The Fearless Fund’s Strivers Grant Program was already in jeopardy before Edward Blum’s American Alliance for Equal Rights sued it in August, according to documents reviewed by TechCrunch.
In June, just two months before the lawsuit was filed, the foundation arm of the fund held an offsite company where it labeled the Strivers Grant Program, sponsored by Mastercard, as “at risk.” The briefing document notes that Mastercard cut funding to the program after the organization initially made a five-year pledge to give money to Black founders. According to the document, Mastercard “no longer likes the original reason.”
It also noted that there were several departmental changes within Mastercard, although it was not clear how this affected the funding for the grant. The news comes as the grant faces a historic lawsuit by the AAER, which says the Strivers Grant discriminates against non-Black founders by only awarding grant money to Black women. A judge issued a temporary injunction against the grant, meaning the Fearless Fund is barred indefinitely from awarding it.
In response to TechCrunch, Arian Simone, co-founder and CEO of Fearless Fund, did not directly address whether the fund is still working with Mastercard. “We’re giving women of color access to capital that historically hasn’t been available to them,” she said. “Our partnerships with companies, including Mastercard, give these women the opportunity to realize their business dreams.”
Mastercard also did not directly address whether it was still working with the Fearless Fund, but 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. Our work, products, and services help drive their growth, protect them from fraud, and create more opportunities for all of us.
Mastercard and Fearless Fund partnered in 2021 to launch the Strivers Grant Program, with the goal of giving Black women-owned small businesses grants and access to mentorship. It is part of “Mastercard”Strivers initiative,” which was launched to help promote Black women business owners. In 2020, Mastercard announced a $500 million commitment to invest in the Black community to help close the racial wealth gap. The organization followed many others at the time that were under a lot of pressure to start supporting the Black community after the killing of George Floyd.
This year, Mastercard’s donation to the Fearless Fund seeks to grant four Black women $20,000 for the entire year; the final entry period was set to close just days before the AAER filed its lawsuit, we previously reported.
The briefing document shows that in June, the Fearless Fund plans to renew the grant and that there will be “MC strategic planning” in the month of October, where they hope to help Mastercard “feel special” and to “fuel ego.” The Fearless Fund wants two more years of the partnership, each short. In the same month, TechCrunch wrote that the venture arm of Fearless Fund announced a multi-million-dollar follow-on round for its second fund, with Bank of America, Costco and Mastercard as investors. It’s unclear whether AAER’s lawsuit against the grant has affected its relationship with Mastercard or other investors and partners working with the Fearless Fund.