Can Investors Help Solve the Digital Divide? Lessons from Amit Raizada

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As summer begins to fade into Autumn, students around the country are once again preparing to return to school. But—as has been a constant theme in 2020—this semester will look unlike the archetypal school experience students have enjoyed in the past. In many ways, the 2020 school year will be defined by geography. In some regions, students are returning to school with only minor modifications, like social distancing requirements and mandatory mask-wearing, while in others the fall semester will be spent entirely online.   

Within these new changes lies a significant socioeconomic problem. The push to equip students with the resources needed to learn from home has shed light on an inequality that has long pervaded our country’s low-income households and rural communities—unequal access to the internet. Many students are now tasked with navigating online classes in the absence of stable, high-quality internet connections. Recent research shows that some 27 percent of California students lack home broadband access, opening up a digital divide that threatens to set students without access to this technology behind in their coursework. 

We sat down with entrepreneur and venture capitalist Amit Raizada to learn more about potential solutions to this dilemma. The CEO of venture capital firm Spectrum Business Ventures, Raizada shed light into how investors and entrepreneurs can help develop solutions to this increasingly prevalent dilemma. 

Raizada said venture capitalists play a key role in driving forward nascent technologies and can help move innovative firms devising wireless internet solutions into the mainstream. They should seek out the startups working to create new wi-fi hotspot technology and deliver the service at significantly reduced rates, he said.  

“Aspiring investors should approach opportunities with two criteria in mind: the venture should be able to deliver significant returns and should improve peoples’ lives,” Raizada said. “Solutions to the digital divide will do both. Investors need to consider how they can help democratize access to the internet—it will help students in need of a stable connection to get their work done and could change the trajectory of the personal technology industry in the long run.”   

To cure the divide here in California—the cradle of digital technology—Raizada recommended aspiring investors look for the firms providing the services that the tech industry needs to stay afloat. It is often on the margins that entrepreneurs can make the greatest impact, developing new technologies to lower the cost of or expand access to goods and services, Raizada said. He took this approach in the gift card industry, where two firms that he supported—Card Compliant and Store Financial—provided the secondary services the sector needed to take off. 

“In my two decades with Spectrum Business Ventures, we have always sought to see the world differently, to see opportunity where others do not, and to change the world for the better,” said Raizada. “The digital divide is an unfortunate reality, exacerbated by this difficult moment in which we are living. Socially conscious entrepreneurs have an opportunity, and an obligation, to confront this problem head-on and change the course of this market.” 

 

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