‘Emancipating SXSW’: Spotlight On Angel Investor And Entrepreneur Rodney Sampson

Written by Dana Sanchez

Tech leaders are under increasing pressure to recruit more black engineering students, and it’s not happening too fast, so Atlanta-based tech investor Rodney Sampson did something about it.

One hundred students from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) got to attend this year’s South By Southwest Convention and Festivals — at a cost of $3,000 each — thanks to Sampson’s entrepreneurial center and pre-accelerator, Opportunity Hub.

Sampson launched Opportunity Hub in 2013 to help increase diversity and inclusion in the innovation, entrepreneurship and investment ecosystem.

Opportunity Hub teamed up with other organizations including Tennessee Titans NFL linebacker Derrick Morgan’s Huddle Ventures to help bring black students to the popular SXSW music, interactive and film festival in Austin, USA Today reported:

HBCU@SXSW organizer Sampson and his wife wanted to take a practical approach: fund the next generation of engineers to attend one of the largest tech industry events in the nation, a nexus of thought leaders, investors and future colleagues.

The first year of HBCU@SXSW, 50 students attended. This year, 440-plus applied to go.

Students weren’t only selected from the biggest and best-known historically black colleges and universities like Morehouse or Howard, but also from Medgar Evers College, Tuskegee University, Allen University and Huston-Tillotson University, Sampson told USA Today:

“We picked the students who wanted to solve the biggest problems using technology and had some pretty good ideas about it,” Sampson said. “We’ve really kind of have emancipated SXSW to a degree.”

Tech companies took notice of HBCU@SXSW and began to support the initiative with sponsorship. First was Booz Allen Hamilton, then Google, Microsoft, Mailchimp, Snapchat, and Apple. Over 30 companies currently support the program. At an estimated cost of $3,000 per student, HBCUxSXSW aims to continue to expand its program to reach its goal of having 500 students attend the annual event.

Sampson is a veteran technology entrepreneur with four startups and two exits to his name. He’s also an angel investor, venture partner, and author of four books.

As part of his efforts to expand his work in cities across the U.S., Sampson recently partnered with Tennessee Titans NFL linebacker Morgan. Their collaboration, Opportunity Ecosystem, plans to develop inclusive startup technology ecosystems in 100 cities across the U.S. in an effort to increase diversity in innovation, entrepreneurship, and investment, according to Black Enterprise.

Morgan’s new effort, Huddle Ventures, is the parent company of Opportunity Ecosystem. The official launch of the ecosystem-building platform was planned for March 10–12, 2017, at South by Southwest.

Opportunity Ecosystem wants to create a network of angel investors, black-owned banks, professional athletes, and regional business associations to invest in and grow minority-owned, early-stage tech companies. Ultimately Sampson and Morgan hope to create a scalable model for economic development that can be replicated in low- and middle-income communities across the country. A long-term goal is to buy real estate to establish a co-working space for an accelerator and coding program.

Sampson says he’s passionate about reducing the racial wealth gap in the U.S. by advancing innovation, entrepreneurship and investment as a way of life for all.

To this end, he co-founded Kingonomics in 2013 an turned it into an advocacy and learning platform for innovative capital formation and wealth creation for black people.

In 2015, Opportunity Hub merged with TechSquare Labs, a Google for Entrepreneurs Technology Hub founded by Paul Judge and Allen Nance, to open a tech incubator and seed fund. Opportunity Hub and TechSquare Labs portfolio companies have raised over $250 million in venture capital and created over 500 high growth jobs.

Sampson also launched CodeStart, Atlanta TechHire with the City of Atlanta; and Tech Opportunity Fund —  a $100 million coding scholarship fund seeded with $40 million of in-kind scholarships from The Iron Yard, the country’s largest coding school. These initiatives are designed to increase the number of software developers and technical co-founders from underrepresented communities.