Amazon has 365 days to pour $150 million into diverse check writers

Amazon announced yesterday the launch of Amazon Catalytic Capital, a $150 million commitment focused on investing in underrepresented builders in tech. The initiative, according to a release, will invest in funds that back pre-seed and seed-stage startups built by Black, Latino, Indigenous, women and LGBTQIA+ founders.

The goal is that the money will support more than 10 funds and, as a result, over 200 companies over the next year. So far, recipients include Techstar’s $8 million pre-seed vehicle, Collide Capital, Share Ventures and Energy Impact Partners; meaning there are six more slots open. In some ways, this is a continuation of Amazon’s investment in underrepresented founders, including the AWS Impact Accelerator, an initiative that is committing more than $30 million to back underrepresented founders over the next three years. Last year, Amazon committed $150 million to its Black Business Accelerator.

The difference between those efforts and Catalytic Capital is that Amazon is now focused not just on backing entrepreneurs, but the people who back entrepreneurs, as well. Don’t worry, it’s still keeping acquisition targets, ahem, I mean, portfolio startups, close: Catalytic Capital’s money comes with mentorship from Amazon executives and other associated resources; the company also said that it will work with portfolio startups to identify partnership and product collaboration opportunities.

The Catalytic Capital number pales in comparison to Amazon’s other corporate bets. It recently announced the first startups to receive money from its $1 billion industrial innovation fund. Amazon also launched a $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund in 2020 to invest in sustainable technologies and services that will help the company reach its commitment to be net-zero carbon in its operations by 2040. There’s a history of corporations making commitments to boost innovation in a certain area or among a certain demographic. Last year, for example, Google announced a five-year, $1 billion plan to boost digital services across Africa.

Amazon’s entrance into the fund of fund space supports a prediction I made months ago, in which I said we’ll see more of these types of vehicles given the softening of the late-stage market. Businesses want exposure into an ever-blossoming early-stage, and instead of doing that themselves, they can lean on experimental investors to de-risk and even lead those first checks.