International accelerator TechStars has spent the year working towards integrating company practices that prioritize philanthropy. In March, the company took a pledge to donate one percent of equity to community causes through a partnership with Pledge 1.
Now TechStars has married its philanthropic initiatives with diversity by introducing the TechStars Foundation. The non-profit arm of TechStars, which launched earlier this week, is designed to help fund what founder David Cohen described to TNW as “meta impact” on the tech industry.
Cohen gave examples of the organizations that the TechStars foundation sees as models for this kind of funding, including Black Girls Code, a San Francisco-based organization that provides workshops and coding classes for black girls. But Cohen said that he and the Foundation’s advisory board — which include VC Brad Feld, Google for Entrepreneurs Director Mary Grove and LittleBits CSO Jenny Lawton — will consider pursuing academic efforts and charities as well.
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The fund has already accrued $500,000, to distribute grants by January of next year.
“Anybody that cares about this issue can contribute, it’s all tax deductible,” Cohen said. “But we expect that people most actively engaged will be in the TechStars network.”
Of course, the involvement from TechStars’ company portfolio could be an important financial engine for the foundation. To date, TechStars has accepted 526 companies to its 13-week course held internationally, which in turn have secured more than $1 billion in funding. Some of these companies include Sphero, makers of the consumer version of BB-8; cloud provider DigitalOcean; and meal-delivery service Plated.
Cohen says he believes that the mentors and entrepreneurs who are involved with TechStars will also help fuel the foundation.
“We’re encouraging our community to build philanthropy into their companies. Whatever we do is a signal to entrepreneurs we work with. We’re paying attention to it, so they’re paying attention to it.”
Cohen added that one entrepreneur who works with the company (who has chosen to remain anonymous) has already included the TechStars Foundation in his will.
TechStars is certainly approaching diversity in a novel way compared to its accelerator peers, which are focusing on diversity from within their own organizations. But in focusing outward, there is an opportunity for the accelerator to teach its companies early about diversity goals and values — something that might be routinely overlooked when a company is simply trying to get off the ground.
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