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58 Black investors changing the venture capital industry with firms that fund diverse startup founders

58 Black investors changing the venture capital industry with firms that fund diverse startup founders
Tech2 min read
From left: Paul Judge, chairman of The Open Opportunity Fund; Tessa Flippin, founder and managing partner of Capitalize VC; Claude Grunitzky, CEO of The Equity Alliance; Gayle Jennings O'Byrne, cofounder and general partner of Wocstar Fund.Open Opportunity Fund, Capitalize VC, The Equity Alliance Wocstar Fund
  • DEI has been a hot-button topic as billionaires and lawsuits question whether its needed.
  • Black VCs who specifically back startup founders of color are undeterred by these efforts.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion has been a hot topic of conversation lately — especially among billionaires who don't see the need for it,

DEI initiatives have been intensely scrutinized after the US Supreme Court struck down the use of affirmative action in college admissions last year, and that's had ripple effects in the business world. There's been an ongoing backlash against corporate DEI. And that's manifested in DEI departments paring down and legal action, like the ongoing lawsuit against the VC firm Fearless Fund by a conservative nonprofit claiming its grant program is discriminatory.

Funds like Fearless Fund and many featured on this list were buoyed by corporate pledges to focus on DEI more in hiring and funding in the wake of George Floyd's murder in the summer of 2020. But now, nearly four years later, much of that progress appears in danger of being scaled back because DEI has fallen out of favor in parts of the corporate world. Yet, billionaires like JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and Mark Cuban believe diversity should remain a priority.

For VC firms with investments theses centered on backing underrepresented startup founders, many remain undeterred in light of the grim state of play.

"We will continue doing what we were set up to do," wrote Claude Grunitzky, the CEO of The Equity Alliance, in a recent newsletter. "If some investors are now getting cold feet over our DEI mandate, over our focus on racial and gender equity, that's alright. We are not shaking in our boots."

Many other Black VCs are addressing long-standing DEI issues in the VC industry by slowly moving the investing needle toward more underrepresented founders who have traditionally been overlooked.

Daniel Acheampong and Yasmin Cruz Ferrine, Visible Hands

Daniel Acheampong and Yasmin Cruz Ferrine, Visible Hands
Visible Hands cofounders and general partners Daniel Acheampong and Yasmin Curz Ferrine.      Visible Hands

Notable investments: Parfait, Athlytic, Dollaride, Hearth Display, Noula, WriteSea, Plot, TANGapp

What kinds of companies he invests in: Pre-seed and seed-stage companies across industries.

Why he's on the list: Acheampong and Ferrine cofounded Visible Hands in May 2020 along with Justin Kang to address the ongoing systemic barriers to funding, social capital, and resources plaguing underrepresented founders. He and his team are turning what he sees as "missed investment opportunities for product innovation, wealth generation, and investment return" into pathways for underrepresented founders to succeed.

At Visible Hands, Acheampong oversees investment processes as a general partner and Ferrine's responsibilities include compliance, capital raising, and investment functions of the firm.

Acheampong utilizes his years of experience as an associate at the private equity firm Summit Partners and an analyst at Goldman Sachs. He's also an entrepreneur in residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's DesignX, a design-innovation accelerator program, and a venture advisor at the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale University.

Ferrine began her career as an analyst at Manulife and later worked at Brown Advisory, heading up growth and strategy for its Boston office, and John Hancock, where she was the director of community Investment Strategy in the US. Before getting into VC, she was finance director for former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick's 2020 presidential campaign. She's now part of the latest Kauffman Fellow class.

Bonin Bough and Marcus Glover, Lockstep Ventures

Bonin Bough and Marcus Glover, Lockstep Ventures
Lockstep Capital cofounders Marcus Glover and Bonin Bough      Lockstep Ventures

Notable investments: Fleeting, Jet It

What kinds of companies they invest in: Early-stage startups focusing on health and wellness, consumer fintech, education, and business services.

Why they're on the list: The nationwide demonstrations over George Floyd's murder in 2020 spurred Glover, Bough, and the firm's other cofounder, the investor Michael Loeb, to invest private capital as a way to address funding disparities and to create wealth opportunities for communities of color in the US, Glover said. Lockstep Ventures was eventually born out of that desire.

Glover, the firm's managing director, founded the private equity firm M. Glover Capital and advised early-stage ventures with his extensive experience in marketing and advertising campaigns.

Bough, now an advisor for Lockstep, is the cofounder and chief strategy officer of media company Group Black. He previously worked for companies such as Mondelēz and PepsiCo before starting his own growth accelerator, Bonin Ventures. The founders have also pledged to reduce prison recidivism by reforming hiring practices and create 10,000 new jobs by 2025, Glover previously told Business Insider.

Brian Brackeen and Candice Matthews Brackeen, Lightship Capital

Brian Brackeen and Candice Matthews Brackeen, Lightship Capital
Lightship Capital cofounders Brian Brackeen and Candice Matthews Brackeen.      Lightship Capital

Key investments: FreshFry, Boddle Learning, Proov, Vyrill

What kinds of companies they invest in: Pre-seed to Series A companies focused on consumer-packaged goods, e-commerce, sustainability, artificial intelligence, healthtech

Why they're on the list: Before launching the Cincinnati-based Lightship Capital, Brackeen founded the startup accelerator Hillman, now known as the Lightship Foundation, for underrepresented founders. The foundation manages accelerators and educational programs. In 2022, it bought the Black Tech Week conference, relocating it to Cincinnati from Miami. Her husband and Lightship Capital cofounder, Brackeen, founded and was the CEO of Kairos, a facial-recognition startup, which brought him back in 2022 to chair its scientific advisory board.

