Former NAACP chief Ben Jealous has no particular technology or Venture Capital experience. Yet when Jealous was recruited to join Silicon Valley legend Mitch Kapor’s VC firm last month, the move made perfect sense to savvy onlookers. The prevailing Silicon Valley tech ethos has a famous bias that values ideas over experience–that’s why it’s such a youth-oriented culture, with people at the ripe old age of 40 sometimes complaining about ageism. Jealous, a Rhodes Scholar, brims with ideas so he fits half the profile. Yet it its precisely his experience that makes him, at 41, the perfect candidate for the Kapor Center for Social Impact. Technology investors are skilled at identifying potential, providing it resources to grow, and taking advantage of the changes it brings to the world. Ben Jealous has been doing that all his life, if a little far from Sand Hill Road.
Mitch Kapor is probably most famous for inventing Lotus 1-2-3 and founding the company which later introduced Lotus Notes, the collaboration software that underpinned the Lotus Development Corp’s sale to IBM in 1995. He’s also a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Kapor knows how to assess talent coming from unorthodox pipelines. Well, his wife and business partner, Frieda Kapor Klein, does anyway: she’s been friends with Jealous for a decade and has seen him do amazing things. In one SF Gate article, she told reporter Joe Garofoli that the “turnaround (Jealous) did at NAACP rivals anything that’s been done in the corporate world.” Jealous may not have VC experience, but he knows how business works. And he knows that not enough minorities are seeing the path to success in the current tech and start-up ecosystem. The opportunity is there to identify talent and reap big rewards–for both the talent and for the investors in it. The Kapor Center is “interested in social impact for communities that have historically been on the periphery of access to opportunity.” Ben Jealous and the Kapors know that inside “the periphery” means business.