Silicon Valley VC Firm Base 10 And Its Nigerian Co-Founder Are Breaking Records

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Base 10 Partners, a San Francisco venture capital firm co-founded and managed by Nigeria-born Adeyemi “Ade” Ajao, has raised more than $137 million.

It’s the largest raise ever for a Black-led VC firm, Tech Crunch reported — a Silicon Valley first and a sign of growing efforts to back more minority investors and entrepreneurs.

Base10 doesn’t have a diversity thesis per se, but Ajao said that he plans to draw on his unique worldview to identify the next wave of unicorns that other VCs are missing.

The VC firm plans to invest in startups that develop artificial intelligence and automation for industries in “the real economy” such as construction and transportation.

Ajao grew up in Nigeria and Spain, and has spent 10 years in San Francisco. He built his first startup in Southern Spain — a social app called Tuenti that was bought by Telefónica. He attended Stanford University and started another venture that was sold to business software company Workday, Financial Times reported.

Racial inequality and being Black in America presented a new social dynamic that was absent in his international upbringing, Ajao told Tech Crunch.

About 13 percent of the U.S. population identifies as Black, and 16 percent as Hispanic, but just  4 percent of U.S. startup investors are Black or Hispanic. Outsiders have a hard getting access to venture capital for many reasons. Of 1,500 VCs polled, 40 percent had attended either Harvard or Stanford universities, according to a study by Richard Kerby, a partner at the firm Equal Ventures.

Base10 plans to invest in global companies that are fixing problems affecting 99 percent of the world, not the Silicon Valley 1 percent, Ajao said.

Writing seed and Series A checks between $500,000 and $5 million, Base10 has completed 10 investments so far. These include birth control delivery startup The Pill Club, on-demand staffing company Wonolo, TokenSoft, a platform for compliant token sales and Brazilian mobility startups Grin and Yellow, which recently closed a $63 million Series A.

The firm is looking for entrepreneurs who are veterans in their industries and are trying to solve problems they’ve experienced first-hand — from agriculture, logistics, and waste management to construction and real estate.

Ajao describes himself as an entrepreneur-turned-investor and his co-founder, TJ Nahigian, as an investor-turned-entrepreneur. Over the last decade, they have started four companies and supported 70-plus entrepreneurs. Here’s how Ajao describes their first meeting:

“I chased him down to become a seed investor in his company, Jobr. His seed round was closed, so it took me a bit to convince him to let me invest, but, ‘I am not leaving your office until you take my money, I will actually sleep here’ did the trick.”

https://twitter.com/tjnahigian/status/1041722390659489792

Ajao grew up in a mainly white region, and said he had little sensitivity to racial politics when he came to the U.S., but said he has since learned the significance of being a rare black figure in VC, Financial Times reported. “I have an obligation to foster that network to make sure others succeed,” he said. “The more the story is told, the more we can create role models.”

Here’s what some other Black venture capitalists are doing:

  • Arlan Hamilton‘s Los Angeles-based Backstage Capital raised $36 million in May. Hamilton plans on launching a new startup accelerator in 2019 for underrepresented founders with Microsoft and MailChimp as launch partners.
  • Charles Hudson raised a $15 million venture fund in late 2016 and has since made 75 investments.
  • 645 Ventures, a New York fund with two Black partners, completed a $40 million fund in 2017.
  • Unilever announced a $100 million fund to back minority female entrepreneurs after buying Sundial Brands, a beauty products company whose goods are aimed at women of color. Sundial founder Richelieu Dennis, the brains behind Unilever-backed New Voices Fund, aim to invest exclusively in minority-founded businesses.