In 2020, Lightship launched its $50 million debut fund to fund startups led by diverse founders.

Melissa Bradley, 1863 Ventures

Melissa Bradley, 1863 Ventures
Melissa Bradley of 1863 Ventures      Melissa Bradley

Notable investments: Black Beauty Roster, Keeping You Sweet, Coradorables

What kinds of companies she invests in: Seed companies across sectors.

Why she's on the list: Bradley is an entrepreneurial veteran with over 30 years of experience. She started 1863 Ventures in 2016 to support what she calls "new majority entrepreneurs," or those from historically underrepresented and marginalized backgrounds. The firm has had one exit in its fund, Bradley said.

She's also an adjunct professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, teaching impact investing, social entrepreneurship, peer-to-peer economics, and social innovation. The startup she cofounded, Ureeka, a platform that connects female and minority small-business owners to peers, mentors, and coaches for advice, was acquired by Zen Business in 2022.

Mitch Brooks and Tristan Wilkerson, High Street Equity Partners

Mitch Brooks and Tristan Wilkerson, High Street Equity Partners
From left, High Street Equity Partners cofounders Mitch Brooks and Tristan Wilkerson.      High Street Equity Partners

Notable investments: Chargerhelp, Happied, Campus Ink

What kinds of companies they invest in: Seed-stage companies that are potential high-growth technology companies.

Why they're on the list: Mitch Brooks and Tristan Wilkerson have been friends and co-investors for over a decade, starting as angel investors in Washington, DC, and Arkansas, respectively. They launched their firm in 2021, sharing a vision of wanting to build an early-stage venture firm that backed underrepresented founders from underrepresented geographies because of the lack of funding to those groups, according to a High Street Equity Partners spokesperson.

Brooks spent much of his career as an executive at companies like Caterpillar and DSI. Wilkerson was a political organizer and policy professional before founding Think Rubix, a social-innovation consultancy. The firm is actively investing from its first fund, Brooks said.

Brandon Bryant, Henri Pierre-Jacques, and Jarrid Tingle, Harlem Capital

Brandon Bryant, Henri Pierre-Jacques, and Jarrid Tingle, Harlem Capital
Harlem Capital cofounders (from left) Henri Jacques-Pierre, Jarrid Tingle and Brandon Bryant      Harlem Capital

Key investments: Drip, Moviepass, Singuli

What kinds of companies they invest in: Seed and Series A companies across industries. Initial check sizes range from $1 million to $2.5 million.

Why they're on the list: In late 2015, Harlem Capital started as an angel syndicate in Tingle's living room in Harlem, where the group invested about $250,000 across startups, small businesses, and real estate, Pierre-Jacques said.

Pierre-Jacques, Tingle, and Bryant met while part of the Management Leadership for Tomorrow career program for underrepresented minorities. The cofounders got their start in investment banking, working at companies like Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, and Barclays.

Bryant and Pierre-Jacques were roommates while working at Bank of America before Pierre-Jacques moved on to work at the private equity firm ICV Partners. He worked with Tingle at ICV, and they became roommates when they both attended Harvard Business School. While in business school, they continued to build Harlem Capital, and by the time they graduated in 2019, they had $12.5 million for their debut fund.

Six months later, Harlem Capital's first fund closed with $40.3 million, from which it invested in 28 startups. In 2021, the firm announced an oversubscribed $134 million fund. Of the companies backed in these two funds, 94% are led by underrepresented founders, Pierre-Jacques previously told Business Insider.

Shila Nieves Burney, Zane Venture Fund

Shila Nieves Burney, Zane Venture Fund
Shila Nieves Burney, is the managing partner of Zane Venture Fund.      Shila N. Burney

Notable investments: SkillCycle, MDisrupt

What kinds of companies she invests in: Early-stage startups building to address health equity, financial inclusion, housing, and education

Why she's on the list: After working for nonprofits like the American Cancer Society and Points of Light, Burney embarked on a new journey in 2018 and decided to transition to the entrepreneurial world. She started a consultancy in organizational support and entrepreneurial development, where she met many startup founders needing capital. She soon realized there was untapped potential in investing in underrepresented founders and launched a proof-of-concept fund that focused on backing these founders.

Zane Venture Fund closed its first fund with notable LPs like Calendly founder and CEO Tope Awotona, and has its sights set on a second $30 million fund later this year, Burney told Business Insider.

Paul Campbell, Chris Brooks, and Jerome Hamilton, Brown Venture Group

Paul Campbell, Chris Brooks, and Jerome Hamilton, Brown Venture Group
The Brown Venture Group cofounders Jerome Hamilton, Paul Campbell and Chris Brooks.      Brown Venture Group

Notable investments: Nice Healthcare, TurnSignl, Hollywood Unlocked

What kinds of companies they invest in: Startups at the "friends and family" funding stage to Series A that build in emerging technologies.

Why they're on the list: Hamilton, Campbell, and Brooks started their Minneapolis-based firm in 2018 specifically to invest in Black, Latino, and Indigenous entrepreneurs. Before launching Brown Venture Group, Campbell was a telecommunications sales executive and an entrepreneur, launching startups in the Internet of Things and media production.

Hamilton coauthored the book, "Make Your Business a Lean Business," and worked in various leadership roles in the automotive industry before being tapped to join the multinational conglomerate 3M. A Brown Venture Group spokesperson said he was later part of several startup exits. Brooks has held leadership roles at several nonprofit organizations and worked in education before jumping to entrepreneurship. He's also a founding partner of Firehouse Commons, a coworking space and innovation hub for entrepreneurs in Minneapolis.

Austin Clements, Slauson & Co.

