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Fearless Fund grant program was ‘at risk’ before lawsuit

Documents that showed the Fearless Fund’s Strivers Grant Program was in danger before Edward Blum’s American Alliance for Equal Rights sued it in August.

The foundation arm of the fund held a company offsite in June, two months before the lawsuit, and marked the Mastercard-sponsored Strivers Grant Program as “at risk.” The briefing noted that Mastercard cut funding to the program after pledging five years to support black founders. The document stated that Mastercard was “no longer passionate about the original cause.”

It also noted many Mastercard department changes, but it is unclear how this affected grant funding. The Strivers Grant is facing a historic lawsuit from the AAER, which claims it discriminates against non-Black founders by only funding Black women. A temporary injunction prevents the Fearless Fund from awarding the grant indefinitely.

Fearless Fund co-founder and CEO Arian Simone did not reveal whether the fund was still working with Mastercard in a response. “We have given women of color access to capital that’s historically been unavailable,” she said. Partnerships with companies like Mastercard have allowed these women to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.

Mastercard said there has been “no change in the commitments we have made, including our long-standing support of small business owners, entrepreneurs, and underserved communities,” but did not say if it was still working with Fearless Fund. Our work, products, and services help them grow, prevent fraud, and create more opportunities for us.”

In 2021, Mastercard and Fearless Fund launched the Strivers Grant Program to support black women-owned small businesses with grants and mentorship. Mastercard launched the “Strivers Initiative” to highlight black women business owners. Mastercard pledged $500 million to close the black wealth gap in 2020. The organization followed many others under pressure to support the black community after George Floyd’s murder.

We reported that Mastercard’s Fearless Fund grant sought to award four black women $20,000 this year, with the last entry period closing days before the AAER filed its suit.

The briefing document showed that Fearless Fund planned to revamp the grant in June and conduct “MC strategic planning” in October to help Mastercard “feel special” and “fuel ego.” Fearless Fund requested two more years of partnership, per the brief. That month, Fearless Fund’s venture arm announced a multimillion-dollar follow-on round for its second fund with Bank of America, Costco, and Mastercard. AAER’s lawsuit against the grant may have affected its relationship with Mastercard or Fearless Fund’s other investors and partners.

 

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