The tech industry has consistently battled a diversity issue from almost every angle: there is a lack of diversity in candidates throughout the hiring process, monolithic looking executives as well as Black and Brown founders receiving less than 1% of venture capital dollars. The problem is often blamed on the pipeline with companies complaining that there isn’t enough qualified talent from diverse backgrounds.
In response to the inequities of Black and Brown founders in the startup industry, SoftBank launched the SB Opportunity Fund to help close the funding gap. The SB Opportunity Fund invests in U.S. companies at the seed, venture, and growth stage that use technology to reimagine traditional business. A year later, the fund has invested in approximately 50 companies, using almost half of the fund to help make change and scale BIPOC businesses. With this fund being the largest of its kind, ESSENCE caught up with Dami Osunsanya, Vice President of SoftBank to discuss the fund, its success, as well as advice for founders that are looking for funding.
She states, ‘One year in, we’ve found that there’s no pipeline problem. We’ve invested in over 50 companies, and we are still investing in more. Founders want to partner with us because we’re more than capital—we provide true operational expertise and support.” Marcelo Claure, CEO of SoftBank Group, launched the fund and assembled a powerhouse group of executives of color to serve on their investment committee. The committee includes Shu Nyatta, Managing Partner of the $5B SoftBank LatAm Fund; Stacy Brown-Philpot, former CEO of Taskrabbit; and Paul Judge, a technology entrepreneur and investor. This dynamic provides operational expertise and support through their Value Creation mantra, which is referred to as .
Osunsanya elaborates on the approach, “The first two parts of the equation—validation and connections—are table stakes for any good VC. But it’s the third that sets us apart: Community. We have built an incredible community that brings together our growing portfolio of founders of color with our talented Investment Committee and global network of executives who believe in our mission.”
The fund has helped Black, Latinx, and Native American founders grow and scale by not only providing funding, but also access. Osunsanya proudly states, “We’ve made key intros for our portfolio to WeWork, Cyberseason, Lemonade, and GoPuff, for example.” She adds, “Many of our companies are showing strong month-over-month growth, nailing product market fit, and raising their next rounds sooner than expected.” Praxis Labs was the first SB Opportunity Fund investment and in less than a year has acquired customers like Uber and Google. Osunsanya completed a 3-week project to source an international supplier for VR technology and headsets, in addition to pricing. She shares, “Our team introduced Praxis to over 15 Enterprise customers in our network.”
What founders are receiving in exchange for equity is more than just money—access, connections, and true interest in the success of their business makes this fund a supportive destination for BIPOC founders. If you are looking for investment dollars, Osunsanya advises you to “be authentic to yourself and remember why you’re uniquely positioned to solve this specific problem.” Though the tech industry might not look like you, don’t be discouraged. She states, “Lean into your differentiator—work experience, background, careers, or even age seniority. These experiences give you insights and perspectives to uniquely solve your problems that will change our world.”
To apply to the SB Opportunity Fund, visit https://opportunityfund.typeform.com/.