Austin Clements, Slauson & Co.
Austin Clements, Slauson & Co.      Slauson & Co.

Notable investments: Gigs, Boxed Up, Engineers, Fêtefully, SimpleCar

What kinds of companies he invests in: US-based pre-seed and seed companies that are building technology for small business owners and consumer-tech companies.

Why he's on the list: Raised in Los Angeles, Clements has a long track record of championing founders of color. He's the founding chair of PledgeLA, a collective of tech companies and VC firms in Los Angeles that promotes diversity in the local tech community. He also serves as a trustee for the Knight Foundation, a leading research source on diverse asset manager selection from foundation and university endowments.

Alongside Ajay Relan, Slauson's cofounder, Clements has gotten praise and backing from none other than Ron Conway, the legendary angel investor known as the "Godfather of Silicon Valley."

As part of its focus on underrepresented founders, Slauson emphasizes economic inclusion. In addition to its main investments, the firm runs an accelerator, investing $150,000 into early-stage startups. The accelerator is called Friends & Family — a nod to the early funding founders often receive from within their networks.

William Crowder, Aperture Venture Capital

William Crowder, Aperture Venture Capital
William Crowder, the cofounder and managing partner of Aperture Venture Capital.      William Crowder

Notable investments: Anonybit, Alaffia Health, Freeing Returns

What kinds of companies he invests in: Seed-stage companies focused on industries like fintech, enterprise, and consumer firms that leverage financial innovation.

Why he's on the list: Crowder has spent a decade investing in diverse founders before co-founding Aperture VC in 2021. He worked as a partner at Dreamit Ventures, a Philadelphia-based pre-seed accelerator, where he led a partnership between Dreamit and Comcast to invest in founders of color. Crowder then launched and led a corporate-backed diversity fund for Comcast Ventures in 2012 and has since helped other major corporations like Morgan Stanley and Hearst do the same.

Crowder continues his long track record of investing in diverse founders at Aperture. The firm, which invests in startups leveraging financial innovation to help businesses and individuals thrive, now counts the financial giants FIS, Truist, and PayPal among its notable backers, Crowder said.

Keith Daniel, Resilient Ventures

Keith Daniel, Resilient Ventures
Resilient Ventures cofounder and managing director Keith Daniel      Courtesy of Keith Daniel

Notable investments: Gryppers, The Diversity Movement, Livewell, Functional Fluidics

What kinds of companies he invests in: Seed and Series A companies agnostic of sector, mainly in the mid-Atlantic and southeastern parts of the US (but open to other regions) with a focus on business-to-business or business-to-consumer models.

Why he's on this list: Daniel cofounded the firm in 2019 to invest in high-growth, Black-led companies across the US. The firm deployed its first fund at the end of 2022.

Entrepreneurship has been one of Daniel's focuses for nearly three decades. He has served as the program director for Duke University's LEAD Summer Business Institute and helped get its first summer youth business and entrepreneurship academy off the ground. He has spent much of his career in higher education at the university. Daniel also owns a consulting firm that advises executives and nonprofits.

Justin Dawkins, Jewel Burks Solomon, and Barry Givens, Collab Capital

Justin Dawkins, Jewel Burks Solomon, and Barry Givens, Collab Capital
Collab Capital cofounders Justin Dawkins, Jewel Burks Solomon and Barry Givens      Collab Capital

Notable investments: WriteSea, Clear, National Cycling League, Options MD, Varuna, Goodr

What kinds of companies they invest in: Seed and Series A companies that focus on the future of work, care, and infrastructure.

Why they're on this list: All three Collab Capital cofounders were startup founders themselves who chose to build their respective companies in Atlanta over Big Tech hubs like San Francisco and New York.

Burks Solomon cofounded Partpic, an object-recognition company that sold to Amazon in 2016, and was also head of Google for Startups in the US; Givens cofounded the robotic-bartender startup Monsieur and was the managing director of TechStars Social Impact Accelerator; Dawkins cofounded Goodie Nation, an entrepreneur-development program.

As Black founders in Atlanta, the trio stayed in touch and realized they faced similar challenges getting access to venture capital. So they established a fund that aims to reimagine how to help Black founders face their obstacles, a Collab Capital spokesperson said.

Erica Duignan Minnihan and Monique Idlett-Mosley, Reign Ventures

Erica Duignan Minnihan and Monique Idlett-Mosley, Reign Ventures
The Reign Ventures cofounders Erica Duignan Minnihan and Monique Idlett-Mosley.      Reign Ventures

Notable investments: Babyation, Dormify, Monica + Andy, Nicklpass, Sharebite

What kinds of companies they invest in: Seed-stage companies with follow-on investments through Series B. Initial check sizes range from $500,000 to $1 million with a reserve up to an additional $3 million in follow-on capital.

Why they're on the list: Minnihan is a veteran investor with years of experience in finance. She worked as an investment banker before becoming inspired to find a pathway in finance that could have a more positive impact, she said. In 2006, she landed in early-stage VC as the executive director of Golden Seeds, one of the first firms focused on investing in women entrepreneurs, backing companies like Rent the Runway and Happy Baby early on.

She took a break a few years later to start her own company but jumped back into investing in 2012, starting an early-stage network for professional athletes and celebrities called the STAR Angel Network. Through this network, she met Idlett-Mosley, who at the time was CEO of Mosley Brands and Mosley Music Group, the music label behind her then-husband, the legendary music producer Timothy "Timbaland" Mosley.

The two women joined forces to start Reign Ventures to back underrepresented founders as a way to move the needle and become part of the solution to address the funding gap for these founders.

