Monique Woodard, a venture capitalist and partner at 500 Startups in Silicon Valley, announced that she is leaving the early-stage venture fund and seed accelerator where she grew her reputation as an access point for underrepresented founders.
Her decision to leave 500 Startups, Woodard said in a Medium post, hinged on this question: Would she be taking opportunities off the table for the founders who need it most?
Woodard answered that question this way: “I’ve decided that there are even bigger doors for me to open.”
She’s not going very far, she said. “I plan to remain in venture and keep investing in companies that are creating new markets and founders.”
Woodard joined 500 Startups around two years ago as its first African-American venture partner to increase the firm’s investments in Black and Latino tech entrepreneurs, who have historically received just a fraction of U.S. venture funding.
The stereotype of a venture capitalist is a white male with a fat wallet, and Woodard stood out from the pack. She represented a “home run” for the firm, said Charles Belle, founder of the nonprofit Startup Policy Lab, in a March 2016 Ozy report.
Less than 1 percent of venture capital-backed Internet companies are founded by African Americans, CB Insights reported in 2010.
500 Start-ups was co-founded by Christine Tsai and Dave McClure in 2010. McClure resigned in 2017 as a general partner following accusations of inappropriate behavior by several women.
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Woodard thanked McClure and Tsai for “creating a place that hired women investors long before it was the thing to do,” for hiring a female partner and for investing in women and minority founders “long before it was an industry-wide point of discussion”:
I will forever remember the two of you for creating the global platform that has allowed us to invest in and support entrepreneurs all over the world,” Woodard said in her Medium announcement.
Woodard is the co-founder of Black Founders, a national community of entrepreneurs who work to increase the number of successful black entrepreneurs in tech. She was one of the first Innovation Fellows for the City of San Francisco and has helped cities use tech to innovate workforce and civic services. She has more than 15 years of entrepreneur and operating experience in consumer, e-commerce, and civic tech, according to her 500 Startups bio.
During her time at 500 Startups, Woodard said she had the chance to invest in and mentor companies that she believed in, including Blavity, ROHO, Flye, Printivo, Win-Win, Level Therapy, Silvernest, GovList, UrbanLogiq, CourtBuddy, Fyodor Biotech, MailHaven and O.School.
Woodard grew up on a small farm in Ocala, Florida, and moved across the country to Silicon Valley, California, 10 years ago without knowing anyone there, Ozy reported. She initially dabbled in building companies, including a project called Speak Chic — a mobile app that teaches you how to correctly pronounce fashion brands.
Even before Woodard’s appointment, 500 Startups had an investing team that was more diverse than most venture firms, USA Today reported. Eleven of 33 partners were women and 500 Startups has backed more than 400 female-led companies.
“It’s hard to find black and Latino founders if you don’t have Black and Latino investors on your staff,” Woodard said. “We have to diversify who’s going out there and finding companies and who’s writing the checks.”
In her farewell announcement on Medium, Woodard said she is excited about her angel investment in Mented Cosmetics — a direct-to-consumer beauty brand for women of color (Asian, Black, Latina, Middle Eastern and multiracial).
Silicon Valley is ignoring untapped markets at its own peril, Tsai told USA Today:
“A lot of Silicon Valley venture capitalists are disconnected from African Americans, Latinos and other people of color. They don’t understand these markets and, unfortunately, if they don’t understand them they are inclined to say, ‘I don’t get it,’ or ‘I can’t help you,’ or ‘I don’t think that’s a big market,'” she said.
When Woodard went to work at 500 Startups, she said she could count on one hand the Black investors in Silicon Valley. They included Y Combinator’s Michael Seibel, Precursor Ventures’ Charles Hudson, Intel Capital’s Lisa Lambert and Laurence “Lo” Toney from GV (formerly Google Ventures).
Woodard said she still believes in 500 Startups’ mission to fund the best founders all over the world. “I do believe that at least one of the tech industry’s top startup accelerators should be run by a woman (+ a woman of color) and I’m rooting for Christine Tsai,” she said.