TechCrunch sat down with investor and entrepreneur Rodney Sampson as part of a fireside chat for our TechCrunch Live Atlanta program.
The topic at hand was his work with the Atlanta-based ecosystem OHUB, which was started by him and his wife in 2013 and seeks to engage the next generation of diverse startup and venture talent. Unsurprisingly, the battle is uphill. Discrimination within the startup ecosystem amalgamates racism, classism, and sexism. Black and Latine founders simply do not receive much funding; last year, Crunchbase said the number of dollars given to indigenous founders was too low even to track.
Atlanta seems like the perfect place to start advocating for change. Nearly half of the city identifies as Black and was a cradle for the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Sampson was born and raised in Atlanta, although attended university at Penn State. He came back to Atlanta, though, because he felt it was a place to build; there was a diversity of talent and thought that intersected with innovation and culture. It was also home, he said.
“I’m excited about the possibilities of Atlanta,” Sampson continued. “But there’s some critical work that has to be done that is more substantive with depth and with range, and it relates to us really continuing to be that leader, as it relates to being a Black tech hub.”
Rodney said it’s vital for leaders and those in power to be thoughtful as they continue to build and expand within Atlanta. He said he saw how Black policymakers were able to create economic opportunity for the community there through, for example, government contracting opportunities.
“That same strategy must be applied to the startup ecosystem,” Sampson said. “Therein lies the opportunity because I think we’ve just really started to have those types of conversations.”
He believes creating an entirely new investor class is necessary to drive a more equitable venture landscape, though. “It’s time for us to really stop chasing the current institutional and individual investors,” he said. “We can’t keep expecting the same things from the same people and the same institutions.”
There was a glimmer of hope in 2020, he noted, after the murder of George Floyd when many corporations made promises to help alleviate the racial wealth gap. That glimmer of hope has since faded, along with those promises. In the meantime, it’s all can’t-stop-won’t-stop for Sampson. OHUB is working with colleges nationwide to help upskill more tech workers. It’s working with states like North Carolina and Alabama to invest socially and economically within disenfranchised communities. In other words, OHUB looking toward the future.
Watch the entire conversation HERE on TechCrunch Live’s YouTube channel.