At least a dozen HBCU alumni have founded venture capital firms. Only three percent of investment partners at venture firms are Black. But HBCUs have started to incorporate investing, specifically VC investing, into their curricula in new and innovative ways.
A small but growing group of black investors are raising big dollars in a venture capital community that traditionally lacks diversity. They are an eclectic mix of professional athletes, C-suite level executives, and former Wall Street bankers. To date, their funds range from $5 million to $100 million.
Amid a racial reckoning and civil unrest across the United States over the summer, many businesses, including several venture capital firms, publicly pledged to interrogate their own structures and address the systematic biases that have prevented marginalized workers and minority founders from achieving the same level of success as their white counterparts.
While Black women are leading America’s startup ecosystem as the fastest-growing demographic of entrepreneurs, the venture capital industry continues to be white male-dominated, failing to reflect that representation within its investor ranks, leading a small but growing number of Black Women in venture capital to level the playing field with a commitment to place diversity at the forefront of their investing decisions.
The Million Dollar Club: One in three Black founders with $1 million or more in venture backing graduated from Black-led accelerator programs. As elusive as venture dollars have been for a majority of Black founders, subsets that took a detour through small Black-led accelerators struck gold at mainstream accelerators.
The midwest is emerging as an unlikely hub for Black venture capital. Last week, Indianapolis-based Sixty8 Capital announced one of the largest first funds raised by a Black women-led firm. Managing Partner Kelli Jones joins a growing list of Black-led venture capital firms changing the funding landscape for underrepresented founders in the region and beyond.
A college student-led venture capital firm has opened an office in Atlanta with hopes of improving its racial diversity and creating a pipeline for students of color to jump-start their careers in venture capital. Founded in 2015 and launched in Utah, University Growth Fund has worked with 50 students to manage $80 million across two funds.
KEY INSIGHTS: Kapor Capital’s Fund III is their largest to date and one of the few Black-led, nine-figure funds in the venture world. The fund will invest in early-stage companies raising pre-seed, seed and Series A. So far, more than half of the investments have gone to companies with at least one Black founder. Kapor
Key Insights: Bison Venture Partners is raising a $250,000 community round to grow its e-commerce platform. The group aims to close the trillion-dollar gap for investing in underrepresented founders by encouraging its network to crowdfund. Inspired by his HBCU experience at Howard University, Philly native Garry Johnson III created Bison Venture Partners (BVP) to help
If there was a pervasive theme in 2020 it was uncertainty. So much has happened that could not have been predicted, but the forward-looking venture capital community must do just that. Their forecasting tools range from gut checks, social listening to deciphering the proverbial writing on the wall for what’s to come in 2021.
MaC Ventures has raised $110 million, becoming one of the largest first-time fundraisers by a majority Black-owned venture firm. Based on planned investments, the raise will mint about 40 $1 million venture-backed companies.
Jon Gosier relaunches his venture firm Southbox Capital in Atlanta as one of its portfolio companies prepares to go public. The relaunch includes a more defined investment strategy and brings on Miami investor RJ Joshi as managing partner. The pair hope to further solidify Atlanta as a venture and innovation hub.
Black Operator Ventures has closed $13 million in funding led by Northwest Mutual and Bank of America. Heather Hiles, Sean Green and James Norman launched the venture firm in 2020. The firm will invest exclusively in early-stage companies with at least one Black founder.
Northwestern Mutual launched a $100 million impact fund. One of the recipients is Dana Guthrie, managing partner of Gateway Capital Partners. Institutional investors will increasingly work with Black fund managers to reach their social equity goals.
Village Capital’s latest report, “Beyond the Friends and Family Round: How to Help Diverse Founders Build Social Capital,” provides an overview of its VC Pathways pilot program in conjunction with UBS. VC Pathways supports African American, Latinx, and women entrepreneurs by helping them gain access to seed-stage venture funds and vital resources to elevate their companies.
Black tech accelerators across the country have been working swiftly to adjust their founder and entrepreneurial programs amid the COVID-19 crisis. This has meant shifting in-person training to virtual sessions, rethinking business strategies, and preparing founders for an unpredictable market.
Indianapolis-based venture firm Sixty8 Capital announced today the close of their first fund to the tune of $20 Million dollars. Supported by Allo Ventures, the seed-stage venture capital firm will invest upwards of $250,000 to $500,000 in 25 to 30 companies led by Black, Latinx, women, and LGBTQ+ founders.
Collab Capital, an Atlanta-based investment firm exclusively investing in Black founders, has closed a $50 million first fund that includes corporate investors like Apple, Google and Paypal and Black angel investors like Resilia’s Sevetri Wilson and Bandwagon’s Harold Hughes.
