‘Bold And Badass’ Founder Launches $10M Zane Venture Fund Named For Daughter, A Victim Of Gun Violence

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Zane Venture Fund
Shila Nieves Burney, founder of Atlanta-based Zane Venture Fund, is raising $10 million in funding for tech companies to scale and grow. Photo: Brandprenuer, provided by Shila Nieves Burney.

A brush with gun violence sent “bold and badass” Atlanta event host Shila Nieves Burney on a new trajectory helping tech and tech-enabled companies raise, grow and scale.

On Oct. 10 at Google Midtown Atlanta, Burney announced a new $10-million dollar investment fund for Black and minority founders. The Zane Venture Fund is led by Burney and named after her daughter, who was a victim of gun violence.

Burney made the announcement at her third Founders Roadmap Forum event. Having seen minority founders suffer because of the lack of resources, she began hosting forums in New York and decided to bring them to Atlanta. Founders Roadmap Forum Atlanta featured James Bailey, CEO of the Russell Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation; Sig Mosley, managing partner of Mosley Ventures; Christy Brown, Loeb ATL investment partner, along with many other industry experts.

I eventually said to myself, “I know there’s capital. I know there are great founders of color. I’m going to create my own fund.” I decided to name the fund after my daughter. She is the strongest person I know.

Shila Nieves Burney, founder of Atlanta-based Zane Venture Fund, is raising $10 million in funding for tech companies to scale and grow.

Although some could consider Shila to be a great event host and a freshman in venture capitalism, she has already seen her ability to attract a million-dollar investment and connect with major players to help her raise and successfully run the newly launched fund. 

Burney’s mentor and advisor is Sig Mosley, the record-holder of the largest venture deal in the Southeast with the $5.7 billion acquisition of Tradex by Ariba. She’s hoping for great things to happen with her fund over the next five years.

Burney shared with Moguldom how gun violence changed her trajectory, what she thinks we need to do to raise more Black and brown VCs and two surprising people who told her she wouldn’t be able to raise the fund.

Moguldom: Why did you start Zane Venture Fund?

Shila Nieves Burney: I had been an entrepreneur most of my life while working a full-time job. About a year and a half ago, I transitioned into full-time entrepreneurship. I started a company called The Burney eXperience which was focused on supporting nonprofits and small businesses by providing them with project management and organizational support as well as curating women empowerment events. I was about three months in and doing well with clients when a family friend asked me to help identify investors for a startup that was founded by an African American.

I didn’t know a lot about venture capital, although I knew about investing. I wasn’t really in the tech ecosystem but spent seven months sourcing investors for the startup and found no interest. This person had put in a lot of sweat equity and a lot of their personal capital to build a blockchain company. I thought people would be excited about it, but for whatever reason, we couldn’t get the founder in front of an investor willing to invest in this company.

I am just so bold and badass that if you are giving me bad signals, I haven’t caught them because I’m staying focused on why I’m here. No one has made me feel awful except for two white women who just plain out said I’m not going to raise the money.

Shila Nieves Burney, founder of Zane Venture Fund which is raising funding for tech companies to scale and grow.

After seven months, I get a call from an investor who had heard about the company. The company is based on the Ivory Coast in Africa. The investor was highly interested since he was from Ghana. We did a $5 million letter of intent with the possibility of up to $100 million. We were all excited.

Two weeks later, I am driving in Atlanta to my workspace and my daughter and I are caught up in gunfire at 9:40 in the morning. We were on a conference call, oblivious to what was happening around us. My daughter was hit by the bullet and sustained non-life-threatening injuries. A few weeks later, I get a call from the investor. He decides he wants to invest in hotels instead of this blockchain company. I felt like I had let the founder down. I was able to get them so close and then this happens.

With my family traumatized by the incident, I was trying to decide what to do or if I even wanted to live here anymore. I had a moment where I’m talking to my daughter trying to figure this out. She’s telling me not to give up on the work. And I eventually said to myself, “I know there’s capital. I know there are great founders of color. I’m going to create my own fund.” I decided to name the fund after my daughter. She is the strongest person I know.

Zane Venture Fund,
Shila Nieves Burney, founder of Atlanta-based Zane Venture Fund, is raising $10 million for tech companies to scale and grow. Photo: Campbell Washington Photography provided by Shila Nieves Burney.

Moguldom: With no prior experience, you stumbled into the world of investing?

Shila Nieves Burney: I had no sort of education or background in venture capital, but I knew from my experience it was really all about connecting with the right people. It’s about networking and getting somebody to believe in your story. So, I decided I am going to launch a fund. It was almost a year ago to this day when all of this started transpiring.

A law firm in New York — Lowenstein Sandler — is going to help me walk this walk and hold my hand. They suggested I learn more by getting into some VC programs so I can learn the whole process as well as know who the players are in this space for success. I’ve spent the last nine-to-10 months doing that. I was accepted into the 500 Startups VC program at Stanford and decided not to attend due to the cost. I was accepted to VC University with Berkeley School of Law held at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and I received a diversity scholarship to attend. I also pulled together a team of experts in the roles necessary for the fund to make sound decisions with our investments. But while doing all of this, I realized founders are lacking the resources to build their company.

