Tom Austin is the Minneapolis venture capitalist who is accused of “racially profiling” a group of black men in a gym in the city.
The allegations against Austin, 53, were made by the entrepreneurs behind the marketing start-up Top Figure. In the video, Austin identifies himself by name. According to Top Figure’s Instagram account, the incident occurred inside of the private gym in the MoZaic East office building along Lagoon Avenue in the city at 7:51 p.m. on May 26. Around the same time, thousands of people in Minneapolis had taken to the streets to protest the killing of unarmed black man George Floyd by police in the city on May 25.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Austin has lost his lease at the MoZaic East building as a result of his actions in the video. The building is owned by Ackerberg Group, and Austin’s company, F2 Group, had an office there. Stuart Ackerberg, the CEO of Ackerberg Group told the Star Tribune, “My heart hurts. This is not how we do business. … I’m alarmed by what I saw.” He said the men who were confronted by Austin, “had every right to be there and to use that amenity.”
Ackerberg told the newspaper he talked to Austin about the incident, “I shared with him that I did not think it was handled well and there are other ways to go about this. It’s unfortunate. Our goal is to create a safe and inviting experience for everybody.”
Austin has responded to the controversy in an auto-response email. In that email, Austin admits that he “should have handled it differently.” Austin goes on to accuse one of the men who had a keycard of allowing his friends who did not have keycards to use the gym. Austin said that he would have confronted the men regardless of race. Austin adds that he has apologized to the men for making them feel like it was about race.
A Post on Top Figure’s Instagram Page Said That Austin Asked 3 Black Men if They ‘Belong’ in the Gym
View this post on Instagram
Normally we don’t speak out about encounters of racial profiling and age discrimination that we face day to day in our lives as young black entrepreneurs. Although today May 26th 2020 7:51pm we encountered a situation where a man entered the facility, a shared private gym that we utilize in our @wework @mozaic_east office located in uptown Minnesota. Granted we’ve been in this office space and have rented and grown our business for the past 1 year and half here. As we were working out this man approached and immediately asked us who we were and if “WE BELONG” in this building. Granted in order to enter the building you NEED a key card to enter EVERY part of the building which EACH of our team members individually have. We all pay rent here and this man demanded that we show him our key cards or he will call the cops on us. We are sick and tired of tolerating this type of behavior on a day to day basis and we feel that we had to bring light onto this situation.
The post says Top Figure has maintained an office in MoZaic East for over a year while they have grown their business. It says Austin racially profiled the men, asking them if they “belong” in the gym, demanding to see their key cards and threatening to call the police. The post ends with the words: “We are sick and tired of tolerating this type of behavior on a day to day basis and we feel that we had to bring light onto this situation.”
Austin’s emailed statement reads in full:
Yes, I f***** up. Should have handled it differently. Building management had been complaining that tenants were allowing their friends to trespassing and use a private gym that was authorized only for building tenants. I noticed that one of the tenants seemed to have brought 4 friends and I complained to them that this isn’t right and it’s unfair to the tenants who pay. One guy was letting his other 4 friends in and out of the building with his FOB. Nobody else had a FOB.
When I said something, they got in my face in a very threatening manner accusing me of racial profiling. I said it wasn’t racial profiling and was all about suspicious activity/behavior. Because they were in my face, I took photos and threatened back to call the building security. I actually only called the building property manager! I would have done this regardless of race. In fact, I told them I’d have done the same thing if they were white, or even a bunch of girls who were trespassing. What surprises me is that we worked out in gym together for another 45 minutes after I had already apologized to them for making them feel it was a race issue, when in fact it was not.
Austin Once Sued to Ensure a Minneapolis Lake Retained its Name; The Name of Slavery Advocate John C. Calhoun
Austin made news in Minneapolis in 2017 when he sued to prevent local government from changing the name of Lake Calhoun to its Dakota name, Bde Maka Ska. The lake was named for the seventh vice president of the United States and slavery advocate John C. Calhoun.
Austin wrote in The Minneapolis Star Tribune in October 2017 that he surveyed 350 people who lived close to the lake. Austin said the majority felt that the Dakota name Bde Maka Ska was not “inclusive.”
Austin said that during his survey, “people” asked him:
What exactly have the Dakota Indians done that is a positive contribution to all Minnesotans? What is the heroism or accomplishment that we are recognizing in order to justify renaming the lake to Bde Maka Ska? Unfortunately, nobody had any answers.
In the same piece, Austin wrote, “The name Lake Calhoun represents absolutely nothing more than a beautiful lake. It never represented an endorsement of slavery or an endorsement of genocide.”
Austin’s lawsuit was successful in May 2019. Following the ruling, Austin wrote another piece for the Star Tribune titled, “Why I funded the lawsuit to save the name Lake Calhoun.” Austin wrote in part:
Everyday Minnesotans just want to be left alone and not bullied into changing the names of our lakes, our streets, our schools, our landmarks and our cities. We’re sick of the ‘holier than thou’ morality tone coming from politicians, media and activists.
Everyday Minnesotans are tired of being demanded by the elites (media, activists and politicians) that we change our beliefs, our values and our thoughts in order to conform to their worldviews. We take offense to the threat of being called a derogatory name merely for having a difference of opinion.
Austin Is the CEO & Managing Partner of F2 Intelligence Group, a Minneapolis-Based Venture Capital & Private Equity Firm
Austin is the CEO and managing partner of the F2 Group, a Minneapolis-based venture capital and private equity firm, according to its website. Austin and another partner were listed on the website as the company’s two leaders. His partner’s name has since been deleted from the website. A message on Austin’s former partner’s phone at the F2 office says he is no longer affiliated with the company. “I’m no longer associated with F2 group or Mr. Tom Austin. His actions are not right and I don’t want you to assume I have the same beliefs,” his former partner said in the message.
Austin’s LinkedIn page has been deleted. A line on Austin’s now-deleted LinkedIn page, via CityPages, says he possesses an “uncanny ability to ‘ask the right questions at the right time.” Austin attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Online records show that a Tom Austin from F2 has contributed 13 times to President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. The contributions began in September 2019 when Austin donated $50 to WinRed, the Trump-endorsed conservative fundraising platform.
Austin has also contributed to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee and to Donald Trump For President. Austin’s contributions total $696.50.
During His Career, Austin Has ‘Advised Numerous Fortune 1000 Companies’
According to an online profile, Austin has ‘advised numerous Fortune 1000 companies and facilitated more than 900 mergers and acquisitions by private equity investors.” The profile also says that f2 “mirrors” its work with their clients with their charitable donations. The profile says that f2 works with the Starkey Hearing Foundation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.”
In that profile, Austin is referred to as f2’s “chief analyst.” Austin is also credited as founding f2 “nearly a quarter-century ago.” In October 2014, Austin wrote the article, “The Lies in M&A – How to avoid falling for bad investments,” for the M&A Journal.
A separate profile on f2 includes the words, “The company relies on unique research methodologies that were developed in collaboration with the U.S. national intelligence community.”