To get a meeting with venture capital investor McKeever Mac Conwell, one is only a Tweet away. Since June, Conwell has taken over 1100 meetings with entrepreneurs and investors alike, sharing time to discover, even in the middle of a pandemic, exactly what’s happening on the ground as he sources a bevy of new deals for his latest endeavor.
Black users drive culture within the most coveted social media platforms that shape digital society, influencing much of the information and knowledge we receive in the real world. As early adopters of online networking platforms and majority users of smartphones, research shows that Black users dominate in online spaces like Facebook and Instagram.
Even before the racial reckoning of 2020, the lack of diversity in venture capital was a widely known problem. A 2018 study by The Information found that of the 102 largest venture capital firms in the U.S., only seven had Black people in decision-making positions.
Harlem Capital has raised a second fund totaling $134 million, bringing on large investors like Apple and PayPal and returning investor TPG Capital. Notably, the second raise came together much quicker than the first:
Venture capital firms continue to cannibalize themselves – for all the right reasons. As long-standing VC firms in the last ten months have announced allocating offshoot funds investing in companies led by Black, brown or women founders, the reckoning of VC behavior evidenced by data around funding disparities appears to be continuing to trend upward.
R/GA Ventures has spun out a new program for underrepresented founders, supporting them at varying levels with mentorship, resources and funding for a select few. Davyeon Ross, a former collegiate basketball player and founder of ShotTracker, a sports analytics company, serves as the entrepreneur in residence of Coalition Venture Studios, the new initiative which launched in March.
Overlooked Ventures announced the launch of its $50 million first fund Tuesday, led by entrepreneurs Janine Sickmeyer and Brandon Brooks. While the team did not disclose how far along they were in their 506(c) raise, they said their fund is for any founder who self-identifies as overlooked.
One of the earliest documented Black-owned and operated venture capital firms, Syncom Venture Partners, set up shop in 1977. Headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, the firm is responsible for some of the earliest investments made in well-known formerly Black-owned telecommunications and media companies, including Black Entertainment Television (BET) and RadioOne Interactive.
Texas has become a growing hub for tech, innovation and venture capital. Black tech workers and founders say the uptick has not completely extended to their community. Progressive cities within the state grapple with conservative policies as the future of the Black tech ecosystem hangs in the balance.
Travelsist receives its first-ever VC investment from Fearless Fund. The travel industry is rebounding after the pandemic decimated it. Fearless Fund operates in a space where Black venture capitalists, especially Black women, are vastly underrepresented.
AJ Yawn, a former Army captain, cofounded cybersecurity compliance SaaS company ByteChek last summer. Traversing the venture capital industry led Yawn to seek out Black investors to back his company. With $3 million in seed funding and a mounting number of cyber threats, Yawn’s growing team is attempting to thwart threats through compliance.
This year, HBCUs saw money come in from companies ranging from Silicon Valley giants to venture capitalists.
In the first half of 2021, $1.8 Billion was invested in Black-led startups. The number of Black investors could double by 2024 with help from Crowdbases’s Black Venture Capital organization. Rodney Sampson and other program speakers have actively worked in FCC Commissioner hearings to ensure diversity in the U.S. capital legislation.
Black-led companies in some industries are more likely to have bootstrapped founders than founders who have raised venture capital. The venture capital industry hasn’t left many Black founders with a choice to bootstrap but rather made it a necessity.
Only five percent of all U.S. companies launch with venture capital.
The achievement gap for historically disadvantaged student groups, on top of a pandemic, puts Black youth especially at risk this summer. As remote learning continues, STEM-related nonprofits The Hidden Genius Project and INTech Camp for Girls are making sure that their scholars do not face an opportunity to slip.
The Brookings Institute reports that during this season, a summer slide is expected as youth are out of school for an extended period of time. This gap has remained largely the same over the past decade and is largely still affected by class-based advantages stemming from institutionalized racism. However, the COVID-19 slump presents a significant difference as added factors such as parents facing employment insecurity, cramped living spaces, and lack of digital access are now issues to be dealt with.
“This pandemic is a justice issue, and the disproportionate access to resources lights a fire under us,” said Brandon Nicholson, founding executive director of The Hidden Genius Project.
McKinsey and Company reports that the lasting effects of COVID-19 will exacerbate opportunity gaps, as the U.S. education system was not built to accommodate extended shutdowns such as this. Their data makes projections given three scenarios—one in which high school classes resume as normal in fall 2020, one where in-person learning does not resume until January 2021, and the last scenario in which in-person classes resume in fall 2021. All three scenarios projected significant learning loss, and its effects on Black and low-income students would be the greatest.