Idlett-Mosley and Minnihan spent years investing their own money and building investor relationships before launching and closing Reign's first institutionally backed fund in 2021.

Crystal and Jean Etienne, Caje

Crystal and Jean Etienne, Caje
Crystal and Jene Etienne are only investing in soil rounds for Black-woman entrepreneurs      CaJE

Notable investments: Undisclosed at this time.

What kinds of companies they invest in: Black women-led companies at what the firm calls "soil rounds" or before the "friends and family" funding stage.

Why they're on the list: Crystal Etienne founded the female apparel company Ruby Love (formerly known as Panty Prop), which makes underwear and swimwear for women on their menstrual cycle. She bootstrapped capital and built Ruby Love into a $50 million company.

But Etienne previously told Insider it was a tough road getting her company to be a success. That's why she and her husband, Jean, decided to launch Caje, a venture firm focused on funding Black female entrepreneurs, in 2021. Starting in April 2023, the firm changed its current 20-minute virtual-pitch model to what it's calling the "very first Black women roundtable," where founders can have a three-hour, seven-course dinner with the firm's founders in New York to pitch their ideas to receive an investment of up to $25,000.

Tessa Flippin, Capitalize VC

Tessa Flippin, Capitalize VC
Tessa Flippin, the founder and managing partner of Capitalize VC.      Tessa Flippin

Notable investments: Airpals, Gildform, Playbite, Solesafe, Rivet, Taly and Talawa.

What kinds of companies she invests in: Early-stage companies at the intersection of e-commerce infrastructure, fintech, and consumer brands.

Why she's on the list: Flippin launched her firm in 2021 to invest in diverse founders in the rapidly growing digital commerce industry. She invests in both sides of the commerce equation by investing in commerce infrastructure technology and consumer brands. Before founding Capitalize VC, Flippin started her career at TechNexus, where she invested in seed-stage SaaS companies. She later joined Genius Guild's Greenhouse Fund as a VC in residence, focusing on investing in diverse founders.

Drew Glover, Fiat Ventures

Drew Glover, Fiat Ventures
The Fiat Ventures cofounder Drew Glover      Drew Glover

Notable companies: Copper, StellarFi, Sundae

What kinds of companies he invests in: Pre-seed and seed-stage companies focused on fintech, but will also do single co-investments in later-stage companies that he's worked with.

Why he's on the list: An Oakland, California native, Glover didn't follow the traditional business-school pathway to VC but started in tech working at startups like Namely and Steady before diving into advising early-stage companies. That work then blossomed into Fiat Growth, a fintech-focused consulting firm he cofounded that's advised over 100 companies, including Chime, Copper, Steady, SoFi, Ripple, and Public.

After advising and getting the right to buy equity in many of these companies, the firm decided to spin out a venture-focused fund called Fiat Ventures. About half of the fund's investments have been behind founding teams with underrepresented backgrounds, which provides "an incredible opportunity to serve the communities these founders are from," Glover said.

Like its sister firm, Fiat Ventures is fintech-focused, which Glover believes is one of the biggest areas to help shift the socioeconomic paradigm. The firm has raised $25 million for its first fund.

Sean Green and James Norman, Black Operator Ventures

Sean Green and James Norman, Black Operator Ventures
The Black Operator Ventures cofounders James Norman and Sean Green.      Black Operator Ventures

Notable investments: Livegistics, WhoseYourLandlord, Athlytic, FiveToNine, Stimulus

What kinds of companies they invest in: Tech and tech-enabled companies at the seed stage.

Why they're on the list: Norman cofounded and is a partner at Transparent Collective. This nonprofit hosts programs to coach underrepresented startup founders by helping them hone their startup pitches and meet potential investors. That's where Norman met the Black Operator Ventures cofounder Sean Green, an alum of one of the nonprofit's cohorts and the founder and CEO of Arternal, a startup that has streamlined the sales process for art galleries.

Norman is also the founder and CEO of Pilotly, a startup that develops market research for creative content that's raised over $2 million, according to PitchBook. He and Green wanted to create a VC fund with a purpose. After George Floyd's murder in 2020, they expedited their fund's launch, deciding their protest wouldn't be in the streets but by effecting change through investing in Black entrepreneurs, according to a Black Operator Ventures spokesperson.

Claude Grunitzky and Richard Parsons, The Equity Alliance

Claude Grunitzky and Richard Parsons, The Equity Alliance
Claude Grunitzky and Richard Parsons of Equity Alliance      Patrick McMullan/Getty Images; Ben Hider/Getty Images

Notable investments: Altro, Breakr, Esusu

What kinds of companies they invest in: Backs venture funds led by women and people of color and coinvests alongside them in startups built by founders from underrepresented backgrounds.

Why they're on the list: Parsons has ascended the highest reaches of corporate America, having served as the CEO of Time Warner and Citigroup. It puts him in rare company as a Black businessperson: Even today, there are only a handful of Black CEOs in the Fortune 500.

Alarmed by the low percentage of assets that women and people of color manage — just 1.4% of the US asset-management industry's $82.24 trillion, according to a 2021 report by the Knight Foundation — Parsons launched Equity Alliance in 2021 alongside Claude Grunitzky, who founded the media companies Trace and True Africa, to seek to improve upon this statistic. In February 2022, the Equity Alliance announced its $28 million fund. Its investors include the philanthropist and Estée Lauder heir Ronald Lauder, the crypto investor Michael Novogratz, and the venture firm Lerer Hippeau. It's backed firms such as Concrete Rose Ventures, Serena Ventures, Collab Capital, Moxxie Ventures, and Volt Capital and co-invested in several of those firms' startups, including the unicorn fintech company Esusu.