So, I decided to launch the Founders Roadmap Forum. We’ve had a couple of forums thus far in New York and they’ve done very well. I hosted my first one here in Atlanta for the Atlanta startup community to have founders who can come and talk about some of their experiences starting, growing and scaling their company.  Additionally, we selected folks who are here in our own backyard to come and share what they offer. I figured I could sit on the sidelines and watch our community suffer from lack of resources, or I could jump in and do something myself.

At some point, we are all smart enough to know when there’s a good deal on the table. What we need is support. We need people to lift us up but it’s a small number of us, so support us however you can. Arlan can’t be the only one.

Shila Nieves Burney, founder of Zane Venture Fund which is raising funding for tech companies to scale and grow.

Moguldom: Have you already gathered the investors for your fund?

Shila Nieves Burney: Yes. We announced the $10 million for our fund during our Atlanta Founders Roadmap Forum on Thursday. We have fully formed our fund. One of my advisors and mentor is Sig Mosley. He is called “the Angel Investor of the South.” He has been very instrumental in helping us shape the fund and the work I’ve done in terms of fundraising along with Scott Williams, who is also our advisor. Our lead investor is a real estate developer who is interested in creating workspaces for people of color across the country.

Moguldom: You identify as a Black Latina. Can you share some challenges that you may have encountered being a Black Latina leading a new fund?

Shila Nieves Burney: I’ve been a “first” so many times as a professional in my past jobs. I was always the first Black Latina woman in various roles. I am just so bold and badass that if you are giving me some bad signals, I haven’t caught them, because I’m staying focused on why I’m here. I’ve been received quite nicely. Don’t get me wrong, it may be coming, but I feel like every time that I’ve been walked into a room, I’ve been received. People are now inviting me into places that I’ve not even thought about going to. No one has made me feel awful, except for two white women. I’m not going to denigrate all white women, but these two white women who know the struggle, right, didn’t tell me about the struggle. They flat out told me I’m not going to be able to do it. They started out 20 years ago raising $3 million. Fast forward and we’re in the middle of this whole Me Too Movement now, and I’m talking to people I considered to be friendly people from a great big organization, who just plain out said I’m not going to raise the money. And when they said it, it was with a period, not a comma. They told me, “you should stick to just doing the events since that is what you’re good at.  You’re good at bringing people together. Stick to that.” Outside of these two women, my experience has been very positive.

Moguldom: Not everyone puts up the banner for advancement. People who have fought hard to make it don’t always want anyone else to come behind them and have it easy. What can we do as a Black and brown community to raise up more VCs?

Shila Nieves Burney:  The other week, I had a meeting with an institutional fund contact with $40 billion under asset management. They said they were coming to Atlanta. They asked if I could get a group of Black investors together in a room. I went into my network and asked Jewel Burks. I also asked her if she could also recommend some folks. I invited a couple of other people who I know that are in investing, like Tanya Sam. There are some other Black investors, who I don’t know really well, or I would have included them too. We went into the room as a collaborative effort to hear this woman talk about what she can do. We’re not in competition. I’m not in competition with them. If anything, we need each other to co-invest when we find great companies. I think we need to look at each other as partners and collaborators versus competitors.

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 44: Jewel Burks

Jewel Burks discusses her M&A process when she sold her tech company, Partpic, to Amazon.

At some point, we are all smart enough to know when there’s a good deal on the table. What we need is support. We need people to lift us up but it’s a small number of us, so support us however you can. Arlan can’t be the only one – the one person trying to do the job when we’re 50, 60 years behind.

I think there’s a few of us who have come up and we are focused on specific audiences we want to invest in. Clearly, we may not get all of our money from people of color, but for those who have those means, take a risk. It is no different than real estate. Our people think because “I got a building,” or “I have something tangible,” there is less risk.

I could sit on the sidelines and watch our community suffer from lack of resources, or I could jump in and do something myself.

Shila Nieves Burney, founder of Atlanta-based Zane Venture Fund, is raising $10 million for tech companies to scale and grow.

In venture, when the wins are huge, they go really really huge and we all win. I want some of the affluent folks to understand we’re in a space now where venture is going to help some of these companies, mainly tech. It may not help the baker down the street, but there is investor out there wanting to invest in that baker. And you can get with a fund willing to invest and make decisions on your behalf, to take non-real estate risks.

Overall, we need support, and we don’t need the competition. Arlan didn’t raise all she set out to, so everybody’s going to beat Arlan up? No. We’re going to still hold Arlan up because she’s still a badass for doing what she did. We just need to support minority VCs.

Moguldom: What type of investments and founders are you seeking to invest in?

Shila Nieves Burney: We’re looking at diverse founders for sure. Women, including white women, Black and brown people, including men, women, and LGBTQ. Those are the folks we’re looking to invest in. Those are the diverse communities that we’ve outlined. Not just tech companies, but tech-enabled ones too.

Moguldom:  What do the next five years look like for the Zane Venture Fund?

Shila Nieves Burney: We will be halfway through Fund 1. Fund 2, we’re gearing up to fundraise for possibly $50-to-$100 million. We did well in Fund 1. We got the four multiple that we set out to do. We had some great companies that have maybe been acquired, maybe gone IPO. We’re celebrating them, not so much Zane — just the companies themselves — for doing the work. And then we’re on Fund 2 hoping to have a repeat of finding some more great companies with founders of color, who, in my mind are looking to change the world, our communities, for the better through technology.