Although educators and parents sprang into action to support the remote learning shift during the spring, keeping students engaged and occupied now that the school year has ended presents a new challenge. Summer camps such as The Hidden Genius Project and INTech Camp for Girls, which would normally immerse students in activities to be exposed to coding and STEM-related fields, have determined to pivot as necessary to stand in the gaps.
The coronavirus pandemic, originally thought of as a roadblock, presented these organizations with the unique opportunity to amplify the scale and reach of their programming. As the programs have been forced to reimagine their work, young scholars remain engaged like never before.
INTech Camp for Girls Expands to New States Via Virtual Learning
As Khalia Braswell watched COVID-19 grip the country, the first thought of the INTech Camp for Girls founder and CEO was that summer camp was going to be canceled. Initially, she was waiting to hear from university partners UNC Charlotte and UNC Raleigh but decided to get ahead of the game by moving the annual camp online.
“Our girls enjoy being on college campuses and going on tech tours, so how can we still give them an experience?” said Braswell.
INTech Camp for Girls is based in Paw Creek, North Carolina, and seeks to inspire the confidence of Black and Latina middle and high school girls interested in technology. The organization teaches their young scholars how to code, surrounds them with role models in the field, and fosters critical thinking in how their innovations can solve social issues. The organization hosts experiences such as their nine-week INTech Camp for Girls Academy and camps, normally held on the campuses of UNC Raleigh and UNC Charlotte.
To better accommodate students, INTech Camp for Girls changed its usual application process that asked for materials such as recommendation letters and transcripts. But scholars still had some form of normalcy as each student received a box with INTech Camp for Girls paraphernalia such as T-shirts, flags, and, for the first time, a lingo coding kit. “This kit will introduce hardware and is additional learning they will get to do at home,” said Braswell.
INTech Camp for Girls now has representation in 15 new states and has opened up its program globally. “If you can make it for 10 a.m. EST, you’re in,” said Braswell. “I’ve been in tech a long time, but such a response is super great to see. … This then challenges us to scale up our work.”
Now that INTech Camp for Girls has wrapped up its first-ever virtual summer camp, the focus will shift toward providing support for their high school scholars. To further support them, INTech plans to launch a newsletter series and a formal ambassador program that will engage alumni and current scholars of the organization. “This ambassador program’s focus will be to find ways to reach the younger generation,” said Braswell.
With these efforts, INTech can continue to expose students to the idea of STEM fields as a pathway to upward mobility, as the representation of women of color in tech remains an issue. Braswell noted that some INTech Camp for Girls alumni are now attending HBCUs such as Spellman College and North Carolina A&T State University and have internships at Google.
The Hidden Genius Project Uses Alumni and Ingenuity to Serve
March was full of important dates for The Hidden Genius Project. They were set to have their second round of interviews for their incoming cohort, a staff retreat, and launch their first Intensive Immersion Program in Los Angeles. All of that came to a halt when California’s official stay-in-place order was issued on March 12.
“How can you do a touchless dap?” said founding executive director Brandon Nicholson, referring to the animated greeting culture in the Black community.
Based in Oakland, California, the Hidden Genius Project mentors black male youth in leadership, technology, and entrepreneurship to create pathways to tech careers. Its founders created the project to address high unemployment among young Black men through teaching them skills in software development and computer science while creating experiences such as workshops and multi-day events. Using a project-based approach, the 15-month intensive immersion program provides a holistic experience to rising 9th–11th graders.
The project immediately started mobilizing its alumni to help with a virtual shift and utilized Zoom’s features such as breakout rooms to have more focused learning environments. “How are our men getting the love and support they need as we continue to provide a safe space?” said Nicholson.
The Hidden Genius Project is now running cohorts in Oakland, Richmond, and Los Angeles, reaching about 120 youth in total. In partnership with Tech Exposure and Access through Mentoring INC. (TEAM), United Tech Cities, Sphero, and the Warriors, The Hidden Genius Project launched a Global Tech Slam this month with 20 days of dynamic programming. It covers topics such as venture capitalism, digital media and entertainment, public speaking and social campaigning and is open to youth in the US, South Africa and the UK. Robotics workshops and a community expo will allow young people to explore the intersections of technology and community engagement through a variety of perspectives. This slam seeks to leverage creative platforms to engage youth on topics that they might not otherwise be exposed to in school.
Although still in the works, Nicholson says the project is also developing a licensing software program to work with external programs in hopes that their curriculum will reach an even broader level. The project has also engaged in critical outreach during the pandemic by helping the families of some of their most vulnerable scholars pay for rent, wellness, and utilities.