Arlan Hamilton, Backstage Capital

Arlan Hamilton, Backstage Capital
Arlan Hamilton, Managing Partner, Backstage Capital      Ellizabeth Viggiano

Notable investments: Career Karma, CareAcademy, Mahmee, Goodr, Mayvenn

What kinds of companies she invests in: Pre-seed to growth-stage companies across all sectors.

Why she's on the list: As her famous story goes, Hamilton needed over three years to get the first $25,000 check to start her firm, Backstage Capital. The former production coordinator for artists like Toni Braxton and Jason Derulo was inspired to become a VC because she saw the lack of investing dollars to underrepresented entrepreneurs, Hamilton said.

She wanted to fund people like herself — a gay, Black woman from Dallas who didn't follow the traditional path to VC. Hamilton launched her fund in 2015 and has since raised $20 million from LPs like Marc Andreessen, Ellen Pao, and Mark Cuban. She's used that capital to invest in over 200 companies.

Brian Hollins, Aaron Samuels, Collide Capital

Brian Hollins, Aaron Samuels, Collide Capital
Brian Collins and Aaron Samuels, the cofounders of Collide Capital.      Collide Capital

Notable investments:, Spill, Rheaply

What kinds of companies they invest in: Pre-seed to Series A startups that focus on enterprise SaaS, fintech infrastructure, supply chain and logistics, and Gen Z future of work. Check sizes on average range from $750,000 to $1.5 million.

Why they're on the list: Samuels and Hollins met in 2016. By then, Samuels had cofounded Blavity, a media tech company that caters to Black millennials and Gen Zers, and AfroTech, the Black-focused tech conference. Meanwhile, Hollins was a software investor at Goldman Sachs and a founding board member of the nonprofit BLCK VC. The duo were eager to begin investing together and started Collide Capital by launching a $1.3 million proof of concept fund, and then went on to raise an oversubscribed $66 million first fund in 2022.

The two started the firm after hearing from founders they worked with — who were often overlooked and lacked investor network connections — that access to capital was a huge necessity. And so they decided to start Collide Capital to bridge that gap. "Collide Capital aims to be part of a wave ushering in a new era of venture capital where resources and opportunities are directed toward the most deserving, not the most privileged," Samuels and Hollins told Business Insider.

Charles Hudson, Precursor Ventures

Charles Hudson, Precursor Ventures
Charles Hudson is the founder of Precursor Ventures.      Charles Hudson

Notable investments: Incredible Health, Carrot Fertility, Bobbie Baby, Pair Eyewear, Juniper Square, The Athletic, and Healthie

What kinds of companies he invests in: Pre-seed and seed stage companies backed by founders "who are not closely connected to the VC ecosystem and don't have much, if any, product traction at the time we invest," Hudson said.

Why he's on the list: Hudson is an elder statesman of the venture capital world who started his career at In-Q-Tel, the CIA's venture capital firm, in the early 2000s. He then went to work at email and web security company IronPort, which Cisco bought in 2007. Hudson had a short stint at Google and then worked for several startups before landing in venture at SoftTech VC, now known as Uncork Capital. He launched Precursor Ventures in 2015 to invest in pre-product market fit founders "who don't have easy access to the venture capital ecosystem." As a result, the firm ends up investing and working with a large number of underrepresented founders.

"I felt that the venture ecosystem does a great job of backing repeat founders and founders with access, and there was an opportunity to start a fund that focused on a different founder profile," Hudson said.

Gayle Jennings-O'Byrne, Wocstar Capital

Gayle Jennings-O
The cofounder and general partner of Wocstar Capital, Gayle Jennings-O'Byrne      Wocstar Capital

Notable investments: Moment.AI, Re-nuble, Filmhedge

What kinds of companies she invests in: Seed to Series A women-of-color-led companies with technologies focused on "redefining" content and resource consumption, fintech, and creating a sustainable world. Series A check sizes average $250,000 to $500,000 with a $1 million follow-on.

Why she's on the list: Tech and business run in Jennings-O'Byrne's blood. Her mother, Thelma Bataille, was a trailblazer who worked at the aerospace company McDonnell Douglas and spent 30 years in Silicon Valley, Jennings-O'Byrne said. She has had an illustrious career in tech and finance, spending a chunk of her career working in various roles at JPMorgan Chase.

Despite her successful career, there was an unfortunate reality that never went away: meaningful investment in women-of-color entrepreneurs. Soon after, she started Wocstar Capital to fill that gap and dent the funding disparity in venture capital.

Jennings-O'Byrne recalled getting a call from an Ivy League-educated woman and serial tech entrepreneur who had been worrying about making payroll at her company because she couldn't raise any funding. Jennings-O'Byrne said it broke her heart but also gave her purpose in life to champion women-of-color entrepreneurs.

Pilar Johnson, Debut Capital

Pilar Johnson, Debut Capital
Pilar Johnson, cofounder and managing partner of Debut Capital      Courtesy of Pilar Johnson

Notable investments: Ami Cole, Totem, Breakr, Civic Eagle, Loop

What kinds of companies she invests in: Black, Latinx, and Indigenous founders with pre-seed and seed companies "focused on solving the world's biggest problems."

Why she's on the list: Before she cofounded Debut Capital in 2020, Johnson led operations at Prolific Interactive, a company that developed mobile-app experiences for brands that was bought by WeWork. She also led Prolific's diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, where she met her Debut Capital cofounder, Bobak Emamian.

While working on those initiatives, the two realized the lack of funding to underrepresented startup founders and saw a huge opportunity to start Debut Capital, Johnson said. The firm has raised and deployed its initial $5 million Prototype Fund and is now raising a second fund, Johnson said.

