11 Black Venture Capitalists Getting Attention In The US
Venture capital firms are getting attention for making minority-owned businesses a part of their portfolio. Some have invested in black businesses from the beginning. Unlike angel investors who invest their own personal funds in potentially rewarding business opportunities, venture capitalists invest other people’s money. They raise that money by offering investors a chance to take part in a fund that is then used to buy shares in a private company. We’ve highlighted 11 venture capitalists getting attention in the U.S.
Charles Hudson: Precursor Ventures
Charles Hudson is the managing partner at Precursor Ventures, a classic seed-stage investment firm based in San Francisco. Precursor focuses on investments in business-to-business software applications, business-to-consumer software and services, and connected hardware.
Before launching Precursor, Hudson was a partner at SoftTech VC, one of the most active seed-stage investors in internet and mobile startups. He focused on identifying investment opportunities in mobile infrastructure, applications, and marketplaces. He also co-founded Bionic Panda Games, an Android-focused mobile games startup.
With Precursor, Hudson has raised $15.3 million for his first fund and made more than 50 investments with the help of an associate, USAToday reported in January. Of those investments, 16 percent have an African-American founder and 31 percent have at least one female founder,
“Precursor is not yet a big name in venture capital, but it’s taking on a big mission: Making sure more entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds get an equal shot at venture capital dollars and their Silicon Valley dreams,” Martin Klimek wrote in USAToday.
Denmark West: Connectivity Capital Partners
Denmark West is chief investment officer of the Connectivity Ventures Fund and a partner of Connectivity Capital Partners.
West advocates for diversity in technology and is a founder of The Searchlights Project, a forum for technology achievers to share their insights and stories. He has been an advisor to Culture Shift Labs, Code2040, StarterLeague, StartUp Box: South Bronx and the national #YesWeCode initiative, according to MPowered.
He is a frequent speaker and sometimes blogs on technology trends and business models. Quoted in books such as “Stealing MySpace” and “The Facebook Effect,” West was recently a principal at Forrer Street Co., where he advised businesses and nonprofits on raising capital, strategic relationships, customer development, product road maps and new business lines. He also advised private equity funds and directly invests in selected opportunities.
Prior to Forrer Street, West was president of Digital Media at Black Entertainment Television (BET) and an executive vice president at MTV Networks. Before that, he worked in various capacities at Microsoft. He started his career on Wall Street and earned a bachelor of arts degree in applied mathematics and an MBA from Harvard University.
Brian Dixon: Kapor Capital
Brian Dixon focuses on identifying and evaluating early-stage investments. He joined Kapor Capital in 2011 after spending two summers as an MBA intern, and was promoted to partner in 2015. He is committed to making sure entrepreneurs of all backgrounds have access to advice and capital to make their business succeed.
Brian earned a bachelor of science in computer and information science from Northeastern University and an MBA from F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College. He started his career as a software engineer at Citigroup, and has worked as a product and project manager at Education First and Babyzone (acquired by Disney Inc.). He has founded multiple tech startups and likes working with founders and accelerator programs.
Navigating the world of tech, with its unspoken dress code of hoodies and cheerily enforced “culture fits” isn’t always easy for those coming from other world views, West said in a Telecrunch report:
‘‘Anyone who understands team sports recognizes that there is often a difference between the written rules and the unwritten rules that dictate how the games are officiated. I have found that the technology community has been very supportive in general, but I have relied on the black tech community to help explain the nuance between the written and unwritten rules of success. I, in turn, try to pass along what I have learned as well,” West said.
Monique Woodard: 500 Startups
Woodard is a venture partner at 500 Startups, investing in black and Latino entrepreneurs. She is the co-founder of Black Founders, a national community of entrepreneurs working to increase the number of successful black entrepreneurs in tech. Previously, she was one of the first innovation fellows for the City of San Francisco and helped cities use technology to innovate workforce and other civic services. She has more than 15 years of entrepreneur and operating experience in consumer, e-commerce, and civic tech.
In July, the venture firm launched a $25-million microfund dedicated to supporting black and Latino entrepreneurs — the first time the early-stage startup has created a fund focused on diversity rather than on a particular region, Venture Beat reported.
The fund focuses on U.S. founders and will be used to invest in around 100 companies. The goal is to provide the capital, network, and expertise that black and Latino founders need to grow their business. Woodard is overseeing the program.
Angela Benton: NewME Accelerator
Angela Benton is founder and CEO of NewME Accelerator, launched in 2011 to accelerate underrepresented entrepreneurs around the world. Since its launch, NewME has accelerated 200-plus startups through 12-week programs in San Francisco and three-day programs in cities around the U.S.
