Be Excited, Be Encouraged. Black Venture Capitalists Are Making Shift Happen

Aaron McClendon
Written by Aaron McClendon

Real power moves don’t happen alone. It takes a tribe to build an empire.

I don’t remember meeting any accomplished black entrepreneurs or investors as a child. I definitely didn’t learn about any in school.

Winning the National Association of Black Suppliers Scholarship (NABS) changed everything for me. I was exposed to an entire network of black entrepreneurs within the manufacturing and automotive industries.

Greats like Joe Anderson, Michael & Carlton Guthrie, and William Pickard paved the way in the Midwest before tech entrepreneurship was accessible.

These aren’t just entrepreneurs, they’re legends. They did it in an era when there weren’t many of their kind, so they collaborated and taught each other the game, sometimes even as competitors. They have what I call the legacy mindset.

Black venture capitalists
Culture Shifting Weekend. Photo provided by Aaron McClendon

Fast forward 20 years, and they’re each accomplished black entrepreneurs. This is black excellence.

As I transitioned from the automotive industry to venture capital, I began to imagine what a collaborative network of black leaders might look like in the realm of high-growth entrepreneurship and investing.

So I pulled together a list of people to find it. And I did.

Founded by Andrea Hoffman, Culture Shifting Weekends are the largest annual, bicoastal gatherings of the
nation’s black venture capitalists, tech executives, and entrepreneurs. Since 2010, black VCs have
congregated in NYC and Silicon Valley to discuss investment strategies, exchange deal flow, and increase
access to venture capital for minority investors and entrepreneurs.

Never before has there been this many black VCs starting their own funds or working in the industry. With
nearly 100 and counting, we are in the early stages of a new era — history in the making. Culture Shifting
Weekends have initiated a collaborative effort to keep building.

When I first arrived at the eighth annual event in NYC (Nov. 3 and Nov. 4, 2017), like any other networking event, I was nervous. Thoughts of discomfort from not knowing anyone in the room surfaced.

But this time, it was different. I looked around and saw all of the “who’s who” in the industry, all familiar faces
from my research. The faces helped me realize we can make shift happen.

Black venture capitalists
Culture Shifting Weekend co-Chairs Reginald Van Lee, Andrea Hoffman, and Denmark West. Photo provided by Aaron McClendon

Shift like Patricia Zollar of Neuberger Berman investing in Robert Smith’s first Vista Equity fund back in 2000.

Shift like providing NYC and Silicon Valley access to investors in emerging ecosystems like Detroit.

And shift like William Crowder investing in Jewel Burks’ startup, Partpic, (acquired by Amazon) while at Comcast Ventures, when over 100 other investors said no.

But out of all the insights shared, the quote that stood out the most was by Cross Culture Ventures cofounder
Troy Carter during a fireside chat with Mark D. Ein:

“Only the greats study the greats,” Carter said.

Culture Shifting Weekends is providing the base for emerging black fund managers to meet and learn from the greats. It was inspiring to watch seasoned investors like James Earl Brown III of Arena Growth Partners discuss his investment thesis and potential ways to syndicate deals with a few of the newer fund managers in attendance.

Even former NBA greats like Alonzo Mourning and Kevin Johnson had their notepads out.

The numbers are growing, but real shift is only possible through collaboration. Through collaboration, when one wins, we all win.

Black venture capitalists
Atom Factory/Cross Culture Ventures founder Troy Carter and special guest Mark D. Ein of Venturehouse Group at Culture Shifting Weekend. Photo provided by Aaron McClendon

So what does this mean for underrepresented entrepreneurs?

In one of the final addresses, entrepreneur and investor Kwame Anku spoke to his work with Prince to “make a concerted effort in creating more black Mark Zuckerbergs.” Anku’s Black Angel Tech Fund has already made multiple investments in minority founded companies like Kit and On Second Thought, with no thoughts of slowing down.

Black venture capitalists
Fireside chat with Black Angel Tech Fund founding partner Kwame Anku and former NBA player Alonzo Mourning. Photo provided by Aaron McClendon

Combined, the black venture capitalists in attendance have already made over $1 billion investments in tech companies. And this is only the beginning.

As the number of minority dealmakers increases, it’s only a matter of time before we see more black founders reach Zuckerberg scale.

Be excited, and be encouraged. Collectively, we can make shift happen.

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About Aaron McClendon
Aaron McClendon is an analyst at Detroit Venture Partners. New to the VC game, he searched for -- and couldn't find -- a comprehensive network of black men at VC firms, so he made his own. As a fellow of Venture for America, he's getting startup training in an emerging U.S. city, living and working for two years at one its partner companies. The fellowship is for recent grads who want to learn how to build a business while making an impact. Aaron studied at Western Michigan University Haworth College of Business.

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