Today, Frank + Oak announced the launch of its 50/50 Founders’ Fund as part of its effort to support early stage entrepreneurs, in partnership with General Assembly.
“As our company has evolved, we’ve looked at what the core values are that are important for our customer.”
The Fund will function as a grant program, providing seed-stage funding of up to $10,000 to four entrepreneurs working in social enterprise each quarter, starting in Q1 2017, in the US and Canada. To fund the grants, Frank + Oak will take one percent of every product sold. Winners also get access to an advisory team of entrepreneurs and an educational credit from General Assembly, where they can receive classes on subjects like digital marketing, coding, and data science. It’s General Assembly’s second notable foray into Canada, as the education-to-employment company acquired Bitmaker in early August.
The Fund gets its name from the fact that Frank + Oak plans to grant 50 percent of the fund to female entrepreneurs and 50 percent of the fund to male entrepreneurs equally. The company said the goal of the fund was to address the address the gender gap when it comes to entrepreneurship and funding. Quite a few studies in the past have attempted to examine reasons for the gap, including a joint study from BMO and Carleton that said the perception that women are more risk-averse means they have more trouble securing funding. Anecdotally, many women have spoken out about feeling that they have a tougher time raising capital than their male counterparts — which is especially true if you’re a Black woman, who raise an average of $36,000 of funding in an analysis of 10,238 deals.
When asked why Frank + Oak felt that a mandate of providing 50 percent of funding to male and female founders equally was the best way to approach tech’s gender disparity, rather than dedicating a fund just to women, CEO Ethan Song said the latter was an idea that was considered in the beginning. “We felt that because we’re about equality, it made more sense to have something balanced on both sides, which rewards entrepreneurs that are male or female. Although the proposal [to have a fund that targets women entrepreneurs is also valid, and something we considered seriously.”
As Frank + Oak has always been a brand that has worked to be attractive to entrepreneurs with its chat bots and curated experiences, Song said it made sense to launch an initiative that was actually useful in an entrepreneur’s life. “[Looking at] the challenges we’ve had building our company from the ground up, and looking at the customers that we have, we have that desire to have an impact on the world,” said Song. “It’s been a while that we’ve been talking about this; how do we give back and accelerate entrepreneurship and contribute to our community, not just by providing cool clothes, but actually being involved?”
Frank + Oak is also funding two fellowships for General Assembly’s Opportunity Fund, which provides full educational stipends to underrepresented groups. When asked whether Frank + Oak reached out to members of the community for consultation on the fund’s approach to diversity, Song said, “we built and brainstormed this internally and we talked to mentors and a lot of people to find out what is the best way to implement this.”
“At the same time, it is a Frank + Oak initiative. It’s something that we own completely and we’re very passionate about. If you look at who comes to our events and you look at the guys who buy our clothes, those entrepreneurial values are very strong within our community.”
In terms of why the company decided to launch the fund now, Song replied simply that there’s no better time than any other time. “What’s interesting about the history of Frank + Oak is that we’re well aware that when we started, the idea was to create a product for creative guys,” said Song. “As our company has evolved, we’ve looked at what the core values are that are important for our customer. It’s not so much about being a guy, but it’s about being creative and being entrepreneurial.”