Harlem Capital Partners With Techstars To Boost Investment In Women-Led, Black-Owned Startups

Written by Dana Sanchez
Harlem Capital
NYC-based Harlem Capital, a VC firm that’s busting Silicon Valley stereotypes, exclusively backs companies run by women, Black founders and founders of color. Left to right: John Henry, Henri Pierre-Jacques, Brandon Bryant, Jarrid Tingle, co-founders of Harlem Capital. Photo: Harlem Capital

Harlem Capital Partners, a Black-owned firm that’s busting stereotypes in Silicon Valley venture capital culture, entered a joint partnership with Techstars, one of the world’s top startup accelerators, to recruit and invest in diverse founders.

Committed to investing in Black and women founders and founders of color, New York-based Harlem Capital is on a mission to change the face of entrepreneurship. The early-stage venture capital firm plans to invest in 1,000 diverse founders over the next 20 years. Harlem Capital’s co-founders are in their mid-to-late 20s: Henri Pierre-Jacques, John Henry, Brandon Bryant and Jarrid Tingle.

Most investors — 80 percent — are white males. Black investors represent about 2 percent of venture capitalists, according to the National Venture Capital Association.

Techstars runs 47 mentorship-driven accelerator programs globally including in most large U.S. cities, partnering with 65 companies that mentor entrepreneurs. It has accelerators at Citi Fintech Innovation Lab and Barclays’ Accelerator, Forbes reported. Techstars has graduated nearly 1,800 startups, and 209 of its portfolio companies have seen exits worth a combined $24.4 billion off $8.3 billion in funding. The typical company leading a funding round after being in a Techstars accelerator does about a $1 million capital raise.

The goal of the partnership is for Harlem Capital to refer diverse founders to Techstars, help fast-track their application process and increase deal flow. Techstars will refer diverse-led, early-stage companies to Harlem Capital for the capital they need to scale and grow, the companies said in a press release.

Harlem Capital’s strategy has been to write small checks, usually around $500,000, Forbes reported, backing young companies it identifies through contacts and on-the-ground research.

“Techstars continues to be one of the most diverse accelerators, which has led to 25 percent of our portfolio being Techstars-backed companies,” said Henri Pierre-Jacques, Managing Partner at Harlem Capital, in a prepared statement. “Techstars and Harlem Capital know that to improve the flow of capital to diverse entrepreneurs, we have to be intentional in our investment efforts and will use our partnership to move beyond talk to action.”

With Harlem Capitals’ referrals, Techstars looks to further diversify the company’s incoming accelerator classes.

All four Harlem Capital co-founders were living in Harlem when they started the fund. Naming the company “Harlem” was a no-brainer, Tingle said in a 2018 Forbes interview. “Harlem has been synonymous with Black excellence, empowerment and cultural expression since the Harlem Renaissance of the early 20th century … The neighborhood welcomed us after college.”

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Venture investing reached record highs in the U.S. in 2018 — $130.9 billion in 2018, but most of the investors and the beneficiaries are white males. In a recent Fast Company column, Harlem Capital partner Henry brought some perspective, writing “.05 percent of all entrepreneurs and even fewer founders of color actually secure venture capital.”

Harlem Capital’s co-founders are African American, Haitian and Dominican. “It’s important for founders to know there are people who look like them willing to invest in and support them and for the next generation to know that they too can be successful in VC,” Pierre-Jacques told Forbes.  

“Communities of color are massive exporters of cultural and economic value,” Henry said. “The more of us we have on the investor side of the table, the more we can proactively ensure more women and founders of color build equity in the same ecosystem we’re helping to build.”