SoftBank last week rebranded its Opportunity Fund to Open Opportunity Fund with the intent of opening the fund to other LPs and organizations to back minority entrepreneurs and startups. It also launched a second fund with a $150 million target.
For investor Paul Judge, who will co-own the fund along with SoftBank and serve as its chairman, the job is an opportunity to make a dent in the ecosystem.
However, we’ll need much more than $150 million to do that: Last year, Black founders only received 1% of all venture funding, a slight dip from the 1.3% raised the year before. Still, Judge is hopeful that he can help open the gates wider to underrepresented communities.
“One of the problems in Silicon Valley, traditionally, it’s been about who you know,” he told me during a recent interview. “It’s been about getting a ‘warm intro,’ and people brag about that — ‘Oh, you need to know somebody in order to get a meeting with me.’ My view is, that has led to the system being closed.”
Judge says this new fund aims to change that. “There’s an open forum on the website, there’s an open email address — just raise your hand and tell us about your company. We’ll take a look and we’ll take a meeting. And whether or not we invest, we’ll give you meaningful feedback about how we think you can improve,” he said.
The Opportunity Fund’s first fund invested in 75 companies, half of which were early-stage ventures. Launched in 2020, its portfolio now consists of five unicorns in addition to heavy hitters such as Greenwood, Brex and Cityblock Health. To date, it has seen seven exits.
Previously a part of Opportunity Fund’s investment committee before being tapped to run this rebranded effort, Judge seems to be aware of the challenge awaiting him. He aims to raise the $150 million for Fund 2 and invest it in at least 70 companies in the next three years.
His experience will also help: He’s a managing partner at Panoramic Ventures, a noted presence in the Atlanta venture ecosystem, and he previously co-founded the incubator TechSquare Labs as well as security company Pindrop.
TechCrunch+ recently sat down with Judge to talk about his new appointment, the fund’s potential role in the wake of Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse, and the wider changes that must occur to accelerate society’s move toward economic equality.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
What is the first thing that you’re going to do next in your new role?
Every day, we will still continue to support the current portfolio. There are 75 companies that are working hard to grow, to build products and sell products, and we’re interacting with them daily and weekly. We will continue to do that.
“Open Opportunity Fund’s legacy should be that we help prove to the world that diversity in the tech investing space is not only the right thing to do, but it is the profitable thing to do.” Paul Judge
And there are conversations with investors. We will continue to interact with other organizations that want to join us and join SoftBank in this mission.