Crew, Packers, Bucks form Equity League

December 15th, 2020

The Brewers have come together with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and Microsoft to form the Equity League, a new investment division of venture capital fund TitletownTech that will focus on locating and developing companies working to enact social change.

The Equity League collaboration will target imbalances that exist within the tech startup industry by prioritizing Black and Latinx founders, hiring minority venture fellows and investing in sectors including financial technology, digital inclusion, health equality, urban innovation and criminal justice reform. Only 1 percent of current founders of venture-capital backed startups are Black, and less than 2 percent are Latinx. Only 3 percent of all employees at venture capital investment funds are Black or Latinx professionals.

“We’re looking at these inequities that exist and trying to play our role, be a catalyst and ultimately form an investment network, a connected capital model,” said Israel Squires, director of the new Equity League, in a press conference Tuesday. “We believe this will provide us the best flexibility to make a long-term generational impact.”

The Equity League begins with a strong foundation with the backing of TitletownTech, a partnership formed between the Packers and Microsoft in 2017 that has already made inroads through investments in early-stage and existing businesses in Wisconsin communities. The series of tragic events stemming from racial injustices that elevated to a national spotlight in this year -- not least of which was the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., this past August -- has inspired players and staff members from all three of Wisconsin’s professional sports teams to come together and work toward enacting tangible change.

The Equity League is the logical next step to “do something big,” in the words of Squires, and make a for-profit investment in developing underrepresented leaders in the business community as an alternative to a charitable donation.

“We all do great things in the public sector and great things with the non-profit world,” said Brewers president of business operations Rick Schlesinger, “but this is a great opportunity to work in the for-profit world and invest in companies that we ultimately want to see success and profitability from. Profitable companies create jobs and create opportunities.

“We’re all part of the Wisconsin fabric and citizens of a state that has given us great fan support, but also we recognize there are inequalities in opportunities that are not being provided to disadvantaged folks -- including, in particular African American and Hispanic entrepreneurs who frankly don’t have access to the same funding and capital sources as others.”

While many players don’t live in Milwaukee or Green Bay during the offseason, the Equity Fund will be a tool for them to make the kind of impact in their teams’ communities that they have been seeking after this year’s tragic events.

“I think our players already have a lot of interest in this,” said Schlesinger. “They want to invest in companies that have a profitable return, but that are also going to making meaningful impacts in the community in which they play. They want to see that what they’re doing here is having an impact, and a really neat way of showing impact is for players and the teams to get involved, make investments in these companies, have these companies succeed and be models of entrepreneurship for others.”

Executives from all three teams acknowledged that it’s rare for local clubs from separate sports leagues to come together in investment opportunities like this one, particularly in the social-justice sphere. But they also mentioned that they’ve already received numerous congratulations from members of rival teams in the hours since the Equity League was officially announced, and the hope is that this Wisconsin partnership will inspire similar collaborations in other sports markets across the country.

“I have no doubt that we’re going to get a lot of inquiries from teams in other states who want to replicate this model,” said Schlesinger. “That would be a fantastic win, frankly, if this ends up being replicated in other states. If this becomes a national movement, then we’ve accomplished one of our goals.”