She slept on airport floor, Arlan Hamilton now funds black education in Oxford

Mohammed Awal Mar 19, 2020 at 08:00am

March 19, 2020 at 08:00 am | Tech & Innovation

Mohammed Awal

Mohammed Awal

March 19, 2020 at 08:00 am | Tech & Innovation

Image credit: Pinterest

Arlan Hamilton hasn’t forgotten where she came from. A pioneering technology investor and entrepreneur, Hamilton is the creator of the first scholarship fund targeted at black undergraduate students at Oxford University.

The scholarship covers fees and living costs for one undergraduate student a year for three years beginning in 2020. It is valued at around $300,000, or about £220,000.

Beneficiaries of the scholarship must be of African and Caribbean heritage and from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Recipients will also have the opportunity to work closely with the Oxford Foundry, an entrepreneurship center at the university that Hamilton advises, and with the L.E.V8 accelerator, USA TODAY reports.

Each student will also receive a $3900 grant to pursue careers in their chosen field. 

“I plan on doing this for several schools over the next decade and starting with Oxford because I’ve spent a great deal of time with their students and faculty, and Dillard because it’s my mom’s alma mater and shaped her,” Hamilton told USA TODAY.

Currently, at Oxford, black students make up 2.6% of the annual undergraduate student body intake and Hamilton’s goal is to make an Oxford education available to more black U.K. students.

Hamilton, 39, went from homeless in three years to running Backstage Capital, a venture capital firm that solely invests in companies founded by women, people of color and LGBTQ entrepreneurs.

Backstage’s general fund manages more than $5 million of investments, according to the CNBC

The vocal businesswoman and former music-tour manager’s investment firm, in 2018, dedicated a $36 million seed fund exclusively to companies founded by black women. 

Homeless and living in the San Francisco airport, with a backpack, a laptop and she had a dream of becoming the Robin Hood of venture capital, Hamilton recalled in an interview with CNBC Make It.

“It was pretty traumatic to sleep on the floor of the airport and hope that that’s not illegal because I didn’t know at the time,” she said.

According to CNBC Make It, Hamilton, who grew up near Dallas, Texas, started her first business in the 3rd grade, with the help of her mom. 

She got her first job as a cashier at Pudge Brothers Pizza at the age of 15, working her way up to assistant manager. 

Hamilton pursued a career in the music industry, after high school, moving up from production assistant to tour manager.

“In 2012, I had been on the road for a little bit and I was really achieving a lot of my dreams. Even though it was a lot of hard work and it was not glamorous, I was having a really good time,” she said. “Around the same time, I started noticing different people like Ashton Kutcher and Troy Carter and Ellen [DeGeneres] who were all making investments in Silicon Valley.”

Hamilton quit her job in music and moved in with her mom in Texas and decided to study venture capital. “To become a VC, most people go through four years of school or get an MBA. I thought, ‘I can figure that out,’” Hamilton told Quartz. “So I just did that at home.”

In three years Hamilton would come out as an investor. “I really didn’t set out to become an investor, because I just — it just didn’t seem realistic to me at the time, and it wasn’t an interest until I understood that there were people who were not getting access to the same rooms as others,” she said.

“It just didn’t seem right to me that most of the people that I knew who were starting companies were not straight white men …and they were starting cool companies! Some of them were small businesses and some of them could affect the world, but they were not getting seen.”

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