Public Interest Tech Has a Pipeline Problem
Tech companies prioritizing the public interest are essential for a more just future
A record amount of capital is fueling private tech as investments in emerging technology companies grow at a faster rate and with more generous early-stage seed funding than ever before. This wave of unprecedented investment promises to remake the infrastructure of how we live, work, and play over the coming decade. Too often, venture capital (VC) firms mirror the diversity and quarterly challenges well documented in other areas of Big Tech where an elite, homogeneous group of founders and investors with short-term growth priorities continue to define the field.
Many serious and well-documented harms are a direct byproduct of the past 20 years of technology investments—algorithmic bias, misinformation, loss of personal privacy, mental health concerns, reduced labor standards and many others. Unchecked, tech companies have the power to disproportionately define, perpetuate or exacerbate existing racial, gender, social-economic and labor inequities. To disrupt these trends it is imperative for philanthropy, impact investors, ESG investors, and forward-thinking venture capitalists (VCs) to collaborate to reshape the future of the private sector. This is just one reason why it’s vital to invest in the next generation of tech companies that seek to embrace a more “public interest” approach to innovation, either by adopting more responsible, stakeholder-driven approaches and business models or by focusing more explicitly on social impact.
Prior to 2021, venture funding never reached $100 billion in a single quarter. In 2021, it exceeded $100 billion every quarter. Even with increasing calls for responsible and ethical tech; stakeholder value; environmental, social, governance (ESG); and ongoing pushes for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in tech, the prevailing culture of “growth above all” persists. For example, a study conducted by Coworker.org found that in the past two years there has been a growing unregulated marketplace of technology companies they’ve dubbed “Little Tech” to differentiate the hundreds of other tech companies, vendors, and startups that tend to fly under the radar and due to their size are able to escape the oversight that we are beginning to see happening with Big Tech. The study found most Little Tech companies continue to develop products without sufficient due diligence and impact assessments to ensure their products do not have unintended consequences such as discriminating on the basis of protected classes under federal law.
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