Silicon Valley philanthropists will invest $25 million in startups that help diversify the tech world

Mitch KaporJoi/Wikimedia CommonsMitch Kapor is a Silicon Valley pioneer who invented Lotus.

Oakland tech philanthropists Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein announced they will spend $US40 million over three years to push Silicon Valley toward greater diversity.

They will focus a large part of their efforts on companies that have founders from “historically underrepresented communities,” which Freada Kapor Klein tells Business Insider means racial minorities or women of any background.

The lion’s share of the pledge, $US25 million, will be invested in tech startups that work to close the “achievement gap” between these underrepresented groups and the predominantly white men who have historically dominated the tech industry. Kapor Klein says the startups they invest in will both be companies that have minority and women founders, and those whose core mission is helping close various gaps between demographic groups.

An example of such a startup Kapor Klein gives is Pigeon.ly, which focuses on the American prison system, and was founded by a formerly incarcerated African American man. The company’s first project was to radically reduce the cost of phone calls between those in prison and their family members.

“One of the things we know is that recidivism rates go down dramatically when people in prison have continuing access to people in their communities,” Kapor Klein says. Startups like Pigeon.ly hit on both angles that the Kapors are looking to support with their $US25 million.

Kapor Klein also points to Piazza, a startup that facilitates online study groups. It’s founder, Pooja Sankar, attended the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, but found that none of her male classmates would study with her. She didn’t want anyone to go through the same experience of studying alone that she had, so she set out to create a platform so they wouldn’t have to.

Kapor Klein says their average investment in a seed stage startup is usually between $US150,000 and $US250,000, and that they save capital for follow-on funding in a subsequent round. The Kapors will invest in mostly domestic companies, but some of them will have an international focus in their products.

Another $US6 million of the pledge will go to expanding the Kapors’ SMASH (Summer Maths and Science Honours) Academy for students from underrepresented groups. And $US3 million per year will go toward “a more diverse tech ecosystem” in the Bay Area, an organisation spokesman said to the San Francisco Chronicle.

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