Kevin Durant knows about starting at the bottom rung. But he is blessed with a gift to play basketball, which is not just a paycheck, but a ticket to worlds with other possibilities. He has used that access to create business opportunities beyond the world of sports, such as in technology.
“What I love about tech is, I love watching the world advance,” said the 29-year-old star of the Golden State Warriors, who invests through his Durant Company. “I love the connections of people on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter. I would look at it like [Cornelius] Vanderbilt, who built the railroad. He connected us. The next advancement connecting us to each other is social media. I want to be part of that.” His interest in technology connected him to Laurene Powell Jobs and has led to a new philanthropic venture.
Durant has committed $10 million and partnered with the Prince George’s public schools on a program called College Track, which was created more than 20 years ago in California by Powell Jobs and others. College Track helps disadvantaged kids — like Durant once was — attend college and get launched into life.
Durant is dropping a life-ladder called the Durant Center smack in the middle of the Seat Pleasant, Md., area where he grew up. It isn’t an elevator. The 60 students in the initial group must climb the ladder themselves.
But it’s a path.
“I want them to see the world,” Durant said in a phone interview this month. “I want them to see where people are from and see that there are things outside their world. I don’t know exactly or at what pace that they will get it, but there is a world outside that they need to see.”
Durant’s $10 million will seed construction and operating expenses of a local chapter of College Track, which is scheduled to open this year.
“This hits home, because it’s right in the neighborhood where me and my buddies lived,” said the 6-foot-11 “small” forward.
College Track is a 10-year program that provides the basic infrastructure — tutoring, test preparation, picking a college that is a “fit” and how to get financial aid — that kids from less-advantaged families often don’t have.
“These are all the things that middle-class families deliver if your parents went to college,” said Elissa Salas, College Track’s chief executive. “If your parents didn’t go to college, we fill that gap.”
Instead of going to school, school will come to you.
That’s the prize-winning idea behind RISE High, a proposed Los Angeles charter high school designed to serve homeless and foster children whose educations are frequently disrupted.
Los Angeles educators Kari Croft, 29, and Erin Whalen, 26, who came up with the idea, won $10 million in XQ: The Super School Project, a high school redesign competition funded by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs.
RISE is one of 10 $10-million winning school projects nationwide. Winners receive the prize money over five years.
XQ officials, in announcing the winners on Wednesday, described RISE as a “completely new” model. The idea is to have three to four physical sites sharing space with existing nonprofits as well as an online learning system. A bus will also be turned into a “mobile resource center,” to bring Wi-Fi, a washer/dryer and homework help to the neediest students.
That way, if a student suddenly moves or can’t get to school, he or she will have various options to get tutoring or the day’s lesson. “The model exists outside the traditional confines of space and time,” Croft said.
According to Variety.com, former William Morris Endeavor (WME) agency partner Charles King has lined up Apple heiress Laurene Powell Jobs as the leading investor in MACRO, the media company King recently founded to produce content for the African-American, Latino and multicultural markets.
King announced Wednesday that Jobs’ Emerson Collective would head the first round of investment in his company, with contributions also coming from a host of other technology and innovation firms and individuals, including Michael Kassan’s Medialink, and MNM Creative, a multi-national media and entertainment company. The announcement did not describe the size of the individual investments in the initial funding round, but put the total infusion in the eight-figure range.
King left the talent agency and announced the formation of his new company at the beginning of the year, with a focus on building ownership of creative properties conceived and made by minority artists. One of the most prominent minority agents in Hollywood, King was the long-time representative of multi-hyphenate Tyler Perry. MACRO has signaled that it will be announcing projects with filmmakers Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station”) and Craig Brewer (“Hustle & Flow”).
Other investors in MACRO include Raymond McGuire, the global head of corporate and investment banking at Citigroup, tech entrepreneur Justin Yoshimura and Michael Kane, managing director of the Los Angeles-based private equity firm Caltius Capital.
Jobs is the widow of Apple computer founder Steve Jobs. Her net worth has been pegged by Forbes at more than $18 billion. Her Emerson Collective had previously provided seed money to small startups focused on education and health care.
“Charles is uniquely poised to lead what’s sure to become the kind of media company that will launch careers and brands, but more importantly, add rich value to our entertainment culture,” Jobs said in a statement. “Charles has an extraordinary set of creative instincts — he’s demonstrated a remarkable ability to amplify talent, trends and content to multi-cultural audiences throughout his career.”
King said that his company would serve a market that “has been vastly underserved for too long.” He called the newly-announced investors “boundary-pushing, innovative thinkers and leaders in their respective fields of technology, finance and media.”