Mark Kvamme: Black-owned coding boot camp ‘killing it’ as cohort 6 starts
By Carrie Ghose, Columbus Business First
Before investing in a Black-owned coding boot camp that’s increasing diversity in tech, venture capitalist Mark Kvamme spent more than a year in weekly meetings with founders to develop a solid plan for the operation to make money.
Not only is Color Coded Labs flourishing, its graduates are, too, Kvamme and co-founders said. Cohort 6 started last week in the 19-week program to switch to a career as a full-stack software developer.
Color Coded Labs’ goal is to increase each enrollee’s salary by $20,000. Some from the first cohorts now make more than $100,000 a year, Kvamme said in a talk at the first in-person BlkHack event since the pandemic.
“You guys have killed it,” said Kvamme, co-founder and partner emeritus of Columbus VC firm Drive Capital LLC. “It’s not only a great enterprise. It’s changing people’s lives.”
Entrepreneurs and twin brothers Branden Jones and Bruce Jones started BlkHack in 2016 as a series of networking events for Black founders and investors to immerse themselves in tech. Events stopped in 2020.
In 2021, they co-founded Color Coded Labs with three others including Kvamme, who invested personally, not from Drive funds.
Now a group of Color Coded Labs graduates have revived BlkHack, but are shifting the focus to tech workforce development, said Kdusan Araya, the new BlkHack president.
The return event was at Venture Suite, the Jones’ co-working space in the King-Lincoln Bronzeville neighborhood. The boot camp is held upstairs; the building is owned by and headquarters of Columbus Urban League.
Araya moved from San Diego a few years ago. Currently a real estate agent, she’s interviewing for software jobs after completing the boot camp last month. She said she agrees with Kvamme’s thesis: The Midwest is best place in the country to start a business.
“There’s so much growth and recognition, I don’t want to leave,” she said. “I want to grow with it.”
Kvamme, one of a handful of white people among some 30 attendees, told his life story and gave tips for business building in a fireside chat format with Kevin Lloyd, another Color Coded Labs co-founder. Lloyd also is co-founder of MYLE LLC, for Make Your Life Entertaining, a software and data analytics company that’s parent to the MYLE social and entertainment recommendation app.
Chris Olsen, a fellow veteran of Silicon Valley’s Sequoia Capital who co-founded Drive in 2012, is leading the firm since Kvamme stepped back from operations last fall.
Kvamme is trying to raise a $500 million Ohio Fund, a trust similar to a “sovereign wealth fund” that would invest in a variety of securities, real estate and Ohio-based businesses. Unlike VC that seeks to “flip” the investment when the business is acquired or goes public, the wealth fund would hold assets long-term.
One potential investor rebuffed the idea as a “first-time fund,” he said, a notion Kvamme sought to disabuse. (He led Sequoia’s first investment in LinkedIn, for example.)
Any founder must prepare to face inevitable doubters at investor meetings, Kvamme told the crowd.
If you see something and believe in it and have people around you who have the passion and ability to execute, you’ll get it done,” he said.
That said, not every startup is a good fit for VC, he said.
Kvamme also scoffed at a recent lawsuit against Atlanta’s Fearless Fund. The same white-led conservative group that won the U.S. Supreme Court case banning affirmative action in college admissions now contends the fund’s small-business grant program for Black women is discriminatory.
The lawsuit is not aimed at the VC funds, but the firm said the legal expenses pose an existential threat, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reports. Historically less than 1% of all VC goes to Black-owned tech startups.
“I don’t get it. There are biotech funds. There are real estate funds. For every constituency there should be a community,” Kvamme said. “It just doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s just people being silly.”
Anyone can apply to Color Coded Labs, but the difference is in targeted marketing and creating a welcoming environment for Black and brown workers and others in historically marginalized groups. The impact it has on participant incomes is “transformational,” Kvamme said.
“That’s where I want to spend my time,” he said.
However, Kvamme this year also has made the maximum individual campaign contributions, according to Federal Election Commission records, to the Senate campaign of Cleveland-area businessman Bernie Moreno and presidential campaign of former biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who has moved to Columbus.
The Republicans’ campaign platforms oppose “wokeness.” or “unlawful DEI indoctrination.”
Kvamme told Columbus Inno he can disagree with a fraction of what a candidate espouses, so long as they understand business and the obstacles created by taxes and regulations.
“We have all these guys who set policy and they don’t understand what the heck they’re doing,” he said. “I like business guys.”
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