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For Communities Of Color, Startup Funding Efforts Can Hold Promise And Pitfalls

Twenty years before J.D. Vance published his best-selling memoir,  Hillbilly Elegy , Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson wrote an elegy of his own. “Few observers of the urban scene in the late 1960s anticipated the extensive breakdown of social institutions and the sharp rise in rates of social dislocation that have since swept the ghettos and spread to other neighborhoods that were once stable,” Wilson declared in his 1996 book,  When Work Disappears . Although he made clear that these places were not monolithic, most of what he described were communities made up predominantly of African-Americans. “Jobless black poverty areas,” he called them. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is, of course, about a different demographic: “the millions of working-class white Americans of Scots-Irish descent who have no college degree.”—or, as he puts it in plainer language, “hillbilly people.” Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance I’ve been thinking a lot about both books–and the two groups that Wilson and Vance have each written about so movingly–ever since Steve Case’s investment firm, Revolution, announced this month that it had established a $150 million Rise of the Rest seed fund to back startups outside of Silicon Valley. Vance, who has a background in venture capital and joined Case’s operation earlier this year, serves as the fund’s managing partner. For Vance, the fund is a means to help revive a Rust Belt economy that has been beset by a decades-long decline in manufacturing. His desire is not only to spur new business development in the heartland cities where Revolution is concentrating its efforts, but to see those gains stretch into more rural locations and smaller towns, like Middletown, Ohio, where he grew up. “Stronger, more robust entrepreneurial ecosystems can . . . have ripple effects for the region more broadly as the hubs attract new talent who may launch startups of their own, and other businesses and services emerge to support the influx,” Vance told me. It’s a smart strategy. During economic expansions, startups and young, fast-growing companies generate most of the new jobs in America. Fostering entrepreneurship by pumping more capital into “flyover country”–along with increasing investments in education and training, as well as raising wages and enforcing standards to turn bad jobs into better jobs–can be a powerful tool in boosting the fortunes of those who’ve been left behind. Yet it’s also worth keeping in mind that as much as geography separates the nation, the color of one’s skin often presents an even starker dividing line. As a study from the Institute for New Economic Thinking points out, the fall of middle-class employment opportunities “has hit blacks as well as Hispanics much more severely than whites.” Vance is quick to note that as he and Case have crisscrossed the country, they have “met with–and invested in–many founders who are of color and scaling great businesses between the coasts.” Their Rise of the Rest tour has, in fact, taken them to Detroit and other cities with large black and brown populations.

For Communities Of Color, Startup Funding Efforts Can Hold Promise And Pitfalls

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