From basketball courts to track fields, more Black women athletes are beginning to invest in tech startups around the country and seeing huge returns while doing it.
This is noteworthy because the VC landscape has always been notoriously homogenous. Silicon Valley has long been a culture dominated by privileged white men, with a shaky record of following up on commitments to fix its diversity problem, from big tech companies that haven’t improved their diversity numbers to low or no financial backing for Black founders.
Data tells us that just 3% of VC partners in the US were Black in 2018, while 80% were white. It’s even more dismal regarding sports tech.
Although the sports tech VC sector has exploded in recent years, the multimillion-dollar deals, major funding rounds, and initial public offerings (IPOs) seldomly include Black women.
The team at Buzzer is aiming to change that. The new mobile platform for watching live sports recently announced the successful close of a $20M Series A financing, and many prominent Black women in sports helped lead the round (Naomi Osaka, Sabrina Ionescu, Renee Montgomery, Taylor Rooks, and Ros Gold-Onwude are all investors).
Founded by former Twitter exec Bo Han, Buzzer is aiming to completely disrupt the way sports fans experience games and knew it was important to surround himself with a diverse collective of smart Black women along the growth journey. In this interview with ESSENCE, Bo Han along with his investing partners Maha Ibrahim, General Partner at Canaan Partners, WNBA champion Renee Montgomery, and sports journalist Ros Gold-Onwude share their thoughts on the future of investing and why it’s imperative for Black women to get in on the action.
At what point in your fundraising journey did you decide to focus on diversifying the investor line-up (Black women specifically)?
Bo Han: As a company built during the 2020 economic crisis, global pandemic, and powerful movements for social justice, thoughtfulness was critical for Buzzer from Day 1 of Buzzer; not just in our product, but in the formation of our company, values, culture, team, and investments.
We have built intentionally with a strong culture top of mind. This means recognizing the inequities in sports, tech, and business resulting in fewer opportunities for women, and in particular, women of color. With this recognition and a commitment to intentional team development, it was critical for us to have a diverse collective of investors as part of our cap table and a part of our team.
We were also deliberate in this round in ensuring investment equitable opportunities were made accessible to women, and particularly Black women. There is a notoriously massive pay gap between men and women athletes, making equitable investment opportunities few and far between. Because of this inequity, we have engaged some of our women investors in our Series A round as advisors to the company in exchange for advisor shares, essentially matching the investment provided by these women investors. Our matching is one part of our larger effort to level the playing field and to recognize the incredible value they provide as advisors to the team as we continue to grow.
In order to also build a community around sports and provide platform and distribution to live content that has been historically underserved, like women’s sports, women executives and athletes need to have a voice. As leaders in our industry shape a culture and business model, we must consciously commit to creating more equitable investment opportunities available to women of color.
How did Naomi Osaka, Sabrina Ionescu, Renee Montgomery, Taylor Rooks, and Ros Gold-Onwude among many other notable Black women in sports come to invest in Buzzer?
While working at Twitter, I had the opportunity to work closely with partners across the industry and build trust that would carry over to Buzzer. I leaned on those relationships and also proactively connected with the people who I felt shared Buzzer’s values and would believe in our mission in democratizing access to live sports and especially advancing women’s sports.
I also served as a lead of @Blackbirds where I was able to build connections and deeply understand the source of these inequities – this helped fuel empathy and commitment towards the advancement of underrepresented groups including women of color.
How did you become interested in tech investing and why did you think Buzzer was a good brand to put your money behind?
Ros Gold-Onwude: I’ve been building my investment portfolio with a focus on tech companies for a few years and I am enjoying the process of meeting great founders and learning along the way.
I felt it was important to further secure my financial future by expanding into investing, particularly at the intersection of companies and causes that I am passionate about. I highly encourage Black women to do the same,
As a sports broadcaster I’ve witnessed the evolution of how fans are consuming sports and Buzzer is a product that is right on time. I believe Buzzer meets fans where they are, especially the media consumption habits and trends of modern fans and Gen Z who want to be alerted about the exact live epic sports moment they can interact and engage with in real-time with their friends and sports communities. So first and foremost, when I invest, the product has to make sense to me. Then I see if there is an organic partnership for investment – can I add value to the company and do we share the same values and ethos.
Why is so important for Black women to invest in companies that value diversity?
Renee Montgomery: As a former player and current team owner/executive, I know how important visibility and accessibility is. Right now, there is an increase in awareness and cultural currency happening in the WNBA, yet there are still barriers for fans to tune into games because of the inconsistency of how they are distributed and not easily accessible. We basically want to make it easy for people to tune in! Buzzer is turning awareness and ‘buzz’ into actual tune-in, bringing an even wider audience to the league and our players. I see the company as a vehicle that can only help strengthen the relationship between fans and players by meeting fans where they are and with what they care about. Furthermore, driving in the Gen-Z and Millennial viewership for live sports as the platform caters to younger sports fans as well.
Why is it so critical for Black women to lean into investing?
Ros Gold-Onwude: Black women bring a wealth of dimension and valuable perspective to any cap table. Some of the barriers to having more black women involved include a lack of information that a deal is going down and access to the deal. VC funds and founders can actively help decrease these gaps by creating space at the table for talented and qualified black female investors. For black women interested in investing but wondering how to start, I’d say “ignorance isn’t bliss.” Being informed on industries and trends helps your confidence when deciding to invest. Don’t be intimidated- read business articles daily, follow business accounts on social media that keep you in the loop and I’d encourage black women not to be timid about chatting within their friend groups about business, goals and negotiation. I believe in moderation, this is healthy and can help expand your business network, too.
Renee Montgomery: It’s critical for all companies to give a diverse collection of thought leaders a seat at the table; and an opportunity to be a part of the cap table. Black women bring a unique perspective that provides thoughtful insight and guidance to companies as they grow. In Buzzer’s case, that perspective is the foundation for the future of the live sports experience to represent diverse audiences.
Maha Ibrahim: I’ve been in venture capital for 21 years. As a female POC, I have seen first-hand the impact of having diversity at the investing table: more diverse sources of capital leads to increased access to capital for minority founders and their ideas. We have a lot of work to do, but I’m encouraged by the progress – albeit slow progress.