Can Crypto Recreate Black Wall Street? Angela Benton Says ‘I’m Not Seeing Founders Working With Crypto’
Angela Benton is considered a pioneer of diversity in Silicon Valley, yet she calls Miami home.
She started the first-ever accelerator for minority entrepreneurs and has moved hundreds of entrepreneurs through her online NewMe platform, boot-camp and equity portfolio.
NewME has helped minority entrepreneurs raise more than $25 million in funding.
Benton’s own story and struggle to overcome adversity have helped make her a media darling, earning her descriptions such as “multihyphenate business maven.”
Becoming a mom at age 16, Benton studied graphic design, taught herself to code and became a CEO.
Now she helps entrepreneurs identify strengths from their nontraditional backgrounds and leverage those into businesses.
Benton is a fan of taking a holistic approach to work and life. Instead of trying to achieve balance, she’s said, “balance doesn’t exist.”
She has changed her business model several times.
When she moved her Silicon Valley accelerator to Miami, many in the tech community felt this was more than just a move. It had the feel of a movement.
Benton spoke to Moguldom at the NewMe headquarters in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District.
Moguldom: Why did you move from Silicon Valley to Miami and do you see your move as part of a bigger movement in the tech industry?
Angela Benton: I moved from Silicon Valley to Miami to be closer to the people that we work with. Through our analytics, I saw that most of the people coming to NewMe were coming from the East Coast. I do think it reflects a trend in the traditional venture capital community. (People are interested) in more diverse ways to find funding.
Angela Benton: I liked that there’s a ton of really smart people. You’re always learning something even when you’re not expecting to. That’s great intellectually. However, there’s a bit of an echo chamber where everyone hears the same viewpoint. Also, I didn’t like the lack of diversity. When we launched, we launched (in 2011) in Silicon Valley. It’s much more diverse than when I first moved there but when you’re with people that don’t get it and don’t understand it, that can be frustrating.
Moguldom: You raised issues with diversity in Silicon Valley back in 2011 when you were featured on CNN’s documentary, “Black in America: The New Promised Land – Silicon Valley.” How have things changed in Silicon Valley since then, if at all?
Angela Benton: I think a lot has changed but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. When we first launched, there weren’t a lot of black entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Now there are a lot of different types of entrepreneurs. Everyone’s not trying to be the next Snapchat or Facebook. They’re OK with being a $100-million company.
Moguldom: Do you think Black people in tech can be successful fighting against inequality without calling out the names of Silicon Valley venture capital leaders?
Angela Benton: No actually I don’t. What I learned from “Black In America” (is) we were able to make headway. None of the investors really knew me. That (CNN) special caught a lot of people off-guard. It was kind of a sneak attack. Now everything is on the table. Everything is upfront but there needs to be another movement that’s a sneak attack, where people don’t see what’s coming. There are people in Silicon Valley that need to ask questions and they need to be direct questions. Why haven’t Google and Facebook’s diversity numbers grown? There are all these diversity efforts but nothing’s changing. They love to do a dog-and-pony show when the numbers are saying otherwise.
Moguldom: Why hasn’t there been more pressure on endowments and pension funds who give the money to venture capitalists?
Angela Benton: I’m not sure. I think somebody needs to ask that question. A lot of the pension funds come from everyday workers, from communities of color. There should be more guidance.
Moguldom: How is your book, “Revival: How I Rebuilt a Life for Longevity After Cancer, Burnout, and Heartbreak” being received? What advice would you give others on writing, publishing, and marketing their own book?
Angela Benton: My book has been received pretty well. Writing a book was something I always wanted to do. I thought while I was going through chemo I had extra time on my hands and the timing was just right for me. It’s very hard to do. Regarding marketing, I feel I took an old-school approach. I focused more on press and publicity. My book was an entree to a more creative life. I have a creative background. Having an artist do the cover and commissioning a film was part of a creative process. I was really more focused on the process.
Moguldom: Tell us about some of your success stories with NewME?
Angela Benton: There are a ton. It’s not necessarily about raising funding. Kairos (facial recognition technology) has raised over $8 million. They’re AI and I started working with them when AI wasn’t huge. Stack is a new way to offer alternative financing to people who are unbanked. Beauty Supply Express is like an Uber for beauty supplies so you don’t have to go. The last two haven’t raised capital yet. Those will be successes after I am done working with them.
Moguldom: What role in your business do you see for crypto and blockchain now or in the future?
Angela Benton: It’s really interesting to me to see what would it look like to raise a fund purely with crypto and to raise funds purely with minority companies. It’s an opportunity to recreate the Black Wall Street phenomenon that took place. To me, it makes a lot of sense. I was (recently at) a great fireside chat with Diddy. He said in order to make change, it has to be about the money. Crypto and blockchain allow us to take that into our own hands without having to beg someone. It’s more of a meritocracy than the current venture capital. A ton of companies have raised $2.7 billion in crypto. What troubles me the most is that we as a black people are going to be behind and not be able to benefit.
Moguldom: How can people get involved in crypto and get ahead?
Angela Benton: If you’re an entrepreneur, focus on your product. You don’t necessarily need to got to venture capitalists first. I meet a lot of founders who just feel more successful talking about crypto. Crypto is an interesting way to raise money before you go to venture capitalists. I feel like the whole system is being disrupted. You don’t necessarily have to do friends and family and then angel and then a VC fund. You might do crypto.
Moguldom: What advice do you have for founders working in the crypto space, or are you asking them for advice?
Angela Benton: I’m not seeing any founders working with crypto. I got maybe one application. I see a lot of chatter. I know people are interested. Blockchain tech is a bit more complicated so if you’re non-technical it may be harder to get started. I can’t wait until I do. There are crypto funds. I read an article earlier this week of one accelerator that’s raising a fund funded by crypto. There’s only one I’ve heard of. When I started NewMe everyone was giving me advice. The whole idea was I should have a fund. When you’re raising a fund that’s your fulltime job. Now things are a lot different with my business and stage of life. It’s not just entrepreneurs raising crypto. It’s also people who are investors and might want to raise a fund.
Moguldom: What’s next for you? What’s your wish list?
Angela Benton: The biggest thing on my wishlist is amplifying my voice and expertise. When I work with founders on NewMe, it’s eight people at a time. How can I empower people with the information I know? I’m experimenting with different types of content. There’s already a “Shark Tank” so I don’t want do that. When I’m not doing accelerators, I experiment. I use my social media platform to promote thing I want to test and look at the engagement. The people that follow me are highly engaged and super positive. I look at analytics. I’m an analytics junkie.
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