Shortly after George Floyd was murdered, I started calling Black VC and entrepreneur friends asking them “what are two things you are involved in that I can immediately support with time and money.”
Arlan Hamilton was my first call. In addition to asking me to spend more time with Backstage Capital portfolio companies and founders, she told me about a non-profit called Cover that she created in 2016 with Bryan Landers and Dianne Cherrez.
Arlan decided to give away copies of startup and investing books to help more people gain access to content that could change their career path.
Venture Deals was one of the books that Arlan gave away and she has occasionally talked about how impactful the book was to her own journey to learn about and become a VC.
I love to read. Arlan loves to read. And Arlan appreciates the power of books to help people learn. And, it’s even fun to see how people get Arlan’s attention using Backstage Capital and Venture Deals together.
Cover 1.0 was giving away books. Cover 2.0 started with the following tweet and shifted to gifting $500 to recipients to help them reach their goals.
With this new approach, Cover allowed access to knowledge (books, courses…), networks (introductions, memberships…), and opportunities (events, job applications…) to those who are working hard to achieve great things.
For Cover 3.0, Arlan is including the Covid crisis in the mix to include Covid-related help. For example, PPE–especially for high-risk, low-resourced places like prisons and other non-profits, higher education and experiences for Black women, and resources for displaced Black students.
In addition to financially supporting Cover 3.0 at a level to support 100 gifts, I’m going to donate 100 copies of Venture Deals to Cover 3.0 to give away to each recipient.
If you want to support Cover 3.0, please Donate any amount. I’m confident that Arlan and team will put it to good use.
Arlan – you inspire me and so many others. Thank you.
Amy and I recently joined a campaign created by Dave and Suzanne Hoover to fund a $100,000 match for the Impact on Education Foundation for Boulder Valley Schools Critical Needs Fund.
School closures due to COVID-19 have a direct impact on BVSD students and families. This fund supports BVSD food services to ensure families receive nutritious meals. It also provides school supplies to assist with at-home learning.
On Monday, I talked about our matching gifts to Boulder Community Health Covid-19 Relief Fund and the Covid-19 Response Fund Boulder County. Both funds have happily completed their match, but are continuing to raise additional money. They are both Covid-19 Relief Funds to consider if you want to support immediate and high-impact activity in Boulder.
Amy and I are continuing to work with specific organizations and volunteer teams in Boulder County on creative and immediate matching campaigns. We have at least one more coming next week, but if you have financial resources, please support anything that appeals to you.
If you are looking for specific organizations to fund, the following are some that Amy and I are long time supporters of that have an immediate impact in Boulder County, organized by the category they address.
If you want to see all the organizations Amy and I support, take a look at our Anchor Point Foundation site. But the ones listed above are the ones we think have an immediate impact.
If you have any others to suggest, or know of active campaigns in Boulder County highly relevant to the Covid-19 crisis, please put them in the comments.
Every day counts right now in the Covid fight, so if you have resources and the inclination to give, please do.
As the world shifts underneath us around Covid-19, Amy and I have focused our immediate philanthropic efforts on our local community in Boulder County.
If you have the ability to contribute anything philanthropically, helping locally will make a huge difference right now. While many of us are hunkered down at home, we’ve got numerous frontline providers at hospitals and in the community out in public helping us all get through this.
Amy and I made two matching gifts in Boulder County. Note that we are focusing on “Boulder County”, not just “the City of Boulder” right now as many of the people who serve us in the city of Boulder live in the surrounding towns that make up Boulder County.
The first gift is to BCH for the Boulder Community Health Foundation COVID-19 Response Fund. They have identified two priorities.
- BCH People: Assist BCH staff who are facing unanticipated financial challenges (e.g., needing child care due to the closing of schools, financial hardship from a spouse/partner being out of work, etc.). BCH will provide the assistance they need by significantly expanding the depth and breadth of support provided by the BCH Employee Assistance Fund.
- Remove any barriers to providing the best treatment for COVID–19. Support BCH’s significant investment in their testing capability, expanding telehealth access, and planning for an increase in cases, including supply management, space capacity, and flex training for our staff and physicians.
The other gift is to the Community Foundation Serving Boulder County for the Community Foundation COVID-19 Response Fund Boulder County. This fund will ensure essential services for community members who find themselves at the intersection of being most vulnerable to the virus and most impacted by inequity. It will focus on continuing access to care, food, hygiene, shelter, housing, and other services for the most vulnerable.
