Whether you consider yourself part of D.C.’s rising tech scene or not, I imagine Jason Towns will be a name you’ll likely be hearing more of soon.
Towns, an experienced entrepreneur, Code for Progress fellow, D.C. native and advocate for inclusive entrepreneurship, is planning to establish a $10 million investment fund in Washington, D.C., that will effectively fund and grow startups launched by minority founders.
The idea, Towns tells DC Inno, is to give talented and creative people, who are otherwise ignored by today’s venture capital community, a better chance of succeeding in business.
A study conducted by CB Insights notes that less than 1 percent of venture-capital-backed company founders are African American while 87 percent are caucasian—in contrast, African Americans comprise about 11 percent of the U.S. population. In addition, a study from Pepperdine University shows that minority-owned businesses were 34.7 percent less likely to receive investment from the $48 billion VC industry.
By offering business consulting services and financial resources to an underserved community, Towns hopes to find promising and yet overlooked companies to invest in. This translates into connecting local, minority founders with a premier network of Silicon Vally tech contacts and organizations, including 500 Startups and Y Combinator, among others.
The organization overseeing Town’s $10 million fund will be called Groundwork.
Groundwork will be part startup incubator, part accelerator and part seed-stage investment hub. The firm will also offer an interactive online platform with educational resources so that it can increase the scale of its network.
Towns founded and is currently a managing partner at The Towns Group LLC, a San Francisco-based startup consultancy. Groundwork will act as the investment arm of The Towns Group LLC, focused on the D.C.-area.
He declined to name the investors behind the new fund or any additional information aside from its existence, citing SEC regulations.
The headquarters for Groundwork will be located in the District at the recently announced, and currently under construction, Howard University incubator. Towns said he plans to work closely with the Mayor’s office and Luma Lab, who is managing the incubator, to build out a friendly business ecosystem for students to transition into after graduation.
— Jason Towns (@jhtdc) March 8, 2016
Until construction is complete, Towns said he will be jet setting between Oakland, Calif., and D.C., while working out of a local WeWork.
The Village Capital communities program is separately backing Towns with $50,000 to invest in two early-stage tech companies. This $50,000 pool is not associated with Groundwork, but rather it is part of Village Capital’s broader goal of catalyzing tech entrepreneurship in communities outside of Silicon Valley and New York City.
Village Capital employs a unique peer-to-peer investment model. In essence, the firm will select a group of entrepreneurs that it then provides investment and business education to. At the end of this curriculum, the class comes together to choose, amongst themselves, the most promising venture for investment.
Prior to founding The Towns Group LLC, Towns served as a director for Google’s CODE2024 entrepreneurship program. Before that, he built and sold a business-to-business telecommunications startup called Broadband.com.