder County. When we got involved, it surprised me that many of my cohorts both didn’t know about The Community Foundation or – if they had heard about it – weren’t terribly interested. The Community Foundation spawned two organizations – Boulder County Culture of Giving and Social Venture Partners Boulder County – both of these were more accessible to my fellow Gen-Xers. However, it was still hard to get my generation to engage.

At lunch, I said out loud for the first time that I think it’s a result of the values instilled in us from our parents. Many GenX parents are not baby boomers (1945 – 1960)(e.g. my folks were born in 1938 and 1942). They are children of depression era parents. It’s a complicated lineage, but it’s one that missed the 1960s ethos by a few years.

I came across a great article on this called Generation mY: Not Seeing your Xer Garden Grow? The telling paragraph is:

“This generation as a whole can’t see the need in making an annual fund gift while they are paying back a student loan, buying a house, or starting a family. Most development officers have picked up on this to some degree and have written Xers off- because hey, the development officer will probably be on to several more posts before it is a real issue for them. Wrong! Case in point using college and university trends: most schools are graduating larger classes of students, so if the institution hasn’t already realized it- the young alumni crowd is quickly becoming the largest segment of the alumni body and alumni non-participation in giving is eating away at those participation rates we all like to tout so much.”