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Impact America Fund closes $55M to invest in startups targeting the world’s overlooked

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The entire asset class of venture capital is built atop systemic racism. The numbers don’t lie: only 2% of partner-level VCs are Black, and 81% of venture capital firms don’t have a Black partner on board. The lack of diversity in check-writers doesn’t stay in board rooms: homogeneity trickles down to the founders who get mentored and the startups that get funded, excluding an entire population of potentially revolutionary ideas.

Systemic racism is a market inefficiency, according to Kesha Cash, the founder of Impact America Fund. So, Cash, one of the few Black female general partners in venture capital, says she wants to invest in companies that work on solutions for the world’s overlooked and underserved.

Today, Impact America Fund (IAF) announced that it has closed a $55 million investment vehicle to serve this exact purpose. The raise will allow IAF to invest 20 to 25 checks, between the size of $250,000 to $3 million, in early-stage startups. The close marks one of the largest funds ever raised by a sole Black female general partner.

The fund has 67 limited partners, including a number of foundations, large wealth managers and UBS. Cash says that the raise took two years to complete. In June, when George Floyd was murdered by the police, a number of firms rushed to find ways to support Black entrepreneurs. “Society got to see it with their own eyes how big these problems are,” Cash said. The racial reckoning across the country sped up the tail end of IAF’s fundraise close and brought in a ton of inbound interest.

Still, Cash says that IAF had to clarify its focus throughout its fundraising process.

“We’re not just investing in Black and brown people, which I think is a very important thesis, but not our thesis,” Cash said. Instead, Cash says the door-opening conversation for fundraising hinged on a more macro conversation.

“While many of you have been approaching this through your grants and philanthropy, we actually believe there’s a way to continue to invest in software and venture capital businesses to scale and disrupt some of the underlying systemic issues that you and others may not be able to see but are perpetuating,” Cash remembers saying to potential investors. “If you go to that, that opens a lot of doors. That’s the fundraising conversation.”

So far, IAF’s newest fund has invested in 10 companies, including Mayvenn, which supports Black hair stylists; Care Academy, which works with home care employees; and SMBX, a small business bond marketplace.

“We’re trying to get to the root of the problem and create and disrupt systems,” she said.

IAF is also evolving from a structural standpoint. The firm used to be structured as a family office, with flexibility to invest in non-venture-backable businesses across a $10 million fund. The new fund will be a traditional venture capital firm with a 10-year investment return cycle.

Cash says that it could feel like an “anti-social justice move” to apply venture capital, an exclusive asset class, to the issue of racial inequity.

Kesha Cash, the general partner of Impact America Fund. Image Credits: Impact America Fund

The investor became a social justice activist, protesting against California Proposition 209, when she was an undergrad at UC Berkeley. Given her activism, her classmates were surprised when she interned at a Wall Street investment bank. But Cash says that, as a first-generation college student from a low-income household, she wanted to understand the dynamics between finance, money and deal structures.

“While I took down my faux locs and removed my nose ring to intern and then work full time on Wall Street, I didn’t forget my work as a social justice activist and made it my mission to learn and reimagine how finance could be used to empower the overlooked and under-resourced communities I care deeply about,” she said.

Cash thinks that access to capital could be the catalyst needed to give underserved communities the opportunity to experiment and innovate. Cash, who grew up low income and worked on Wall Street, sees an opportunity to bring the two worlds together.

“When we think about disruption and venture capital, people get to dream and make up a new world,” she said. “Well hell, I want to make up the new world for low-income Black and brown people in this country.”

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Pinterest tests online events with dedicated ‘class communities’

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Pinterest is getting into online events. The company has been spotted testing a new feature that allows users to sign up for Zoom classes through Pinterest, while creators use Pinterest’s class boards to organize class materials, notes and other resources, or even connect with attendees through a group chat option. The company confirmed the test of online classes is an experiment now in development, but wouldn’t offer further details about its plans.

The feature itself was discovered on Tuesday by reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong, who found details about the online classes by looking into the app’s code.

Currently, you can visit some of these “demo” profiles directly — like “@pinsmeditation” or “@pinzoom123,” for example — and view their listed Class Communities. However, these communities are empty when you click through. That’s because the feature is still unreleased, Wong says.

When and if the feature is later launched to the public, the communities would include dedicated sections where creators will be able to organize their class materials — like lists of what to bring to class, notes, photos and more. They could also use these communities to offer a class overview and description, connect users to a related shop, group chat feature and more.

Creators are also able to use the communities — which are basically enhanced Pinterest boards — to respond to questions from attendees, share photos from the class and otherwise interact with the participants.

When a user wants to join a class, they can click a “book” button to sign up, and are then emailed a confirmation with the meeting details. Other buttons direct attendees to download Zoom or copy the link to join the class.

