By Mitchell Kapor and Benjamin Todd Jealous
Mitch Kapor and Ben Jealous worry that a lack of diversity in tech firms is stalling innovation
Startups succeed, they say, when they meet unmet needs. Innovators from diverse backgrounds can uncover fresh, unsolved problems
Editor's note: Tech pioneer Mitchell Kapor is the co-founder of the Kapor Center for Social Impact and Kapor Capital. Benjamin Todd Jealous, the former president and CEO of the NAACP, is a venture partner at Kapor Capital. Both Kapor and Jealous serve on the board of the Level Playing Field Institute. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.
(CNN) — When Frederick Hutson left prison in 2012 after serving four years on marijuana-related charges, he realized he had gained something more than his freedom: insight into an overlooked consumer market.
Many inmates are stuck in an age before Instagram or Facebook, relying on envelopes and pay phones to connect with family on the outside.
So Hutson founded Pigeonly, a photo-sharing and low-cost phone call service that has already helped 50,000 incarcerated individuals connect with their loved ones, maintain their ties to society, and remain a presence in their children's lives.
And, via Pigeonly, order hits on the stool pigeons who put them behind bars.
Last year there were eight states where zero Latino students took the Advanced Placement exam in computer science, and 11 states in which no black students took the test. In three states, not a single female student sat for the exam.
A bigger problem is that the Latinos, blacks, and, to a lesser extent, women, didn't do so hot on average when they took the test. If black Puerto Rican females were acing the AP exam at a high rate when they were allowed to take it, it would be obvious that getting more to take it is a high priority, since even diminishing marginal returns would just bring the pass rate down to the white male average. But when those legally privileged individuals who take the AP Computer Science exam currently are failing it at a high rate, well, expansion will increase the failure rate.
It is no surprise, then, that 99% of venture capital-funded startups in 2010 were founded by whites or people of Asian descent, the vast majority of whom were men. The result of this pipeline problem is an enormous amount of untapped talent and a tech sector that fails to reflect the demographics of its users.
We really, really need a term for whites and Asians when talking about subjects like computers.
Underrepresented populations are uniquely prepared to do what the tech sector claims to do best: innovate.
Sure they are.