If you have any financial giving capacity of any amount, please consider a gift to either the Boulder Community Health Foundation COVID-19 Response Fund or the Community Foundation COVID-19 Response Fund Boulder County. Your support today will make a difference right now.
If you have an office in Denver, just five miles away from you is a food bank operating out of a warehouse month to month just so it can help anyone who comes through their doors.
Community Ministry of Southwest Denver has provided food, children’s clothing, school supplies, energy assistance, food boxes, and holiday gifts for young children for over fifty years. Nice.
But, the building and land that Community Ministry has leased for decades is up for sale.
To avoid losing their location, they are raising $800,000 which would cover the cost of the building, parking lot, closing costs, and some much-needed renovations.
They are a little over $600,000 on their way to $800,000 of their fundraising campaign. Every bit helps, so instead of buying a coffee at Starbucks (or your favorite coffee shop) today, consider making a donation to them. Any amount helps.
Over the years, I’ve written about my belief in the importance of giving back to your communities and #givefirst. In this spirit, one of the key organizations my partners at Foundry Group have helped create and nurture is Pledge 1%.
In 2007, we were a founding member in the predecessor organization to Pledge 1%, called Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado (or EFCO). EFCO started as an experiment here in Boulder, not unlike Techstars and Startup Week/Weekend that got their start in our backyard. In 2014, Pledge1% Global launched as a joint effort between Foundry Group, The Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado, The Salesforce Foundation and The Atlassian Foundation which we helped seed financially and continue to support.
While all of the Foundry Group partners have been involved, Seth Levine has been spearheading our engagement and the transformation from EFCO to Pledge 1% (he, along with key members of the teams from Salesforce, Atlassian and Ryan Martens are the founders of Pledge 1%). At a partner offsite at the end of last year, we were reflecting on some of the gifts from Foundry Group through our Pledge 1% involvement, which included:
- The Community Trust of Boulder – We believe that a rising tide raises all boats and wanted to do our part to support our local community here in Boulder and Colorado.
- United Way Foothills – After the Colorado flood in 2013 we decided to step up and fill a gap in funding from Foothills United Way.
- Museum of Boulder – Our city has a rich history on numerous dimensions. We now have a museum in downtown to be proud of.
- BCH Foundation Mental Health Campaign – Mental health is a major issue in our society, as well as in entrepreneurship. We are pleased to be able to help expand the mental health resources in our community.
We had some extra money left in our Pledge 1% Colorado account from distributions over 2018 and decided that, rather than saving it up for another larger gift, we’d give a series of modest gifts to a handful of local (and one non-local but nearby) organizations as a surprise holiday gift. Those organizations were:
- Access Opportunity
- Boulder Community Foundation Leadership Fellows
- Colorado FIRST Robotics
- Community Food Shares
- CU Science Discovery
- Defy Ventures Colorado
- Donors Choose – Sphero Match
- Emergency Family Assistance Association in Boulder (“EFAA”)
- I Have A Dream – Boulder
- Our Center
- Ranger Projects Yellowstone Forever Institute
If you are a co-founder at a startup, leading a company, or an employee at a company and want to learn more, check out the Pledge1% (or here if you’re in Colorado). Or email me or Micah Mador if you want to get involved.
I had surgery recently and a few friends, including Chris Moody and Sarah Ahn, gave me some books as gifts. They knew I’d be spending a lot of time on the couch either napping or reading, so my pile of infinite books to read became more abundant with a few good ones including The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates.
While I’ve met Melinda’s husband Bill a few times, but I’ve never spent any time with Melinda. I know plenty of people who know her or work for her and have overlapped with a few organizations that we both support. However, after reading The Moment of Lift, I feel like I now know her. And, she is awesome.
The book is a combination of a memoir, a manifesto, a case study, and a roadmap. While it uses the backdrop of empowering women as the framework, it genuinely addresses how empowering women can change the world.
In the current entrepreneurial climate of “changing the world” and “making a dent in the universe”, this is the first book that I’ve read in a while that really hit home on these issues. I’ve felt discouraged recently by the tenor of the entrepreneurial discussion, where phrases like “changing the world” have become cliches and are really an entrepreneurial proxy for “making a lot of money.” While I don’t object to that, I get tired of the optimistic language as a shield, rationalization, or misdirection for the real underlying motivation.
