In recent years, the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas has garnered attention as much for its boys' club atmosphere as for its innnovative electronics announcements. Critics have lit into the show for its glaring lack of diversity among the speakers that take the stage during the week-long event. Now the show's operator, the Consumer Technology Association, is taking steps to scrub its image. 

The CTA announced at a press event on July 16 that it plans to partner with two New York City-based diversity-focused venture firms: Harlem Capital Partners and SoGal Ventures. Both funds are focused on investing in underrepresented entrepreneurs, including women and people of color, while the former was featured on Inc.'s 2019  30 Under 30 list of rising entrepreneurial stars. The nonprofit's larger investment agenda, which involves doling out $10 million to diversity-focused funds, was first announced at CES in January.

At the time of the January announcement, CTA President and CEO Gary Shapiro said in a statement that the tech industry needs to provide more equal access to venture funding if it wishes to evolve and grow. He added that research shows that diverse teams tend to make better decisions and achieve greater profits.

The news comes in the wake of several scandals at CES, including the CTA's decision to revoke, and then return, an innovation award for a female-led sex toy company, Lora DiCarlo. (The CTA has since announced it's adding a sex tech product category within the health and wellness track for next year's show.) Reports also surfaced several years ago that local bordellos cater to conference goers. 

CTA's investment plan is welcome news to Henri Pierre-Jacques and Jarrid Tingle, who along with partners Brandon Bryant and John Henry have already invested in a handful of companies founded by women and people of color, including pet insurance startup Wagmo in Boston and Los Angeles-based media company Blavity. 

"We want to be able to write bigger checks and actually want to help these founders raise money faster and actually hit their targets," Pierre-Jacques told reporters at CTA's announcement event. "We're not looking to do $20,000 small business loans. We want to actually give real capital to these founders."

It's unclear how much of the $10 million purse each fund will receive. The CTA and Harlem Capital Partners declined to specify. One of SoGal's two founding partners, Elizabeth Galbut, also declined to disclose the number, but said CTA is a top 10 "sizable" investor in the fund. 

CTA spokesperson, Tiffany Moore, said other investment partners will be announced on a rolling basisAt least 50 firms expressed interest in CTA's $10 million commitment, and the association's diversity and investment subcommittee chose Harlem Capital and SoGal because of their compatible investing goals, Moore said. "They have the same commitment and the same passion that we do to make sure that we build a diverse entrepreneurial system."

Published on: Jul 16, 2019