By continuing to offer programming, these organizations are filling a crucial void. As educators deal with the consequences of the COVID-19 achievement slump among students, the young scholars of The Hidden Genius Project and INTech Camp for Girls have the opportunity to be ahead of the curve.
On Wednesday, in an auditorium on Clark Atlanta University’s campus that typically hosts jazz concerts and plays, students were instead pitching their businesses and getting advice from venture capitalists and CEOs.
Tulsa, Oklahoma, like many American cities vying for national attention as a contending innovation hub to attract those straying from Silicon Valley types, has been quietly building a business ecosystem of the future. Equipped with name-brand companies like Amazon and American Airlines, and venture capital firms like Atento and i2E Management, Tulsa’s business community isn’t lacking in momentum following its five-year economic development plan centered around the city’s future which even saw Oklahoma with a reportedly $38 million in venture capital deal flow in 2020.
As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic spreads across the U.S. impacting Silicon Valley and other major tech hubs, founders, especially those with early-stage startups, are weighing potential economic consequences associated with raising venture capital in a looming financial crisis.
Next month will mark two years since Chris Lyons announced the launch of theCultural Leadership Fund, a $16.5 million dollar fund under the helm of the famed venture capital firm Andreesen Horowitz.
Almost as soon as it became clear that life under quarantine would be the new norm for communities across the world, venture capital funding started to dry up. In May, VentureBeat reported that global VC funding dropped 20 percent since the coronavirus pandemic began in December.
The effort to find and fund founders building high-growth companies in cities outside of San Francisco, New York, or Massachusetts has required significant and concerted effort. These corridors boast the highest concentration of venture capital dollars, while those in the middle have had to reach for scraps.
The past year has laid bare a lot of pre-existing inequities in the Philadelphia tech sector, ranging from lack of racial and gender diversity, to salary and venture capital funding disparities, among others. Yet while many individuals are quick to throw 2020 away, tech advocates have found positives in the historic year, and such accomplishments have not gone unrecognized by the city or private-sector companies — a trend advocates hope will continue in 2021.
The venture capital and private equity industries are still wrought with the underrepresentation of women and minority investors in decision-making roles. Just 2% of investment professionals are Black.
A new venture capital firm focused on historically Black colleges and universities has just launched. HBCU Impact Capital is aiming to help develop the innovation and research coming from HBCUs by investing in businesses started by alums and people in the HBCU ecosystem.
The Metaverse offers Black creators a way to monetize their work outside of Silicon Valley. Investment groups that exist solely on Discord are a radical alternative to traditional venture capital. A new, entirely digital, Black Wall Street is a genuine possibility.
SoftBank launched its Opportunity Fund last June amid racial tensions flaming in the U.S.They were among a group of highly notable venture firms attempting to make good with Black and brown founder communities who have historically been skipped over when it comes to raising venture capital.
It’s true that the actual numbers remain scant: Just 3% of venture capitalists are Black, according to a recent estimate. That’s up, at least, from CB Insights’ estimate of 1% in 2010. But over the last year or so, there’s been a steady accrual of Black investors’ visibility, influence, and most important, financial impact helping to re-shape the industry’s perception of who innovators are, where they come from, and why they’re worth investing in.
A select list of companies and financial institutions funding Black investors indicates that the kinds of entities working with Black fund managers are becoming more diversified, especially as a result of last year’s racial equity movement. The white and male-dominated venture capital community is slowly making inroads for Black investors, who are also taking matters into their own hands by launching funds.
Word count: 863 KEY INSIGHTS: The sexual wellness sector is a $37.2 billion dollar industry and is expected to reach $121 billion by 2030. Diverse founders are developing products in SexTech focused on sexual wellness. Industry experts and executives predict the SexTech sector will have unicorn companies in the coming years. New technologies, increased venture
KEY INSIGHTS: EdTech startup Kai XR has closed its $1.6MM seed round. Investors include Kapor Capital, Mitchell Kapor Foundation, American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact and diverse angel investors. Kai XR tools are being used in over 40 states across the nation. Oakland-based Kai XR has raised $1.6 million from an array
KEY INSIGHTS: ChatGPT is a powerful tool that has spread like wildfire and seems like it is here to stay. But while it provides some good information, it is also error-prone and answers can change depending on the language used. When using it, be aware of its biases, motives and fact-check its answers, especially if
Black women are one of the fastest-growing groups of entrepreneurs in the country and this current is reflected in the Black Tech Effect 2023, The Plug’s latest report analyzing 100 high-growth, Black-led technology companies. Black women founded nearly one-third of the companies featured in the report. Between 2014 and 2019, the percentage of Black women-founded