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Amazon makes first investments in exterior VC corporations, places $150M to underrepresented founders

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Amazon’s Seattle headquarters. (GeekWire Photo)

Amazon announced a new diversity-related initiative called Amazon Catalytic Capital that will provide funding to underrepresented entrepreneurs.

The $150 million program represents the first time Amazon is putting money behind outside venture capital firms as a limited partner, Reuters reported. The funding will support more than 10 funds and more than 200 startups over the next year. Amazon will provide access to executives and employees in addition to cash.

“We want to ensure that these companies and their founders have the same access to capital as anyone else,” Peter Krawiec, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide corporate development, said in a statement.

Some of the funds receiving money from Amazon include Collide Capital; Elevate Future Fund; Share Ventures; and Techstars Rising Stars Fund.

The program builds on Amazon’s other recent diversity initiatives including AWS Impact Accelerator, which backs startups led by underrepresented founders, and its $150 million Black Business Accelerator unveiled last year.

Amazon has faced allegations of racial discrimination in recent years, both at the corporate level and at warehouses. Employees filed several lawsuits last year, alleging that the company systematically bypasses minority groups for promotion in favor of white employees. 

Amazon has shown some progress in increasing the number of underrepresented employees in corporate positions. According to the company’s most recent data as of Dec. 31, the percentage of women in corporate employee roles (Level 4 – Level 7) grew from 31.4% in 2020 to 32.7% in 2021. The percentage of Black and Latinx employees grew from 7.2% and 7.5% to 8.5% and 8.7%, respectively.

Leadership positions (Level 8) within the company are less diverse, with women exec leaders making up 24%, an increase of 22.8% the year prior. Black execs leaders make up 5.5% of senior leaders and 4.5% for Latino senior leaders, up from 3.8% and 3.9% in the prior year.

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Alicia Boler-Davis and Dave Bozeman, top Black leaders at Amazon who helped oversee the company’s e-commerce operations, departed earlier this year.

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