Benton has been recognized as an agent of change and trailblazer who was honored by Goldman Sachs as one of the 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs.
Her experience includes working at RealEstate.com, LendingTree.com, and RushmoreDrive.com. In 2007 she launched BlackWeb20.com, an online publication for African Americans interested in technology and new media.
Benton said people were skeptical about whether her business model — accelerating underrepresented entrepreneurs — would work. But some Silicon Valley influencers encouraged her to find minority entrepreneurs to help at elite institutions, New York Times reported:
“I spent almost a year in Silicon Valley meeting with people, getting advice on our business model. They all wanted me to play it safe,” said Benton, who was a teenage mother and went from graphic design to helping start B20, a black tech innovators site, in 2007. “I don’t come from that background.”
Benton said she discovered that some of the most talented entrepreneurs weren’t aiming to create the next billion-dollar start-up. Rather, the entrepreneurs of color were content to begin a company worth a few million dollars.
Over five years, the NewME accelerator has helped businesses raise more than $20 million in venture capital funding. It offers one-week programs and has more than 20,000 members so far.
Michael Seibel: Y Combinator
Michael Seibel, 33 is a full-time partner and CEO of the Y Combinator accelerator program. Previously, he was a co-founder and CEO of Justin.tv from 2007 to 2011 and the co-founder and CEO of Socialcam in 2012. In 2012, Socialcam participated in Y Combinator, raised angel financing from a group of investors, and sold to Autodesk Inc. for $60 million. In 2014 Justin.tv became Twitch Interactive and under the leadership of Emmett Shear and Kevin Lin sold to Amazon for $970 million.
Before getting into tech, Seibel spent a year as the finance director for a U.S. Senate campaign. He graduated from Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He said he spends most of his free time cooking, reading, traveling and going for long drives.
Y Combinator built its sterling reputation in Silicon Valley by making very early-stage bets on startups that became multi-billion dollar companies, including Dropbox, Airbnb, and Stripe, Telecrunch reported.
Seibel visited Nigeria in 2017 with this message for African entrepreneurs: If they ( Dropbox, Airbnb, and Stripe) can do it, you can too:
The first step, he told them, is to explain in plain language what your company does.
“The No. 1 problem companies have during the Y Combinator interview is that a minute into the interview, we don’t know what they do,” Seibel said. “It’s the same problem with the application. You might think we’re experts, but you still have to explain it to us.”
Brian Aoaeh, KEC Ventures
Brian Aoaeh is a partner at KEC Ventures, early-stage technology venture investors. In his own words, here’s how he operates:
“I spend most of my time in NYC looking for founders trying to solve problems for enterprises, and consumers too. Let’s talk – even if your product is not yet built. I want to meet founders creating new markets or transforming existing industries. How can I help? I am most content when I am thinking about ill-defined problems. I have an obsession for cool mechanical pencils. I never say no to a cup of coffee.”
Aoaeh focuses his time at KEC Ventures on discovering and studying early stage startups, according to the company bio. “He is fascinated by the combination of factors that result in certain tech-enabled startups becoming dominant, global companies.”
Before KEC, Aoaeh was a strategy analyst in global diversity and inclusion at Lehman Brothers in New York, and before that, he worked at UBS AG in Stamford, CT as an analyst in group diversity. He was a pension actuarial analyst at Watson Wyatt Worldwide (now Towers Watson) before UBS.
After high school and before starting undergraduate study in the U.S., Aoaeh worked as a junior auditor at Issifu Ali & Co. Chartered Accountants in Accra, Ghana.
He volunteers helping early stage startups in Africa navigate from idea to market launch, and writes a column on entrepreneurship and tech startups for Tekedia.
Aoaeh majored in math and physics at Connecticut College in New London, and earned an MBA from the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University.
“I have traveled a remarkable path for someone who thinks of himself as ‘a village-boy’ from Northern Ghana,” he said in a Connecticut College report. “I’m doing exactly what I want, exactly what I should be doing.”
Shauntel Poulson, Reach Capital
Shauntel Poulson is a co-founder and general partner at Reach Capital, a venture fund focused on early stage education technology startups.
Venture capital was never on her radar, she said in a CNN report, not only because she was black and a woman (“I didn’t have role models that looked like me”) but because she saw herself developing products.
Poulson was a senior engineer at Procter and Gamble where she developed product innovations, designed supply chains, and managed technology partnerships for the global laundry business. She earned a chemical engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and an MBA and MA in education from Stanford University.
