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Venture Capitalist Who Backed Twitter Now Funding Brooklyn Chess Team

By Leslie Albrecht | December 2, 2013 6:59am
 Fred Wilson, a funder of tech companies, is supporting the chess team at P.S./M.S. 282 in Park Slope.
Twitter Backer Invests in Park Slope Chess Team
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PARK SLOPE — The venture capitalist whose seed money helped sprout Twitter and Tumblr is asking investors to fund a different sort of startup — the P.S./M.S. 282 chess team.

Fred Wilson, who's been called "The Godfather" of New York's tech community, recently pledged $10,000 to the team's fundraising campaign, while encouraging others to join him.

"I am a big fan of teaching chess to youngsters," Wilson wrote on his blog, considered a "must-read" for investors and techies. "I think it teaches struggling, persevering, thinking ahead, and getting ahead."

Wilson declined to comment for this story, saying he wanted to keep the focus on the school.

The father of three recently became active in school philanthropy. Earlier this year, he helped raise money for the I.S. 318 chess team, and he recently unveiled the NYC Foundation for Computer Science, which aims to put computer science programs in all New York City public schools.

Now Wilson is helping P.S./M.S. 282 raise $19,600 so its entire chess team can travel to tournaments outside New York. For some students, the trips are their first chance to venture outside their home neighborhood, said Kimtoya Williams, chairwoman of the chess team parents' group.

P.S./M.S. 282, on Sixth Avenue and Berkeley Place, is in the heart of well-off Park Slope, but the majority of its students come from other neighborhoods, including Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, East New York and Brownsville, Williams said. Many families can't afford to travel with the team.

For example, last year the team won a national championship in Nashville, Tenn., but only about 35 of its 60 members competed and witnessed the victory in person.

“We want to give as many children as possible this opportunity because we've seen the impact it has on the children who have done it," Williams said. "It's an experience they carry with them through the rest of their lives, and it’s nothing but positive.”

Wilson, the managing partner of two venture capital firms, has a strong track record of picking winners in the technology industry. He also displayed a golden touch when he put the spotlight on I.S. 318's fundraising campaign. Wilson had initially pledged $10,000 to that effort, but after he announced the campaign on his blog, the school quickly met its goal, raising $68,000 from 308 other donors.

Wilson promised to save that $10,000 for another school chess team, and P.S./M.S. 282 was his choice. His money stands at the ready if P.S./M.S. 282 can't raise the entire $19,600 on its own, Williams said.

But Wilson's involvement means more than just dollars, said parent Rob Underwood, a member of the school's parent-teacher organization who's worked in the tech industry for 15 years. Wilson's blessing feels like a stamp of approval for a sometimes overlooked school.

"The support and endorsement of the chess program by someone of Fred Wilson's stature is huge," Underwood said in an email. "We are doing amazing things at P.S./M.S. 282. While the dollars are wonderful, no less important is the encouragement and vote of confidence this provides to our students, parents, teachers, and school administration."