Tennis star Serena Williams has made an investment in Karat, the Seattle-based startup that helps companies conduct technical interviews.
While a dollar amount was not shared by the company on Tuesday, Williams’ backing will allow Karat to “significantly scale” Brilliant Black Minds, a program that it says improves access and inclusion across the technology industry.
Karat plans to open the program to all current and aspiring Black software engineers as part of its call on the tech industry to add 100,000 new Black engineers to tech in the next decade. Williams will serve as Karat’s “Champion of Brilliance.”
Williams, who has been investing in tech for years, heads an early stage venture capital firm called Serena Ventures, which raised an inaugural fund of $111 million in March.
“The technology industry is focused on solving some of the world’s biggest challenges that impact all of us. My focus is ensuring the solutions to those challenges are developed by all of us,” Williams said in a news release. “There has never been a shortage of brilliance in Black America; only limited access and opportunities extended to our community.
She added that she’s proud to team with companies like Karat “who are taking actionable steps to bring more diversity and equity to the industry, as well as call on others to be part of the change.”
According to Karat, Black software engineers face multiple barriers to entry for jobs in the tech industry. Those barriers include structural inequities that delay early exposure to computer science; limited information about how the industry hires; fewer connections in professional networks; and less opportunities to practice technical interviews. As a result, just 5% of all software engineers in the U.S. are Black, Karat says.
Founded in 2014, Karat is led by Mo Bhende, a former director for Xbox at Microsoft, and co-founder Jeff Spector, who previously was chief of staff to Melinda Gates at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The company has close to 200 employees.
Karat raised a $110 million Series C round at a $1.1 billion valuation last October. Its software is used not only by tech companies such as Compass, Intuit, and Indeed, but also others including Ford, American Express, and Bank of America that need help interviewing engineers.
Citing what it calls the Interview Access Gap, Karat says only 50% of the Black engineers it surveyed have experienced a technical interview before they look for a job. The Brilliant Black Minds program uses Karat’s Interviewing Cloud to deliver free interview practice, feedback, and coaching to help aspiring Black software engineers prepare to successfully enter the tech industry.