Before co-founding Reach Capital, Poulson was a partner at NewSchools Venture Fund and invested in over 40 early stage K-12 education tech companies through the NewSchools Seed Fund. She has led investments in BrightBytes, Newsela, SchoolMint, Schoolzilla, Nepris and others. She is a board member for Schoolzilla and Tales2Go.
Reach Capital aims to help under-served communities, and Paulson said her team’s diverse makeup helps make that happen.
“The focus is on ensuring all students, no matter their backgrounds, have access to high-quality education to be successful in their lives,” she said. “We can source different opportunities because of our unique backgrounds.”
Richard Kerby: Venrock
Richard Kerby joined Venrock in 2012, where he focuses on identifying and evaluating early-stage investments. A compound of “Venture” and “Rockefeller,” the venture capital firm formed in 1969 to build on the investing activities of the Rockefeller family that began in the late 1930s. Prior to Venrock, Kerby was an associate at Institutional Venture Partners (IVP), where he identified and evaluated later-stage investments.
At both Venrock and IVP, Kerby was the only black investor, CNN reported in June 2015.
While at IVP, Kerby worked with companies such as Dropbox, Klout, Twitter, Shazam, Sugar, and Yext.
Prior to IVP, Kerby worked in the investment banking division of Credit Suisse. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in economics and government from Georgetown University. A Venrock bio describes Kerby as “a rabid Hoyas basketball fan who still thinks his subpar basketball skills are good enough to start for the Hoyas.”
In 2015, Kerby counted the number of black investors at 200 venture capital firms to determine for himself the state of diversity in U.S. venture capital. He found that blacks made up 1.5 percent of the industry. He talked about it in a Telecrunch column:
In my quest to determine the true diversity statistics within the venture capital industry, I conducted a study of over 200 firms composed of roughly 2,000 investors, investigating the current number of black investors working in venture capital in the U.S.
I included only full-time investment team members, so I did not include entrepreneurs in residence, venture partners, accelerators, or incubators. (You can find the data here at Venture Capital Diversity Stats.
Kerby said he was flooded with appreciation and requests for advice after providing the data to illustrate the problem.
Kanyi Maqubela, Collaborative Fund
Collaborative Fund is a New York City-based venture capital firm focused on providing seed and early stage funding to technology companies. Kanyi Maqubela, a native of Soweto, South Africa, joined Collaborative Fund as an entrepreneur-in-residence in 2011, and stayed for five years. He left this month to pursue a new project, but Maqubela will remain a venture partner in the firm and continue to support its existing portfolio, Fund founder Craig Shapiro said.
Maqubela grew up in New England. He studied philosophy, computer science, chemistry, and math, doing undergrad and graduate studies at Stanford University. He has taught elementary and middle school math and science.
“Working on Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign is, to date, the most meaningful and difficult work I’ve ever done,” he said. His first job was at Doostang, an online career community which was acquired by Universum Global. He was also part of the team at One Block Off The Grid, an internet-based solar sales business which was spun out of the incubator Virgance. 1BOG was acquired by Pure Energies Group (now $NRG). He has consulted with a South African private equity firm, an auto maker, and the designers behind the mouse.
Here’s how Maqubela described his work as an investor for Collaborative Fund:
Every day, sometimes twice a day, sometimes five times a day, I meet with young (and sometimes old) women and men who have a vision for the world. I spend an hour processing as much as I possibly can about their business, doing my best not to get embarrassed by how much more they know than me, and then I offer them as humble and objective a perspective as I can. It’s hard, lonely, and a very easy way to be insecure. But it’s fun. It’s easy to get energized by falling in love with ideas, and with founders. Now that I have a couple investments under my belt, I have learned more about how to listen for founders’ strengths and weaknesses, to be available in their tough times, and to celebrate their good. I’m so excited to serve on a few great company boards as director, two wonderful companies as observer, and another as a board adviser. It’s really fun.
Laurence Tooney: Google Ventures
Tooney joined Google Ventures from Comcast Ventures, where he focused on the Catalyst Fund, a group of investments in early stage technology startups led by black entrepreneurs. A partner on the investing team at Google Ventures, he specializes in consumer technology investments with an emphasis on mobile messaging, marketplaces, and e-commerce.
He has held executive roles at startups and global consumer brands including Nike.com, eBay, and Zynga Poker. Tooney earned an MBA from the Haas School of Business (University of California at Berkeley).
He likes to work with teams motivated to solve real problems, and has mentored startups and personally invested as an angel.