NFL Tennessee Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan seeks to tackle major issues facing minority and women-owned business, including capital access. A graduate of the University of Miami’s executive MBA program, Morgan partnered with veteran angel investor Rodney Sampson to start Opportunity Ecosystem to develop inclusive startup technology ecosystems in cities throughout the United States in an effort to increase diversity in the innovation, entrepreneurship, and investment economy.
Morgan’s new effort, Huddle Ventures, is the parent company of Opportunity Ecosystem, which officially launches at SXSW (March 10–12). Opportunity Ecosystem will launch their ecosystem building platform at SXSW by hosting a series of talks, panels, special events and receptions that will feature conversations with Van Jones, Steve Case (billionaire founder of AOL and Revolution Fund), Johnetta Elzie (co-founder of Campaign Zero), Janice Bryant Howroyd (founder & CEO, ACT-1, No. 2 on the BE 100s list of the nation’s largest black-owned businesses) and Russell Okung (Denver Broncos).
Building a Model for Economic Development
“We are huddling everyone in the ecosystem from students to corporate executives to investors,” says Sampson, Kingonomics author and Opportunity Hub founder, which partnered with Tech Square Labs (a tech incubator and venture fund) and launched the Tech Opportunity Fund, a $100 million diversity scholarship fund for coders and software engineers.
Opportunity Ecosystem seeks to create a network of angel investors, black-owned banks, pro athletes, and regional business associations to invest in and grow minority-owned, early stage tech companies. Ultimately, Morgan and Sampson hope to create a scalable model for economic development that can be replicated in low- and middle-income communities across the country. Such efforts could lead to purchasing real estate to establish a co-working space to house an accelerator and coding program.
OE is an inclusive ecosystem building platform that it modeled after the work that Sampson was doing in Atlanta via Opportunity Hub, shares Michael Peterson, a co-founder of Huddle Ventures. “A lot of football players are ingrained to do philanthropy—to give back. We started to look at the investment model in terms of social impact,” adds Peterson, who uses his affiliation with athletes to leverage their funds and businesses as an adviser. In fact, the next Opportunity Hub and Ecosystem will be in Morgan’s hometown of Nashville, which has a great sports franchise, HBCUs, coding programs, and black banks. “We want to take this to 100 cities across the nation over time.”
Increasing Investment Capital in Black Businesses
Morgan, 28, cites the fact that less than 1% of angel and venture fund investments go to African American or Latino-owned startups, a crippling number given that small businesses account for the majority of new job creation. OE aims to change that by launching an equity crowdfunding platform, creating new angel investors and connecting new companies to capital opportunities.
Morgan is an angel investor, having funded a few tech startups. “One of my first technology investments was Monsieur, an automated bartending system. It was developed by one of my frat brothers [Barry Givens] at Georgia Tech. I wanted to diversify my portfolio and was looking at how the tech industry was rapidly growing and evolving,” he explains. “I also invested in an app called Fitbit [wireless tracker].”