March 20, 2015
Wayne Sutton, General Partner at Buildup VC, has one mission in life, and that’s to connect with, mentor, and educate underrepresented groups in tech fields. He does this through Buildup, but it’s important to realize that Buildup isn’t like most other traditional accelerators.
On one side, they have both an online and offline curriculum that their members can take advantage of. On the other side of things Buildup has a hard focus on helping groups like women, combat veterans, people with mental illness, and LGBT individuals.
This challenge of helping minorities get more involved in technology isn’t something that’s inherent to big hubs like Silicon Valley. Rather, according to Sutton, this is an American History problem – when Silicon Valley was being founded civil rights was still happening.
But looking on the positive side of things is always a good idea, and Sutton is quick to remind us that the barriers to entry that have typically held minorities back – coding, math, design, development – are quickly dissipating. It’s easier than ever to learn these skill sets online, even if you didn’t graduate high school or college.
What’s still difficult is raising VC and investment capital. You need to know about convertible notes, funding rounds, angels, syndicates, and investing to be able to successfully close.
“You go to some black cultures, even in the Bay Area, they don’t know anything about that. Then there’s a certain style, aggression, or behavior that a lot of African American culture has that doesn’t necessarily translate in a positive way to tech,” says Sutton. “I do a lot of coaching specifically to young black men. I tell them they could be intimidating with their passion when meeting with white investors. It’s a characteristic all founders should have…but as a black man coming in what that huge passion, you can be intimidating to a lot of white VCs who aren’t used to being pitched by African Americans.”
This is Sutton becoming the embodiment of what he teaches though: education plays a crucial role in advancing minority entrepreneurs. The question is what type of education? What should minority entrepreneurs be spending their time on?
Sutton was kind enough to stop by during our SXSW events and discuss a potential answer to this question and more. Here’s the video:
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