Melinda turns this on its head in The Moment of Lift. The examples she gives are real examples of changing the world through foundational activities for women, mostly led by women, and supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She devotes a chapter to each of the following topics:
- Maternal and Newborn Health
- Family Planning
- Girls in Schools
- Unpaid Work
- Child Marriage
- Women in Agriculture
- Women in the Workplace
Buried in the middle of the book is an intensely personal chapter about Melinda’s own journey. Her level of self-awareness, humility, and discovery reinforced her awesomeness, and created my own moment of lift while reading the book.
Melinda, both personally, and through her work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation inspire me. It was a perfect book to read while healing. Thanks Chris and Sarah for the gift.
Today’s #GivingThanks is to David Cohen, one of the founders and co-CEO of Techstars. If David has done something that has touched your life is a positive way and you want to give thanks to him, make a donation online to the Techstars Foundation.
I met David on one of my random days in 2006. I can’t remember who introduced us, but David reminds me that it took him four months to get a meeting with me. He knew he had 15 minutes so he got right down to it as is his nature. We were in my old Superior office (the one about the liquor store where I met Lucy Sanders and so many other great people for the first time.) We said hello, David introduced himself to me, and we sat down. David then slid something across the table and sat silently while I read it.
It was a folded piece of paper that looked liked it had been printed on a color printer at a Kinkos. I opened it in its three-fold glory and read an overview of a thing called TechStars (yes – I immediately noticed the CamelCase) with a logo at the top that closely resembles today’s logo. I had an immediate positive reaction.
When I looked up, David gave me a little more background. He told me we were co-investors in a few companies as angel investors. He then explained why he wasn’t enjoying being an angel investor the way he was then doing it. Remember, it’s 2006 and angel investing is not trendy. In fact, early stage investing in general is in the dog house for many investors, both angels and VCs, as they are still remembering the pain from the collapse of the Internet bubble. While we had at least two angel groups in the Denver/Boulder area in 2006, they were more of a combination of a cocktail party combined with an entrepreneur torture chamber. Founders came in, pitched a bunch of angel investors, got ask a bunch of questions, went away, but rarely ended up with any investment. David had participated but realized that very few angels were writing checks and, when they did, the entrepreneurs didn’t get engaged investors.
David had a vision to change that. He said he wanted to raise about $200,000 to get it started. He was personally putting in $80,000. At about the ten minute mark, I told him that as long as he wasn’t a flake or a crook, I was in for $50,000. He then told me that David Brown (now co-CEO of Techstars), who had been his partner in their first company (Pinpoint Software), would likely do $50,000. I said that was awesome and I’d make a few phone calls and see if I could round up the rest.
After David left, I called Jared Polis. I had met Jared a decade earlier (via an introduction from my first business partner, Dave Jilk) and we had become good friends and co-investors in a handful of companies. I told Jared I was investing $50,000 in a new thing called Techstars that I’d like to see if he wanted to invest in with me. He responded, “Sure, count me in for $50,000. What is it?” And, like that, we had raised the money for the first Techstars Boulder program which ran in 2007.
A decade later, I’m comfortable asserting that Techstars has had a significant positive impact on entrepreneurship around the world. It’s been one of my greatest life pleasures to be involved in it.
David, thank you for showing up in my office and inviting me to be part of Techstars. Here’s the first promotion video, which reminds me how far we’ve come.
But we have only begun. Techstars, which now runs 25 Techstars accelerator programs around the world each year, also runs over 1,000 Startup Weekends a year and 40 Startup Weeks a year. As part of our experience over the last decade, we became immersed in the issue of diversity in entrepreneurship. My work with the National Center for Women & Information Technology informed and inspired this, along with our creation of programs like Patriot Boot Camp and Rising Stars. And, the Techstars mantra of #GiveFirst, which builds on the philosophy I talked about in Startup Communities of “Give Before You Get”, has become deeply embedded in our value system.
At the end of last year, we took this to another level by creating the Techstars Foundation. The foundation mission is straightforward – to improve diversity in entrepreneurship. Our initial funding was provided by the Techstars founders and a few other people close to Techstars. Since then, we’ve done a major matching campaign that Amy and I funded, a partnership with BetaBrand that generated $85,000 in contributions, and several other fundraisers. We are closing in on the foundation having $1 million in the bank, which is an exciting start for us.
We made our first round of grants earlier this year to five organizations: Astia, Patriot Boot Camp, Defy Ventures, Change Catalyst, and Gaza Sky Geeks. I personally adopted Defy Ventures, went to prison for the day, learned an enormous amount about myself in the process, and subsequently made a significant commitment to Defy.
