Brad Feld

Category: Philanthropy

Senator Barack Obama spoke at the National Center for Women & Information Technology Town Hall last week.  If you are an Obama fan, or just want to hear about what he has to say, NCWIT’s friends at Microsoft Research have put both Obama’s speech as well as much of the town hall conference on “IT Innovation and the Role of Diversity” up on the Research Channel web site.

NCWIT had a “town hall” event at the National Academy of Sciences Auditorium last Wednesday.

Along with the NCWIT participants were a number of special guests, including Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), Rick Rashid (SVP Microsoft Research), and Senator Mark Udall (D-CO).  The agenda included a keynote address from Padmasree Warrior (EVP and CTO of Motorola), an Executive Branch Panel, and a Congressional Panel.  I wasn’t able to attend because of my trip to Paris, but Lucy Sanders (NCWIT’s CEO) told me the event went extremely well.  Thanks to everyone who participated.

On Friday, Microsoft announced that it had donated $1 million to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.  I was at Seattle University at the Future Potential in IT seminar where this was announced and got to say a few words on behalf of NCWIT to the 500 people (mostly students – about 25% women) that were there.

I’ve been chairman of NCWIT for the past 18 months and this marks a huge milestone for us.  A year ago Avaya partnered with NCWIT at the $1 million level, making them NCWIT’s first “investment partner.”  While we have a great workforce alliance, Microsoft has stepped up in a huge way and is showing real leadership with our organization as our most recent investment partner.

As I’ve mentioned in the past on the blog, NCWIT is addressing an issue much larger than simply the obvious gender imbalance in the field of information technology and computer science.  There is a growing demand / supply gap in the US and we are now entering a time where – as a country – we run the risk of becoming less competitive in this critical area because of a lack of qualified IT and computer science professionals.  There simply aren’t enough men interested in this area to fill demand – as a result, it behooves us to encourage women to enter this field.  In addition, as computers become increasingly pervasive throughout everything we do, it has always made intellectual sense to me that women be as involved in the creation and implementation of the technology as men.

Thank you Microsoft for showing real leadership in this area.  And – thank you to the many people at Microsoft that worked behind the scenes to make this happen.

I stumbled over a post on the re:invention Marketing blog (a toolbox for & about enterprising women) about BusinessWeek’s recent article on tech entrepreneurs under the age of 30.  Kirsten Osolind points out that of the 16 “cutting edge entrepreneurs under 30” that were highlighted, none were women (ok – two were women – Sandy Jan and Elaine Wherry – of Meebo.)  I forwarded this to Lucy Sanders, the CEO of National Center for Women & Information Technology – and she logically responded “well Brad – blog about it.”  Interestingly, the ratio (2:16 or 12.5%) is about the same ratio of high school girls to boys that take the AP Computer Science test.

After writing a “where are the women?” at Sun post last month, my partner Heidi reminded me that two high profile Silicon Valley CEO’s – Carol Bartz (Autodesk) and Kim Polese (Sun, SpikeSource) – are Sun alums. 

Last weekend, the Rocky Mountain News ran a nice profile of Barbara Bauer, VP of Software Engineering and Development at Sun’s Louisville, CO campus.  Bauer (no relation to Jack as far as I know) was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame and had some good thoughts about attracting new blood into the technology field.

Jonathan Schwartz – the president and COO of Sun – just posted on his great trip to Sun Mexico and raved about their recent performance.  He posted a picture of “the winning team” – my first reaction was “where are the women?”  I know Sun is a member of the National Center for Women & Information Technology Workforce Alliance so I was a little surprised.  I decided to dig a little more and discovered that two of twenty three senior execs are women and two of nine directors are women.  Unfortunately I had no easy way to go any deeper in the organization – it’s certainly conceivable that there is a higher ratio of female engineers at Sun than female executives – although if history is a guide this probably isn’t the case.

I’ve been involved in NCWIT not because of an innate desire on my part for gender parity, but because I’m a strong believe that if the U.S. wants to continue to be competitive in IT and computer science 20 years from now, the dramatic gender split that currently exists needs to be gone – for multiple reasons, not the least of which are the fundamental issues of design (if 50 percent of your users are women, don’t you want 50 percent of your designers to be women?) and supply and demand (there simply aren’t enough men to satisfy the growth of the industry.)  I recognize the irony of this statement in the context of a photo of the Sun Mexico “winning team”, and while I think of Sun as an international company, it’s clearly headquartered in the U.S.

To continue to be relevant in the long term, Sun has to out-innovate a number of fierce competitors and they should be using all of the weapons at their disposal.  While I can imagine a typical response of “Brad – get off your soapbox – quit being a feminist – no room for that here”, I hope someone high up at Sun is actively thinking about the long term gender dynamics in the IT industry and how this can positively impact innovation.  It’s an interesting challenge and I can assure Sun that some of their most aggressive competitors are not just thinking about it but taking aggressive steps to take advantage of the idea.

As you may know, I’m the chairman of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT).  NCWIT’s mission is straightforward – to ensure that women are fully represented in the influential world of information technology and computing.  NCWIT has had an awesome fall, including accomplishing the following.

  • Hosting a superb national meeting at Carnegie Mellon University.
  • Establishing a partnership with Cisco on an awareness campaign that leverages Cisco’s national educator’s network to reach students, teachers and parents.
  • Creating an entrepreneurial alliance in partnership with the Kauffman Foundation.
  • Creating a K-12 alliance.
  • Adding several new members to the Executive Advisory Council, including Linda Dillman (EVP & CIO Wal-Mart Stores), Charlie Feld (EVP of Portfolio Management, EDS), and Ruth Bruch (SVP and CIO, Lucent Technologies).

It’s been an honor to work with Lucy Sanders, the CEO of NCWIT, and her team on year three of this incredibly vibrant organization.

I’ve strongly encouraged my portfolio companies to incorporate “philanthropic activities” into their businesses early in their life.  I don’t advocate any particular focus – I simply encourage founders and leadership teams to think about what they can do to make a difference. 

Historically, most large public companies have some amount of philanthropic focus, but this is often missing early in the life a company.  I’m proud of a number of my portfolio companies that have incorporate philanthropic programs into their businesses early, including Rally Software’s 1% Fund, StillSecure’s 1% of Revenues to Lance Armstrong Foundation, and NewsGator’s 3% of Revenues to Hurricane Katrina Relief Efforts.

Last week Return Path announced that they have developed a broad philanthropic partnership with the Accelerated Cure Project for Multiple Sclerosis.  The relationship originated when a former Return Path employee was diagnosed with MS.  I knew that Art Mellor – a long time colleague from Boston who is a successful entrepreneur – also had MS and had started the Accelerated Cure Project with a goal of curing MS by determining its causes.  I connected the various folks up, including Matt Blumberg, the CEO of Return Path.

I watched from the sidelines as the relationship between the two organizations developed.  This is one of my greatest pleasures in business – making the initial connection and watching capable, motivated, and competent people figure out how to work together.  In this case, it has worked splendidly for all parties as Return Path is demonstrating that it can do good by doing well.

Some day MS will be cured – there’s no doubt in my mind that the work Art and his crew are doing will contribute significantly to this.  The folks at Return Path should be proud today about their contribution to this cause.

My friends Ben Neumann and Chris Ueland have a clever idea for helping out Hurricane Katrina victims called MillionDollarHelpPage.  They’ve taken the idea that Alex Tew came up for MillionDollarHomePage and repurposed it to be a Katrina fundraiser with the goal of raising $1 million.