SAN FRANCISCO — Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen and his wife, philanthropist and educator Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, are giving $275,000 to four non-profits working on the front lines for the nation’s military veterans, with the aim of getting more service men and women into tech jobs.
“Our veterans and those active in military service enable a free society. To be able to support this population, I consider it to be an extraordinary honor,” Arrillaga-Andreessen told USA TODAY.
The Andreessens say they are embracing the issue of veteran inclusion, targeting organizations that have developed innovative programs to reach diverse groups within that community. One of the key goals: to get more boots on the ground in Silicon Valley.
The U.S. has 21.2 million military veterans and another million will leave the military in the next four years. Veterans have the skills the tech industry seeks out — discipline, work ethic, problem solving, leadership and exposure to cutting-edge technology — but sometimes lack the social networks to land jobs in the industry. Nearly four of 10 service men and women said they didn’t receive enough support when they returned to civilian life, according to a survey conducted last year by advocacy group Disabled American Veterans.
‘VERY TECH SAVVY’
“The veterans today are very, very tech savvy and very well qualified,” said Katherine Webster, a veteran of the technology industry who spent 16 years at Sun Microsystems.
Nearly four years ago, Webster started VetsinTech, one of the recipients of the Andreessens’ grants. With the backing of Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and tech companies such as Facebook and Intuit, VetsinTech connects veterans to jobs in the tech industry, putting on weekend hackathons and “boot-camp” training for military veterans trying to break into the tech industry.
“With my father being in the military all his life and me being in tech all my life, I asked: Why are we not doing anything for veterans in tech?” said Webster, whose father served in the Korean War.
Veterans don’t always know how their military skills translate to the private sector or they have trouble explaining their qualifications to prospective employers, she said. Others need training to fill gaps.
In 2015, the unemployment rate for military veterans fell to 4.6%, the lowest level in seven years. The employment gains came as the economy improved and efforts to find jobs for veterans in the public and private sectors intensified.
President Barack Obama in 2011 signed into law a program that gives employers tax credits for hiring unemployed veterans. Last year, First Lady Michelle Obama announced that technology and energy companies had committed to hire or train 90,000 veterans and military spouses in the next five years.
“Veterans bring so many extraordinary skills that those of us who have never served simply would never have the opportunity to build,” Arrillaga-Andreessen said.
The non-profits receiving grants from the Andreessens are The COMMIT Foundation, The Institute for Veterans and Military Families, The Honor Foundation and VetsinTech.
-The COMMIT Foundation, which focuses on easing the transition from military service to the professional civilian world will be able to fund a new position to work with corporate partners such as Facebook to improve veteran hiring.
– The Institute for Veterans and Military Families, IVMF, a national institute housed at Syracuse University that develops educational and employment programs to address the economic and public policy concerns of military veterans and their families, will launch an alumni network across seven programs.
– The Honor Foundation, which helps Special Forces veterans transition to private-sector careers, will get support building online learning technology, data warehousing, visualization and analytical capabilities as well as funding for a system to measure the effectiveness of programs.
– VetsinTech will increase its staff.
Inclusion is the hallmark of a series of grants the Andreessens are making to non-profits bringing greater diversity to the technology industry and beyond. They have earmarked funds for organizations working to close the racial and gender gap and to raise the visibility of sexual orientation and gender identity in the tech industry. They also teamed up with Hewlett-Packard to donate nearly $170,000 worth of computers, printers and other equipment to the public libraries in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore that provided a refuge from civil unrest after the deaths of young black men.
Andreessen is one of high-tech’s best-known investors and entrepreneurs. He co-founded Netscape Communications, the company that developed one of the first commercial Web browsers, and now runs one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent venture capital firms, Andreessen Horowitz. Arrillaga-Andreessen is a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the author of Giving 2.0: Transform Your Giving and Our World.
For years, the Andreessens have given money in the name of “protecting the protectors” — local police forces, highway patrol officers, CIA and FBI operatives and their families as well as veterans. Arrillaga-Andreessen says these latest grants to veterans are a “further commitment.”
“It’s a no-brainer that we would want to fund this massively underfunded area,” she said. “We have a responsibility to do so.”