Kelli N. Jones, Sixty8 Capital

Kelli N. Jones, Sixty8 Capital
Sixty8 Capital cofounder and managing partner Kelli N. Jones.      Courtesy of Kelli N. Jones

Notable investments: Qualifi, NICKLpass, Breakr, PredictionStrike, Sunny, and Oui The People

What kinds of companies she invests in: Pre-seed and seed-stage companies across sectors.

Why she's on the list: Jones was a program manager for Techstars, led sales and marketing for two venture-backed companies, and founded programs for children to explore careers in tech before cofounding Sixty8 Capital in 2019. Jones said that her firm invests in Black founders in the Midwest, mainly focusing on consumer startups.

For the past six years, she's also been running the nonprofit Be Nimble Foundation, which hosts workforce development programs to train and place Black workers in tech jobs. The nonprofit has also built four accelerators for Black founders.

Paul Judge, Open Opportunity Fund

Paul Judge, Open Opportunity Fund
Paul Judge, chairman of the Open Opportunity Fund.      Paul Judge

Notable investments: Lumu, Eight Sleep, Vitable, QuickNode

What kinds of companies they invest in: Stage agnostic startups in the fintech, health tech, and edtech spaces.

Why they're on the list: Paul Judge and former SoftBank executive Marcelo Claure bought the $100 million fund from SoftBank last year. Judge and Claure were on the fund's investment committee while it was at SoftBank. The Opportunity Fund, now renamed the Open Opportunity Fund, was created in June 2020 as companies launched initiatives to address racial equity following the murder of George Floyd and cater to investing in Black and Latinx founders. The duo plans to raise $200 million for a second fund after the success of the first.

Judge is a serial entrepreneur who cofounded three startups before becoming a venture investor: Purewire, a web security company that Barracuda Networks bought in 2008; smart wifi router maker Luma Home, which Newell Brands purchased in 2018; and security startup Pindrop. In venture capital, before the Open Opportunity Fund, Judge started the incubator TechSquare Labs and Atlanta-based firm Panoramic Ventures.

Alex King and Sylvester Mobley, Plain Sight Capital

Alex King and Sylvester Mobley, Plain Sight Capital
The Plain Sight Capital cofounders Sylvester Mobley and Alex King.      Plain Sight Capital

Notable investments: Kiddie Kredit, Stimulus, Accencio, and Sweft

What kinds of companies they invest in: Pre-seed to seed business-to-business, software-as-a-service companies that can "scale horizontally across industries, while using product-led strategies."

Why they're on the list: With the help of a team of advisors and partners, Mobley and King launched Plain Sight Capital in early 2021. Mobley felt the firm could bring more equity to the venture capital industry by putting underrepresented people in more influential positions where they control the flow of capital, he said.

Before founding the firm, Mobley launched the youth tech education nonprofit Coded by Kids, growing it from serving just a few children to hundreds across his hometown of Philadelphia. He's also an entrepreneur in residence at the early-stage VC firm Osage Venture Partners.

King, a serial entrepreneur for the past 15 years, has cofounded three companies, including GatherDocs, which was acquired. His passion for investing in underrepresented founders came after that exit, as he always saw founders struggling to get access to capital and wanted to change that, King said.

Sarah Kunst, Cleo Capital

Sarah Kunst, Cleo Capital
The founder and managing director of Cleo Capital, Sarah Kunst.      Cleo Capital

Notable investments: Forethought, Planetforward, Blocpower, Hill House, Ellevest, Modern Treasury, Kobold Metals

What kinds of companies she invests in: Pre-seed and seed companies across industries.

Why she's on the list: Kunst has spent her entire career in the tech industry wearing several hats, from startup operator to founder to venture capitalist. She founded the fitness app company Proday before being tapped to be a scout for Sequoia Capital. She's also been a senior advisor to the online dating company Bumble. In 2018, she launched her fund, Cleo Capital, and has backed companies across sectors, including fintech and climate-tech. While Kunst's firm isn't focused on backing underrepresented founders, most of the startups she invests in are led by them.

Lindsay Lee, Authentic Ventures

Lindsay Lee, Authentic Ventures
Lindsay Lee, founder and managing member, Authentic Ventures      Courtesy of Lindsay Lee

Notable investments: Pilot, Amira Learning, Wander, Byteboard, and Meaningful Gigs.

What kinds of companies he invests in: Primarily backs seed-stage companies across sectors with a "software overweight."

Why he's on the list: Lee had a prolific investing career before starting Authentic Ventures. He managed a family office in which he built a seed and early-stage portfolio, which included companies like AppLovin and GuardantHealth.

He launched Authentic Ventures in 2016, inspired by the fact that many underrepresented startup founders were being overlooked and there weren't many Black investors to invest in them, Lee said. Since then, 60% of the teams Authentic Ventures has backed include a woman or person of color on the founding team.

Sean Mendy, Concrete Rose Capital

Sean Mendy, Concrete Rose Capital
Sean Mendy, the founding partner of Concrete Rose Capital.      Sean Mendy

Notable investments: Esusu, The Browser Company, Syndio, Trala, Edlyft

What kinds of companies he invests in: Pre-seed to Series A startups that have underrepresented founders of color, address the needs of underrepresented consumers, and founders "authentically committed to building diverse teams and inclusive company cultures — regardless of their background"

Why he's on the list: Mendy is a Bay Area native who has spent his career working to close opportunity gaps in Silicon Valley. Before launching Concrete Rose Capital six years ago, Mendy was a startup founder and operator at startups and an executive at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula based in Menlo Park, California. He had a short stint as an advisor at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative before officially getting into VC at Next Play Ventures and later at Sixth Street as an entrepreneur in residence.