It’s not surprising that Pinterest would expand into the online events space, given its platform has become a popular tool for organizing remote learning resources during the coronavirus pandemic. Teachers have turned to Pinterest to keep track of lesson plans, get inspiration, share educational activities and more. In the early days of the pandemic, Pinterest reported record usage when the company saw more searches and saves globally in a single March weekend than ever before in its history, as a result of its usefulness as a online organizational tool.

This growth has continued throughout the year. In October, Pinterest’s stock jumped on strong earnings after the company beat on revenue and user growth metrics. The company brought in $443 million in revenue, versus $383.5 million expected, and grew its monthly active users to 442 million, versus the 436.4 million expected. Outside of the coronavirus impacts, much of this growth was due to strong international adoption, increased ad spend from advertisers boycotting Facebook and a surge of interest from users looking for iOS 14 home screen personalization ideas.

Given that the U.S. has failed to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control, many classes, events and other activities will remain virtual even as we head into 2021. The online events market may continue to grow in the years that follow, too, thanks to the kickstart the pandemic provided the industry as a whole.

“We are experimenting with ways to help creators interact more closely with their audience,” a Pinterest spokesperson said, when asked for more information.

Pinterest wouldn’t confirm additional details about its plans for online events, but did say the feature was in development and the test would help to inform the product’s direction.

Pinterest often tries out new features before launching them to a wider audience. Earlier this summer, TechCrunch reported on a Story Pins feature the company had in the works. Pinterest then launched the feature in September. If the same time frame holds up for online events, we could potentially see the feature become more widely available sometime early next year.

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SpaceX targeting next week for Starship’s first high-altitude test flight

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SpaceX looks ready to proceed to the next crucial phase of its Starship spacecraft development program: A 15km (50,000 feet) test flight. This would far exceed the max height that any prior Starship prototype has achieved so far, since the current record-setting hop test maxed out at around 500 feet. Elon Musk says that SpaceX will look to make its first high-altitude attempt sometime next week.

This tentative date (these are always subject to change) follows a successful static test fire of the current SN8 generation prototype — essentially just firing the test spacecraft’s Raptor engines while it remains stationary on the pad. That’s a crucial step that paves the way for any actual flight, since it proves that the spacecraft can essentially hold together and withstand the pressures of active engines before it leaves the ground.

SpaceX’s SN8 prototype is different from prior versions in a number of ways, most obviously because it has an actual nosecone, along with nose fins. The prototypes that did the short test hops, including SN6, had what’s known as a mass simulator up top, which weighs as much as an actual Starship nose section but looks very different.

Musk added that the chances of an SN8 high-altitude flight going to plan aren’t great, estimating that there’s “maybe a 1/3 chance” given how many things have to work correctly. He then noted that that’s the reason SpaceX has SN9 and SN10 ready to follow fast, which is a theme of Starship’s development program to date: building successive generations of prototypes rapidly in parallel in order to test and iterate quickly.

We’ll likely get a better idea of when the launch will take place due to alerts filed with local regulators, so watch this space next week as we await this major leap forward in SpaceX’s Starship program.

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Police case filed against Netflix executives in India over ‘A Suitable Boy’ kissing scene

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Netflix, which has invested more than $500 million to gain a foothold in India in recent years, is slowly finding out just about what all could upset some people in the world’s second-largest internet market: Apparently everything.

A police case has been filed this week against two top executives of the American streaming service in India after a leader of the governing party objected to some scenes in a TV series.

The show, “A Suitable Boy,” is an adaptation of the award-winning novel by Indian author Vikram Seth that follows the life of a young girl. It has a scene in which the protagonist is seeing kissing a Muslim boy at a Hindu temple.

Narottam Mishra, the interior minister of the central state of Madhya Pradesh, said a First Information Report (an official police complaint) had been filed against Monika Shergill, VP of Content at Netflix and Ambika Khurana, Director of Public Policies for the firm, over objectionable scenes in the show that hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus.

“I had asked officials to examine the series ‘A Suitable Boy’ being streamed on Netflix to check if kissing scenes in it were filmed in a temple and if it hurt religious sentiments. The examination prima facie found that these scenes are hurting the sentiments of a particular religion,” he said.

Gaurav Tiwari, a BJP youth leader who filed the complaint, demanded an apology from Netflix and makers of the series (directed by award-winning filmmaker Mira Nair), and said the film promoted “love jihad,” an Islamophobic conspiracy theory that alleges that Muslim men entice Hindi women into converting their religion under the pretext of marriage.

Netflix declined to comment.

In recent days, a number of people have expressed on social media their anger at Netflix over these “objectionable” scenes. Though it is unclear if all of them — if any — are a Netflix subscriber.

The incident comes weeks after an ad from the luxury jewelry brand Tanishq — part of the 152-year-old salt-to-steel conglomerate — which celebrated interfaith marriage received intense backlash in the country.

For Netflix, the timing of this backlash isn’t great. The new incident comes days after the Indian government announced new rules for digital media, under which the nation’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will be regulating online streaming services. Prior to this new rule, India’s IT ministry oversaw streaming services, and according to a top streaming service executive, online services enjoyed a great degree of freedom.

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