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Kevin Durant, Will Smith Top The Lineup For A New Venture-Capital Fund For Black Investors (#GotBitcoin?)

Silicon Valley stalwart Andreessen Horowitz launches new fund in an effort to boost diversity in tech. Kevin Durant, Will Smith Top The Lineup For A New Venture-Capital Fund For Black Investors

Silicon Valley stalwart Andreessen Horowitz is launching a novel effort to boost diversity in tech: an exclusive new fund targeted at black celebrities, athletes and media figures.

Basketball star Kevin Durant, actor Will Smith and Essence magazine publisher Richelieu Dennis are among the initial limited partners in the venture-capital fund, according to people familiar with the matter.

The fund will be relatively small, totaling roughly $15 million, and will invest alongside Andreessen Horowitz’s main $1.5 billion fund, according to people familiar with the matter. While investors will profit if the fund performs well, Andreessen Horowitz has said it won’t collect the proceeds it would normally generate from fees and carried interest. Instead, the firm will donate that money to nonprofits aimed at boosting the involvement of blacks in technology, those people said.

Other details of the fund, including the number of limited partners and how they were chosen, weren’t clear in part because it still hasn’t closed. An Andreessen Horowitz spokeswoman declined to comment.

Mr. Dennis, founder and executive chairman of Sundial brands and Essence Ventures, said he decided to invest in the fund, which is called “Culture,” because of its aim to help get more people of color into technology.

“Andreessen is one of the best in the world at tech and so the opportunity to partner with them in the tech space and focus purposefully and intently on creating opportunities for people of color in tech….is an important one,” said Mr. Dennis. Tech is “an area that is rapidly growing, and we’re disproportionately left out of it.”

Mr. Durant, who led the Golden State Warriors to a second consecutive NBA championship in June, is one of basketball’s most highly paid players and the founder of Durant Co., an investment vehicle targeting tech startups. A spokesman for him didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The new fund appears to be a unique attempt to address Silicon Valley’s persistent diversity issues, which are particularly pronounced in venture capital.

About 58% of venture capitalists are white and male, according to a review of 1,500 U.S.-based venture capital partners by Richard Kerby, a partner at New York-based Equal Ventures. About 3% of the partners are black.

None of the 29 investing partners, who are responsible for vetting deals and writing checks, at Andreessen Horowitz are black.

Despite their celebrity status, athletes and entertainers interested in tech investing can have a hard time breaking into an industry where success depends on knowing the right people to get access to deals. Part of the purpose of the new Andreessen fund is to address this, according to one of the people familiar with the fund.

Ben Horowitz, one of the firm’s founding partners, has served on the boards of nonprofits that help get black students into technology and sourced the firm’s investments in startups founded by black entrepreneurs such as Walker & Co, a health and beauty company for people of color based in Palo Alto, Calif., and Mayvenn, an Oakland, Calif.-based hair-extension company. Known in the tech community for his affinity for hip hop, Mr. Horowitz frequently quotes lyrics from rap songs and has been seen socializing with rappers including Kanye West and Nas.

Chris Lyons, a partner on Andreessen Horowitz’s market development team, will manage the relationships between the limited partners and the firm’s main fund. Mr. Durant has cited Mr. Lyons, who is black, as someone who has helped him learn the ins and outs of Silicon Valley.

Athletes have always had an “entrepreneurial spirit,” said Ryan Nece, managing partner of Next Play Capital, a Redwood City, Calif.-based venture capital investing platform. But they are increasingly steering their investments toward technology companies, said Mr. Nece, who played professional football for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for seven years.

NBA player Carmelo Anthony formed his venture-capital firm Melo 7 Tech Partners LLC in 2013. More recently, in 2016, Kobe Bryant launched a $100 million fund after he retired from the Los Angeles Lakers. Other high-profile celebrities have established venture funds as well. Earlier this summer, rapper Jay-Z founded Marcy Venture Funds.

Baron Davis, a tech investor and former NBA player, when asked about the new fund said he isn’t involved and he prefers to encourage wealthy black individuals to be active investors. “I may get in trouble for saying this, but it’s always great when white guys want to do something for black athletes and black entertainers, right?” he said. “For me it’s more so about finding the guys who want to participate and actually building something that can be an institution that’s for us and not an institution that somebody else owns that’s just making us rich.”

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