David is now one of my closest friends and my experience working with him and the team at Techstars is one of the most professionally rewarding things I’ve done. David – thank you.
Thanksgiving is a pensive time for me. The world slows down a little as it gets ready for the mad dash to the end of the year. Four day weekends are rare in the United States and even though the retail world is extremely busy on Friday, my Thanksgiving has a very different tempo as the email slows to a crawl, the calendar becomes empty, and Amy and I generally have a lot of hanging out time.
I’ve always thought Givingthanks should be a neologism but it never seems to stick, so I’ll roll with Thanksgiving. For the next few days as we celebrate Thanksgiving, I’m going to publicly thank a few people in my world who mean a lot to me and have given an enormous amount of themselves to others. I’m also going to give you a way to say thanks by supporting something meaningful in their world.
I’m going to start with my partner Jason Mendelson. We’ve worked together since the late 1990s, which is now pushing up against two decades. He’s become one of my closest friends and confidants. I was honored, with my other partners Seth and Ryan, to be the best men in his wedding. We have our moments, but the long arc of our relationship is one I treasure.
I’ve watched Jason have a remarkable positive influence on many. But I know that one of the activities he’s proudest of is his involvement with CU Boulder, especially around entrepreneurship. Among many other things, he has taught a class on Venture Capital at CU Law with Brad Bernthal. Last month, a group of their students put together the Jason Mendelson Entrepreneurial Award Fund.
Think about that for second – CU students and alumni of his course has put together a scholarship / award fund. That’s a testament to how much the class – and Jason’s involvement in it – impacted them. The initial fund has $50,000 in it and provides cash awards, scholarships, or stipends to students enrolled at CU Boulder who demonstrate excellence in the field of entrepreneurship.
Ok – so here’s how you can give thanks – to me or to Jason. You can contribute any amount to the Jason Mendelson Entrepreneurial Award Fund online. It’s a charitable gift and it will be helping support a student at CU around entrepreneurship.
Jason – on this Thanksgiving 2016, thank you for everything you do to make the world a better place.
For the next 90 days, Amy and I are matching every gift to the Techstars Foundation on a 1:2 basis up to $100,000 from us. Our overall goal is to raise at least $300,000 for the Techstars Foundation by the end of the summer.
If Techstars has touched you in any positive way, I’d request that you consider making a grant to the Techstars Foundation. This request includes anyone who has gone through a Techstars accelerator, done a Startup Weekend, participated in a Startup Week, receives Startup Digest, or has been a mentor or investor in any Techstars company or program. Or anyone else who has been positively motivated or influenced by Techstars in any way.
When we started Techstars in 2006, our goal was to change the way early stage company creation and innovation worked. While we didn’t have the words for it then, we’ve evolved the language and the mission of the organization over the last decade which we now summarize in the tagline “Techstars is the global ecosystem that helps entrepreneurs build great businesses”
As part of building this global ecosystem of entrepreneurs, I’ve observed and experienced a massive issue around diversity in entrepreneurship. This is not a new issue to me as I’ve been working with various organizations, such as National Center for Women & Information Technology, since 2005.
Last year, in a conversation with the Techstars leadership team, we decided to start the Techstars Foundation with the goal of improving diversity in entrepreneurship. While we were already doing lots of things internally around this, by creating the foundation we have taken it up a level, as evidenced by our first five grants that were made last month.
Amy and I decided to launch this challenge grant as part of a larger gift from us to the Techstars Foundation. We hope you join us and support our efforts.
I got a random email from Brett Hagler last Thursday asking me to help his startup New Story.
I looked at his web site and quickly told him it wasn’t something we’d be into exploring as an investment. He wrote back immediately, telling me that he wasn’t looking for investment, but had created a non-profit that used crowdfunding to finance and build life-changing houses around the world.
Our mission is to create life-changing stories that transform communities. We’re focused on funding 100 homes in 100 days in Leveque, Haiti.
I looked at the website with a different angle – one of a donor. Amy and I are huge supporter of sites like GiveForward, DonorsChoose and CrowdRise. When I took a second look from that perspective, I got excited about helping Brett out.
I just contributed $1,000 to Fenise and family.
I get asked often by readers of Feld Thoughts how they can do something for me. Let’s band together and build Fenise and family a house. We are only $5,000 away from changing the life of a family in Haiti.