In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests that shocked the world with their unapologetic demand for racial equality, more and more of us are starting to wonder how such acts of raw social activism can be translated into the world of technology and investing. Intern Julia Nana-Dabankah reports from London Tech Week.
This was the focal point of the 10×10 Fund’s launch during London Tech Week, as the event What Active Allyship Looks Like in London’s Tech Scene sought to explore the undeniable privilege that is rife in the ecosystem – something many of us are often far too awkward about or oblivious of to talk about confidently.
The 10×10 Fund is a “pre-seed fund investing in exceptional black founders in the UK”. Run by Andy Davis, the fund seeks to bridge the “investment gap” between black businesses and investors. Davis wants to address the many disadvantages faced by people of African and Caribbean descent who seek to secure investment that lead to them being “over-mentored and under invested” compared to their white counterparts.
John Spindler – an angel investor who is part of the 10×10 Fund – spoke fluently on the matter, particularly urging white male investors to think critically about race and gender in a tech world that he openly branded “an elitist industry”. Clearly there is more work to be done, and initiatives such as the 10×10 Fund are taking up the task, with event host Emma Obanye calling Spindler’s role in the fund an act of “investor allyship”.
As Obanye invited questions from the audience, many called into question the validity of such an overtly pro-black initiative. “Surely it should just be about the ideas?” was frequent and well-rehearsed complaint in the Zoom chat, prompting Spindler to swiftly but assuredly dispel this meritocracy myth: “In a perfect world where gender and race did not have material impacts,” he explained, “we wouldn’t have to do this – but we do.” This neatly summarises the impetus behind 10×10 and says perfectly enough without saying too little.
Privilege has undeniably been a buzzword of the year, provoking long-winded stories about how one’s hard work and dedication might erase privilege. This misunderstanding of the term is precisely what Davis and Spindler sought to explain. Others clearly felt the same way, as 10×10 doubled its initial fundraising target of £500,000 in the first 24 hours following the launch and reached a staggering £2 million by the end of day two.
Throughout, the session touched on many important and pressing issues that should by no means be branded as “controversial” in 2020. Throughout the session the idea that “the personal is political” kept on ringing in my head, as it is funds like these that seek to remedy the undeniable inequalities that have for too long remained silent but deadly in this sector.
This was the first ever virtual London Tech Week, and the strange new landscape provided an opportunity to reflect on the vast and unsettling changes – relating to coronavirus and beyond – that have taken place since March. Investors and companies need to be unapologetically proactive in their allyship, and avoid stale superficial support of black visions, black businesses, and black aspirations.