Ingrid Vanderveldt scanned the list of people waiting for tables at Kerbey Lane Cafe. There were eleven names before ours. “Would you mind if we went somewhere else?” she asked, flashing a conciliatory grin. It was a Saturday in Austin, and most of the city’s residents were probably trying to decide which park to spend the day in. But Vanderveldt is the president of Dryken, a nearly two-year-old high-tech start-up, so her weekend was booked up with appointments. She jumped back into her red convertible, clapped a phone to her ear, and peeled off with her fancy hubcaps twirling. It would have been easy to mistake Vanderveldt for someone motivated exclusively by hustling self-interest, but the opposite is true; she represents the high-tech industry’s desire to contribute. Over lunch at another restaurant, she explained how she helped start the Austin Entrepreneurs Foundation, an organization that promotes the concept of equity philanthropy: the donating of stock during the early stages of a company’s growth, in the hope that an eventual public offering will give the gift real value. With the involvement of people like Vander-veldt—entrepreneurs who are short on time and cash but long on potential—high-tech giving is finally coming of age.
Some would say it’s long overdue. For many years Texas techies were viewed as selfish, the kind of people who cared more about the value of their stock options than the health of the community around them. All that changed, thanks to a certain somebody who, back when he was a student at the University of Texas, started Austin’s first major high-tech success. Michael Dell’s personal fortune was estimated last October to be a staggering $20 billion, and as he’s gotten older and started a family, he’s been eager to give significant portions of that money away to causes he newly appreciates. In 1999 he and his wife, Susan, donated $6.9 million to various charities; most recently, they pledged $1.9 million to encourage parents in Travis and Williamson counties to enroll their children in the state’s health insurance program. In 1998 the Dells, along with four other Dell executives and their wives, gave a total of $13 million to the Austin Museum of Art—the largest cash gift to the arts in Central Texas, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Meanwhile, the Dell Foundation gives away hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, primarily to benefit children’s causes in Central Texas.
And that’s not all Dell is doing. In the past three