A Silicon Valley pioneer and investor, Mitch Kapor was presented with the medal at an April 12 ceremony at the Koury Business Center.
Mitch Kapor, partner at Kapor Capital and the Kapor Center for Social Impact, was awarded the Elon University Medal for Entrepreneurial Leadership on April 12. The annual honor supported by the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship is bestowed upon individuals who possess integrity, innovation and creativity, a passion for lifelong learning and a commitment to building a dynamic community.
In his remarks after receiving the medal from Elon President Connie Ledoux Book, Kapor walked the audience through his professional journey — from a neophyte who threw himself into the personal computer following its invention in the 1970s to now a savvy investor who backs startup tech companies seeking to uplift underserved and minority populations.
“Distinct experiences, life experiences, are what give rise to different ideas,” Kapor told the crowd in a packed LaRose Digital Theater at the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business. “When there is a diversity of backgrounds that are contributing to defining possible futures, it’s going to create a richer mix and more opportunities.”
That was a philosophy that Kapor relied upon when in 1982 he founded Lotus, a company that became best-known for Lotus 1-2-3, a groundbreaking spreadsheet, graphics and database software. The company earned more than $500 million in revenues (in today’s dollars) by 1985 and was sold to IBM for $3.5 billion.
Kapor said that from the start, Lotus integrated such innovative policies such as creating a diversity council with employee representation, a system for employees to submit suggestions and complaints called the Lotus Grapevine, and tying management bonuses to how those managers were rated by their employees for living the corporate values.
A pioneer in the industry, Kapor said that many of the problems that social media and technology are being confronted with today — concerns about privacy, the mining and leveraging of personal information and manipulation of public opinion — have their roots in the past. Kapor was the founding chair of the Mozilla Foundation, which created the popular open source web browser Firefox, and said he and many of his peers moved ahead without thinking of how these new technologies might be misused.
“The biggest mistake, in a way, made by those of us who were internet pioneers … was to not understand enough and take seriously enough the full spectrum of human nature,” Kapor said. “We failed to think in the same way that Facebook is continuing to fail.”
This week, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has been questioned in Congress about the company’s lack of transparency and its harvesting, stockpiling and use of personal information. Kapor said this is a time for leaders in the tech community to pause.
“This would be a very good time for Silicon Valley to take a step back and ask some fundamental questions instead of continuing in the headlong rush to deploy,” Kapor said. “What I hope will be a kind of ethical awakening in which it really comes to be front and center that you can’t have a conversation about design without having a conversation about what is the impact going to be, who is going to be hurt by this, who has access to it and who does not. … That is the goal.”
About Zuckerberg, Kapor said gets the sense that “he doesn’t really feel or understand the consequences of what he has unleashed.” Kapor noted that he deleted his Facebook account the night before.
Now as partners in venture capital firm Kapor Capital, Kapor and his wife, Freada Kapor Klein, have again made diversity a priority and have sought out entrepreneurs who might be passed over by other potential backers. They focus on finding seed-stage technology companies that are looking to close a gap in access, opportunity or outcomes for low-income and/or minority communities. They’re looking for startups led by women or people of color.
“We know that who has a seat at the table and a voice really matters, and that’s particularly true in investing,” Kapor said.
In her remarks introducing Kapor, President Book said attributes that the entrepreneur has displayed during his spectacular career reflect many Elon values. She noted that he and his wife have continued to use their influence to build a better corporate environment, reduce gaps in opportunity and access and helped to level the playing field. “In every sense, their values mirror the values at Elon,” Book said.
Elon’s Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship is named for Trustee Ed Doherty and his wife, Joan, entrepreneurs from New Jersey whose daughter graduated from Elon in 2007. Ed and Joan Doherty established the center with a gift to the university and have been longtime Elon supporters.
In his remarks Thursday, Doherty noted that entrepreneurship is often misconstrued as something that takes place just within the business world. “It’s not about business,” he said. “It’s about a way of thinking.”
He pointed to the renaming of the center last year to better reflect its broader mission to be a campuswide resource. “Really, entrepreneurship is about innovation and creativity, and that resonates across the whole campus,” Doherty said.
Past recipients of the Elon University Medal for Entrepreneurial Leadership include:
2009 – Jim Goodnight, CEO and Founder, SAS
2010 – Bernard A. Harris, Jr., CEO and Managing Partner, Vesalius Ventures, Inc.
2012 – Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Founder of the Grameen Bank and Chairman of the Yunus Centre
2013 – Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, founder and CEO, Pace Communications and Chairman of the Board of the American Red Cross
2014 – Patrick Awuah, Jr., Founder and President, Ashesi University
2015 – Guy Harvey, wildlife artist and conservationist
2016 – Alexander Julian, fashion and furniture designer
2017 – Louis DeJoy, president, LDJ Global Strategies LLC