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Guest posts / Investing / POC in Tech / Venture capital

Sylvester Mobley: Cultivating the next generation of tech leaders is a long game

The founder of Coded by Kids and cofounder of Plain Sight Capital writes about the "interconnected infrastructure needed to build an equitable tech community."

A Coded by Kids class; founder Sylvester Mobley stands at back. (Courtesy photo)

This essay was originally published in August 2022 via ImpactPHL Perspectives, a multi-part series exploring the many facets of the impact economy from the perspectives of its doers, movers, shakers and agents of change. This version has been edited for style.

This is a guest post by Sylvester Mobley, managing partner of Plain Sight Capital and CEO of Coded by Kids.

Many of the people I interact with cite recent, widely publicized corporate financial pledges indicating that we are moving in the right direction toward increased representation in venture capital and the tech industry.

In the current post-George Floyd era, we see that the vast majority of those commitments remain unfulfilled and hinge upon a false belief that one-time infusions of capital can provide the momentum needed to tip the scales towards equity. We know that underrepresented Philadelphians are continually locked out of high-earning careers and pushed into education programs with low returns on investment, leaving pathways to building wealth just out of reach. While capital is a necessary ingredient, it will take a long-term strategy to unlock equitable access to opportunity.

To combat decades of disinvestment, we must refocus on a long-term systemic approach to increase equity in tech and venture capital. Often, people will quickly default to a pipeline problem, lack of social capital, or insufficient funding as sources of inequity in tech. In order to affect lasting change, we must address each of these issues simultaneously.

Over the past decade, I’ve worked on testing this integrated approach in my work with Coded by Kids and now Plain Sight Capital. Each one of them is an example of the interconnected infrastructure needed to build an equitable tech community.

Sylvester Mobley

Sylvester Mobley. (Courtesy image via ImpactPHL)

In 2014, I founded Coded by Kids — a nonprofit that provides underrepresented young people with high-quality tech education and entrepreneurship programming. Since then, we’ve grown Coded by Kids from serving one child in one rec center to over 1,600 students in the region. Our alums have gone on to the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, and Drexel University — and several have launched their own startups.

While Coded by Kids is not unique in its goal of increasing representation, we differentiate ourselves through our persistent “depth over breadth” approach. In a climate that emphasizes present value impact, our thesis remains that long-term interaction can provide greater overall value than exposure to as many students as possible. We’ve seen this model work in sports, with students beginning at a young age, honing their skills as they work with coaches and mentors that help them develop. We take the same approach with technology, helping our students cultivate the skills necessary to lead in the innovation economy.

Imagine the exponential future impact of a generation of students who had been prepared with years of education and mentorship to build scalable tech startups. The cumulative impact of the communities and wealth they could build would be a game changer. And what if those students had access to capital to help them scale their ideas? This is where Plain Sight comes in.

The data regarding the amount of venture capital going to underrepresented people is clear, and year after year, we make very little progress. Kenyatta James spoke about the disparities in family wealth that often limit the early fundraising efforts of Black and brown entrepreneurs. In 2021, Plain Sight Capital was started to meet this exact need — to develop and invest in early-stage technology companies founded by underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Plain Sight is one of the nation’s few Black-run venture capital firms and allocates capital to talented founders who are often overlooked. Eliminating this barrier not only addresses a need for current entrepreneurs but also makes a clear path for young people participating in programs like Coded by Kids, who can start scalable, high-growth companies.

By taking a unique approach to comprehensive, real-world support, we can build an equitable ecosystem that makes Philadelphia the capital of equitable tech and innovation. From their first keyboard click, we can develop successful founders that hire and mentor the next generation of leaders, growing Philadelphia’s tech and innovation ecosystem.

Together with partners across sectors, we can build genuine, systemic change and unlock new opportunities. This approach isn’t the quick fix, but it’s necessary to build a self-sustaining cycle of underrepresented people who can become industry leaders.

Companies: Coded by Kids
People: Sylvester Mobley

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