Threading the Needle: An Inside Look at Paul Judge’s Plans for Softbank’s Open Opportunity Fund

Judge talks about his plan to raise $150 million and invest in underrepresented founders

SoftBank last week has renamed its Opportunity Fund to Open Opportunity Fund with the intention of opening the fund to other LPs and organizations to support minority entrepreneurs and startups. It also launched a second fund with a target of $150 million.

For investor Paul Judge, who will co-own the fund with Softbank and serve as chairman, the job is an opportunity to make a dent in the ecosystem.

However, we need much more than $150 million to do that: Last year, Black’s founders received just 1% of all venture capital funds, down slightly from the 1.3% raised the year before. Still, Judge is hopeful he can help open the gates wider for underrepresented communities.

“One of the issues in Silicon Valley, traditionally, is about who you know,” he told me during a recent interview. “It was about getting a ‘warm intro,’ and people brag about that — ‘Oh, you have to know someone to meet me.’ I think that led to the system being closed.”

Judge says this new fund aims to change that. “There is an open forum on the website, there is an open email address – just raise your hand and tell us about your business. We’ll take a look and we’ll make an appointment. And whether or not we invest, we will give you meaningful feedback on how we think you can improve,” he said.

The first fund of the Opportunity Fund invested in 75 companies, half of which were early stage. Launched in 2020, the portfolio now consists of five unicorns alongside heavy hitters like Greenwood, Brex and Cityblock Health. To date, it has seen seven exits.

He was previously a member of Opportunity Fund’s investment committee before being brought in to rename it. Judge seems to be aware of the challenge ahead. He aims to raise the $150 million for Fund 2 and invest it in at least 70 companies over the next three years.

His experience will help too: he is a managing partner at Panoramic Ventures, a well-known presence in the Atlanta venture ecosystem, and previously co-founded the TechSquare Labs incubator and security firm Pindrop. recently spoke with Judge about his new appointment, the fund’s potential role in the wake of the Silicon Valley Bank collapse, and the broader changes that need to take place to accelerate society’s movement toward economic equality.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.) What’s the first thing you’ll do in your new role?

Paul Judge: Every day we continue to support the current portfolio. There are 75 companies working hard to grow, build products and sell products, and we interact with them daily and weekly. We will continue to do that.

And there are talks with investors. We will continue to communicate with other organizations that would like to join us and join SoftBank in this mission.

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