By: Brian Zwerner, Founder and President W3 Studio
Published: February 18, 2023
In prior posts, I’ve shared my motivations for starting W3 Studio. You can read about the impact my grandparents and parents had on my mindset for starting a non-profit. You can also learn more about my experience working with diverse founders in Atlanta and how this led me to start working on the idea that became W3 Studio. Now I’ll get into the details of how this concept matured and became what it is today.
Over the past four years, I’ve met with dozens of diverse Atlanta founders. I saw that many did not have the same personal network of the founders in more traditional tech cities. They often didn’t attend schools with histories of tech success. They didn’t usually work at Google or Facebook before launching their business. They typically didn’t have rich friends and family to fund the earliest stage of their ambitions. Diverse founders are over-mentored and underfunded. And when they did get some cash in, they usually did not have access to dev shops, lawyers, marketing firms, and others that had worked extensively with startups. When you hire the wrong partners, the money just doesn’t go as far as it can.
I concluded that to make a big impact with diverse builders in Atlanta, we needed to be able to fund the earliest stage of their journeys. We needed to provide an alternative to the friends and family capital that is so difficult for many. Further, we needed to bring vetted resources to make sure that this capital was spent efficiently and gave these amazing founders the best chance to win.
I started to research venture studios as a possible solution. I immediately loved the concept of creating a studio that can incubate the best ideas and help them get live. The problem is that most venture studios are built to produce venture returns, and they take 20-50% of the equity in the startups they help launch. This is needed to make the risk/return equation balance, but it felt more predatory and less helpful. I wanted my new studio to help people, not take half of their equity upside.
This led me to think about ways to launch a studio as a nonprofit. I’d never been involved with running a nonprofit before, but it felt like this was the right solution. I found some people that had this experience, and the idea began to percolate.
Things started to really get rolling when I got involved in the web3 space. Beyond The Game Network made its first investment there in July 2021 with SportsIcon, a startup working with athletes to bring NFT collectibles to their fans. I got deep down the web3 rabbit hole after that, which eventually led to the launch of the EMPOW3R newsletter. Beyond The Game made investments in other web3 companies, and we saw many of our portfolio companies embrace web3 tech to deepen relationships with their communities.
I also saw how web3 communities were bringing people together for a common interest. DAO entities were trying to buy the U.S. Constitution and a sports team, were funding new visual and music artists, and were even purchasing a golf course. These new primitives had a lot in common with nonprofits, and some were even organized as foundation entities. Also, blockchains and developer tool companies have set up grant programs to provide additional non-dilutive funding to builders in the space.
This crystalized into the idea to utilize a traditional non-profit entity to build a community of diverse web3 builders. The next step was to build a Board of Directors. I was lucky enough to get “Yes” answers from Asante Bradford, Christy Brown, and Marlon Williams. Each is passionate about supporting diverse founders, and they all bring great experience in investing, supporting, amplifying, and mentoring founders. It took a bunch of work to set up the Georgia non-profit legal entity and get our 501c3 application submitted to the IRS. We announced the launch of W3 Studio in January 2023 here.
Our next step is to find corporate partners who can support W3 Studio. We are looking for companies with a commitment to backing diverse entrepreneurs and who believe in the future of the technology sector in Atlanta. Founding corporate partners will be offered a Board seat and will help shape the future of W3 Studio. If you know a company that fits, please send them over to us. We will also offer digital memberships to individuals that want to support what we are building. We’ve engaged a great diverse Atlanta artist to make these passes into collectibles. The pre-sale will start in March.
We hope to be able to open applications for founders in the Spring. That is where the fun part of building companies will start. In the next post, I’ll share what success will look like for W3 Studios so you can understand the impact we aim to have in the Atlanta tech ecosystem.
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