While at Sixth Street, Mendy incubated his firm, Concrete Rose Capital, which focused on funding startups, founders, and ideas in the "underserved ecosystem." It officially launched in 2020 and has raised $35 million. Mendy has tapped into an extensive network of Silicon Valley’s elite to help get his firm off the ground, which includes advisors like former LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, retired NBA star and investor Andre Iguodala, and Acrew Capital founding partner Theresia Gouw. The firm’s LPs include Reid Hoffman, Reid Hoffman Zoom founder and CEO Eric Yuan, and 23andMe cofounder and CEO Anne Wojcicki.

Kevin Moore, Serac Ventures

Kevin Moore, Serac Ventures
Kevin Moore is the founder and managing partner of Serac Ventures.      Kevin Moore

Notable investments: Emtech, Bump, SoloFunds, Social Crowd

What kinds of companies he invests in: Seed stage fintech, SaaS, and commerce enablement startups.

Why he's on the list: Kevin Moore's dream 20 years ago was to start his own venture capital firm. He recalled sitting in his work cubicle and jotting down goals. Launching a VC firm was at the top of that list. Last year, Moore realized that dream and launched Serac Ventures, an early-stage firm based in Oklahoma City.

Moore says his childhood was "turbulent" and that he experienced periods of homelessness and financial depravity. But that experience instilled valuable life skills that he hopes to pass on to the next generation of underrepresented startup founders. "Now that I've started my own venture capital firm, I have an opportunity to back underrepresented individuals (like me) with the same grit, determination, and mental fortitude that it takes to build something great," Moore told Business Insider.

Moore developed an interest in finance in his last year as an engineering student at Oklahoma State University After two years as an engineer, he switched fields and became a financial advisor, working at Northwestern Mutual and Morgan Stanley. He later got into VC at i2E, a private not-for-profit in Oklahoma that invests in entrepreneurs, and then at Spur Capital Partners, a fund of funds manager.

Marlon Nichols, MaC Venture Capital

Marlon Nichols, MaC Venture Capital
Marlon Nichols is a cofounder and managing general partner at MaC Venture Capital.      MaC Venture Capital

Notable investments: Blavity, Faze Clan, Gimlet Media, LIT Videobooks, Mansa, MongoDB, Pipe, PureStream, Ryff, Solo Funds, Spill, Thrive Market, Wonderschool

What kinds of companies he invests in: Seed-stage startups across industries

Why he's on the list: Nichols started his career as an operator at a seed-stage startup, helped scale it, and then transitioned to consulting. But while that career was fulfilling, he felt that something was missing. He wanted to work more closely with executives and decision-makers, be close to the latest technology, and work with various companies across industries. For Nichols, the answer was venture capital. He started in VC at Intel Capital, where he was an investment director, and then cofounded Cross Culture Ventures. That firm then merged with another to form MaC Venture Capital in 2021, which raised $110 million for its first fund and followed up with a $203 million second fund.

Nichols said while at Intel Capital, he felt limited by its mandate, which was tied to the strategic focus of the parent company, Intel. To have a greater impact and find more success, he felt that he needed to start a firm that focused on the seed stage across sectors and had an investment mandate that was "truly meritocratic."

"I believed and have since proven that if you focus on solving massive challenges and are truly open to working with the best teams, that your portfolio will consist of many companies founded by [people of color] and would outperform the market," Nichols told Business Insider.

Kim Nixon, Open Venture Capital

Kim Nixon, Open Venture Capital
The founder of Open Venture Capital, Kim Nixon.      Kim Nixon

Notable investments: Pear Suite, No Limbits, Open, Break the Love

What kinds of companies she invests in: Seed to Series A companies focused on health and wellness, which include sports, fitness, food as medicine, and food access, along with sexual, mental, physical, and financial health.

Why she's on the list: An operator turned VC, Nixon worked as an executive in the sports and health-and-wellness industries at companies like Under Armour, the yoga-accessory company Manduka, and the fitness startup Health House. She's also consulted for Headspace and Tonal. Thomas began as a real-estate investor and then started angel investing and advising before starting Open Venture Capital and becoming a venture partner at Techstars LA.

When Nixon started as a VC operating partner to underrepresented founders, she didn't necessarily know at the time she wanted to build a fund. But she saw a gap: Founders of color were asked for significant proof of market traction before having the funds to get that traction. While her fund doesn't have a diversity mandate, it offers advisory services catering to underrepresented founders.

Eghosa Omoigui, EchoVC

Eghosa Omoigui, EchoVC
The founder and managing general partner of EchoVC, Eghosa Omoigui      Eghosa Omoigui

Notable investments: Gro Intelligence, Pave,, Migo, SystemOne, Parallel Wireless

What kinds of companies he invests in: Pre-seed through Series A and will occasionally do Series B follow-ons with companies focused on financial services and inclusion, health and human services, smart planet, data and knowledge ecosystems, media, commerce, and infrastructure.

Why he's on the list: Omoigui wants to turn EchoVC into the "Sequoia Capital of startups led by underrepresented entrepreneurs." He started that mission in 2011 after a long career as a lawyer and then fell into VC while at Intel Capital, where he was initially a portfolio-management lawyer.

Having had exposure to investing in Silicon Valley, he realized he wanted to be more active in the VC ecosystem and went back to school to get his MBA while still working at Intel Capital. He climbed the ranks there and eventually made it to the investing side, where he backed companies like Betaworks, Grooveshark, and Yatra.

