George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a police officer in May 2020 galvanized millions of people to take up the cause of systemic racism in the US. Most noticeably, it prompted protestors to take to the streets, demanding change after decades of inaction.
For William Crowder, an early-stage investor in tech companies, it was a reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Floyd’s cries for help and the haunting refrain “I can’t breathe” are a tactile reminder that getting people to listen is just the beginning when it comes to overcoming deeply ingrained inequities.
For the past ten years, William Crowder has been trying to get people to listen. He understands the implications of inequity, and he knows how to make a difference. He wants people to understand methodologies that work and the steps that we can take to stop overlooking entire communities, which is especially prescient when people are primed for collective action.
Understanding From Experience
For the past ten years, William Crowder’s feet have been firmly planted at the intersection of venture capital, diversity, and tech. However, to say that any of these sectors define his ambitions would be a mistake.
In his own words, Crowder is an “accidental VC” who is using his experience, connections, and credentials to level the playing field and change peoples’ perspectives about the value of minority-led startups in Silicon Valley and beyond.
A graduate of North Carolina State University and Duke University, Crowder quickly established a reputation of competence and rigor.
As the first lead investor at Comcast Ventures’ diversity-focused venture fund, the first of its kind in the corporate space, and a former partner at DreamIt Ventures, a global startup accelerator, he has a long resume and a comprehensive investment portfolio that demonstrates efficacy in this space.
The through-line for these endeavors is an opportunity to make a difference that transcends raw business acumen. “when I look at where and what I’ve been involved in, it’s always when there is an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the people I relate to,” Crowder recalls.
Specifically, Crowder saw an opportunity to make sure that venture capitalists and startup supporters were not ignoring entire groups of people, regions of the country, or other anodyne differentiators.
This priority led him to Dreamit Ventures, where he focused on finding diverse founders for pre-seed investment.
Crowder spearheaded Dreamit’s diversity initiative in collaboration with Comcast Ventures for five years. The experience gave him a front-row seat to witness the limitations of diversity efforts in the tech space.
Ultimately, Crowder determined that the industry was flawed. He observed that the tech industry “had its own viewpoint and pattern matching perspective about who was worth funding.”
He adds, “I saw crazy stuff happen: People would be funded because they looked smart and interesting.” In other words, by broadly ignoring minority founders, VCs were missing out on an important investment opportunity. Meanwhile, minority-dominated communities were deprived of the economic mobility that often accompanies minority-led startups. Something Needed to change.
Everyone Has a Role to Play
His experience in a corporate environment helped create a unique outlook on a big company’s role in reversing these trends.
They are well-equipped with financial resources, human capital, distribution arrangements, and data-driven consumer insights. When these assets are made available to minority startups Crowder believes, “amazing things can happen.”
As an Entrepreneur in Residence at Morgan Stanley, Crowder is primarily focused on making this a reality for more people. However, don’t think this is purely an altruistic endeavor. He wants people to know that it’s one of the noteworthy investment opportunities of our time.
Crowder explains, “we really want to see what everyone wants to see: the big success story.”
“We want to see the big exits and the unicorns,” Crowder continues.
Simply put, there is a legitimate business case for minority investment, and corporations that ignore this opportunity leave money on the table.
For corporations, this requires introspection. Minorities make up a significant portion of their customer bases, but Crowder believes they have an even more important role to play: “If you don’t sit down and think about how to best engage with this group, you will fail to create meaningful partnerships that propel your organization forward.”
Crowder is a true believer in this approach.
“I want to finally create the opportunity for companies to be authentic and legitimate partners for a more diverse population of business creators,” he declares.
2020 presents a unique opportunity to make this vision a reality. His latest efforts with Aperture Venture Capital strive to engage corporations in this process. However, Crowder also knows that the groundswell of support for this issue tends to be fleeting.
Therefore, now is the time to take action. This isn’t an unprecedented moment, but we have the capacity to make a meaningful change right now. If we don’t, Crowder warns, “we will have the same conversation in 2030.”
The only difference is that next time Crowder won’t be the one trying to make equity a reality. He’s spending his efforts on the here and now.