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About Robert F. Smith
Robert F. Smith – Founder, CEO & Chairman of Vista Equity Partners and Prostate Cancer Foundation Contributor
Robert F. Smith – Founder, CEO & Chairman of Vista Equity Partners and Prostate Cancer Foundation Contributor

Noted philanthropist Robert F. Smith is an avid supporter of the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF). His contributions have helped pave the way for research and development into better ways of detecting prostate cancer earlier, especially in Black men, and have helped to fund treatment centers like the Robert Frederick Smith Precision Oncology Center of Excellence at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago, IL, and the Mount Sinai Robert F. Smith Mobile Prostate Cancer Screening Unit in New York, NY.

Learn more about Smith’s support of the PCF and his other philanthropic efforts.

Engineer and Entrepreneur

Smith earned a degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University in 1985. After several years working for companies like Goodyear and Kraft, where he earned two U.S. and two European patents, he received an MBA from Columbia Business Schoo. Smith then went on to work in investments at Goldman Sachs, focusing on tech mergers and acquisitions. In 2000, he created Vista Equity Partners (Vista). Smith serves as Founder, CEO and Chairman of Vista and directs the leading global investment firm’s investment strategy and decisions, governance and investor relations. Vista exclusively invests in enterprise software, data and technology-enabled businesses.

Throughout his career as an engineer and entrepreneur, Smith has remembered the lessons taught to him by his parents about engaging with the community and contributing to causes that help others. These values have driven his support of the PCF and other organizations like it.

Smith Polygenic Risk Test for Prostate Cancer

In July 2020, Smith and the PCF announced a new effort to develop a genetics-based test for early detection of prostate cancer. The test is expected to be especially helpful in detecting early-stage disease in Black men, who have the highest risk of developing prostate cancer compared to any other race or ethnicity. A paper published in Nature Genetics Journal (January, 2021) presents research that shows that men of African ancestry are twice as likely to inherit a prostate cancer risk compared to men of European ancestry. Another recent study, led by the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California and supported by Smith, identified nine genetic markers, primarily or exclusively found in Black men, that allow physicians to identify at-risk men before they develop the disease. This evidence will help contribute to the next step in efforts to employ early detection precision medicine to save lives.

Smith stated in the July 2020 announcement that gaining knowledge about Black men’s “risk profile and applying this knowledge earlier with strategic detection, care and decisions about cancer risk management is of utmost importance to address health inequity in the U.S.” The goal is to keep the test cost affordable and accessible to all men, and it will be available through the PCF’s Center of Excellence network at Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers around the U.S.

Learn more about the Smith Polygenic Risk Test.


The Robert Frederick Smith Precision Oncology COE

In 2018, Smith made the largest donation ever in support of prostate cancer research aimed at helping Black men. His $2.5 million gift led to the establishment of the Robert Frederick Smith Precision Oncology Center of Excellence in Chicago, IL, located at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center.

The gift targets care specifically for Black men, who are more vulnerable to prostate cancer and often underserved with regard to medical care. Announced on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, Smith took the opportunity to recognize Dr. King’s “message of service and of equality” while stating his desire to “do right by those brave veterans who serve our country, and… change the odds for millions of African American men who should be surviving prostate cancer.”

Read more about Smith’s 2018 gift.

Promoting Medicine, Science, Education and the Arts

Smith is a long-time supporter of causes and organizations focused on health, science and engineering, educational programs and cultural and artistic programs. He was the first Black individual to sign the Giving Pledge, in which he promised to give away the majority of his wealth during his lifetime. He is also the founding director and President of Fund II Foundation, an organization dedicated to advancing social change and creating an enduring legacy for generations to come. To further fulfill his mission to aid underserved communities, Smith co-leads Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), an initiative dedicated to advancing racial equity in the six Southern communities where more than half of all Black Americans reside.

In 2019, he paid off the student loans of the entire graduating class of Morehouse College, as well as those held by their parents, challenging alumni and supporters to do the same for future classes. His extraordinary gift helped to inspire Student Freedom Initiative (SFI), which works to provide educational resources and help relieve the burden of student loan debt for qualifying STEM students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). Smith serves as Chairman of SFI and supports their educational initiatives.

Some of the other organizations he supports include:

  • NAF Board of Directors (Vice Chairman)
  • Carnegie Hall Board of Trustees (Chairman)
  • Cornell Engineering College Council (Member)
  • Columbia Business School Board of Overseers (Member)
  • REFORM Alliance (Founding Partner)
  • National Museum of African American History and Culture (Advisory Board Member)

Smith has also provided significant support to the United Negro College Fund, internXL and Susan G. Komen, among others. Smith’s philanthropic work has led to numerous recognitions, including the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Robert Toigo Foundation, the Ripple of Hope Award from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, theGrio’s Philanthropy Icon Award and the Philanthropy in the Arts Award from the Americans for the Arts.

Stay up to date with Smith’s latest philanthropic endeavors by following him on Twitter (X), Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.