By 2010, Omoigui said that he had paid his dues and wanted to chart his own course, deciding to leave Intel Capital. Soon after, EchoVC was born. After his firm launched, Omoigui said he realized he was drawn to invest in "underdog founders that the market seemed to consistently underestimate," now known as underrepresented founders. Over a decade later, EchoVC is closing in on 65 portfolio companies.

Kimmy Paluch, Beta Boom

Kimmy Paluch, Beta Boom
Kimmy Paluch is a managing partner at Beta Boom.      Beta Boom

Key investments: Fiveable, Free From Market, Bolder Money

What kinds of companies she invests in: Pre-seed companies with a strong focus in digital health, fintech, and edtech. Check sizes range from $150,000 to $350,000.

Why she's on the list: Paluch cofounded Beta Boom with her husband, Sergio, in 2018 after more than a decade in Silicon Valley. They needed to branch out and invest in companies and founders outside that tech bubble and started Beta Boom in Salt Lake City. Underrepresented founders lead more than 90% of Beta Boom's portfolio companies, and Paluch told Business Insider her fund exclusively invests in rising tech hubs outside Silicon Valley.

Before launching the firm, she moved to San Francisco in the early 2000s, hoping to land an engineering job, but she had a hard time. A year later, she moved into product management and design, starting her own product-innovation consulting firm, Boom Factor, where she spent a decade leading dozens of innovation initiatives.

Ayana Parsons and Arian Simone, Fearless Fund

Ayana Parsons and Arian Simone, Fearless Fund
Fearless Fund cofounders Ayana Parsons and Arian Simone      Fearless Fund

Notable investments: Partake, Fresh Bellies, and Bitsy's

What kinds of companies they invest in: Women-of-color-led consumer and technology businesses at the pre-seed to Series B stages.

Why they're on the list: Simone was laid off from her first job early in her career and lived in her car for seven months, selling her clothes for cash. She ultimately started her public relations and marketing firm and gained clients like Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, and Disney Pictures. In 2019, she launched Fearless Fund with Parsons to invest in companies led by women of color.

Parsons, the firm's chief operating officer, was previously the global head of retail, consumer goods, and lifestyle industries at the World Economic Forum and worked in marketing for companies like Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble, according to a Fearless Fund spokesperson.

Promise Phelon, Growth Warrior Capital

Promise Phelon, Growth Warrior Capital
Promise Phelon, the founder and managing partner of the VC firm Growth Warrior Capital.      Growth Warrior Capital

Notable investments: Captain, ForceMetrics, Barometer

What kinds of companies she invests in: Seed and Series A rounds of companies. Her firm looks for "dangerous" tech startups in areas such as fintech, insurance tech, artificial intelligence, and the future of work, a spokesperson said.

Why she's on the list: Phelon has worked as an executive in the tech industry for more than 20 years. She previously founded a marketing firm and later served as the chief revenue officer of JazzHR and the CEO of TapInfluence, leading that company through its sale to Izea in 2018. In those roles, she's raised more than $100 million in venture capital — and in the process, she told Business Insider, she often found herself being the only woman of color in the room.

Phelon recognized that increasing the diversity among early checkwriters into startups could help change that. In 2021, she launched her early-stage venture firm, Growth Warrior Capital. Her firm's ultimate goal is to equip founders from diverse backgrounds to build wealth for themselves and their communities, a principle she calls "economic sovereignty."

La Keisha Landrum Pierre, Emmeline Ventures

La Keisha Landrum Pierre, Emmeline Ventures
La Keisha Landrum Pierre is the cofounder and general partner of Emmeline Ventures.      Emmeline Ventures

Notable investments: Wealthmore, LunaJoy

What kinds of companies she invests in: Pre-seed and seed startups led by women founders building in sectors like femtech, mental health, care economy, and diversified content.

Why she's on the list: Before becoming a venture capitalist, Pierre worked at the intersection of tech, impact, and digital media as the CEO of one of Nigeria's biggest digital media startups, Sahara Reporters Media Group. While there, she grew the company and partnered with nonprofits to launch a first-of-its-kind Civic Media Lab in Lagos. Pierre then cofounded and was the managing director of NLA Ventures, where she invested in healthcare, sustainability, and cybersecurity.

She met her Emmeline Ventures cofounders, Naseem Sayani and Azin Radsan Van Alebeek, while at a 12-week investor boot camp focused on bringing more women and people of color to venture investing in 2020, and they launched the firm two years later. Pierre said she was influenced by how she was treated differently from her male counterparts while fundraising as the Sahara Reporters Media Group CEO. After that experience, she said she wanted to "change the narrative and also be amongst the people who made it easier for underrepresented founders."

Nasir Qadree, Zeal Capital Partners

Nasir Qadree, Zeal Capital Partners
Nasir Qadree, the founder and managing partner of Zeal Capital Partners.      Nasir Qadree

Notable investments: Esusu, Humanly, Icon Savings Plan

What kinds of companies he invests in: Seed and Series A startups in fintech, future of work and learning, and health equity

Why he's on the list: Qadree was eager to learn more about investing after graduating from Hampton University. He moved to New York and landed jobs at Goldman Sachs and State Street. He then co-owned a coffee shop in Manhattan's West Village. He was an education advisor for the Connecticut Department of Education before landing in VC at Village Capital and AT&T's $400 million Aspire Social Investment Fund. All of these experiences, he told Business Insider, helped crystallize his vision for what would ultimately become Zeal Capital Partners, the venture fund he launched in 2020.

Washington, DC-based Zeal raised a $50 million fund in 2021 after it set out to raise $20 million to invest in underrepresented founders building startups addressing wealth, skills, and opportunity gaps and "creating employment pathways, building financial wellness, and driving health equity," Qadree said.

Sydney Thomas, