Foundation Goes High-Tech -- Charitable Group Gets High-Tech Entrepreneurs Involved
Seattle Times Business Reporter
Social Venture Partners. The name has the ring of one of the cash-rich venture-capital companies that have seeded the dreams of Seattle's technology entrepreneurs.
But the new charitable foundation, officially formed in Seattle this week, has a decidedly different focus: donating money gathered from the region's high-tech entrepreneurs to nonprofit groups around Puget Sound.
Its founders hope running Social Venture Partners more like a business will encourage local technology entrepreneurs to get involved.
"A lot of people have been thinking in terms of the checks they were writing (to charities). Is it really doing what it should be?," said Paul Brainerd, founder of Aldus, a software company sold to Adobe, who brainstormed the early concepts of the organization.
Brainerd started looking for a way to encourage more strike-it-rich technology veterans to donate their money and time. About a year ago, he invited a couple dozen technology types to his home. Scott Oki, a philanthropist and former Microsoft executive, was interested. Others soon followed: Ida Cole, also a Microsoft veteran and head of the Seattle Landmark Association, which operates the Paramount Theater; Doug Walker, president of WRQ, the Seattle software company; and Bill Neukom, Microsoft's top lawyer and head of the company's corporate affairs.
Social Venture Partners, it was decided, would be run more like a venture-capital company, with investors donating at least $5,000 a year. About 100 potential investors, with backgrounds from software to biotechnology, in companies such as Microsoft, McCaw Cellular and Visio, gathered Monday night and voted on the top causes they think the group should support. Education, social services, the arts and environment all ranked high.
The group should begin making investments this fall, Brainerd said.
He said he hoped it would offer individual investors a chance to be more closely involved with the organizations getting their money.
It's "more strategic than just writing a check. I thought this kind of concept would have a lot of appeal to my peers," said Brainerd, who has worked with nonprofit groups, including his own Brainerd Foundation, since leaving Aldus several years ago.
Brainerd and others spent time studying other charitable groups that have broken from traditional models, including the Robin Hood Foundation in New York City and A Territory Resource in Seattle.
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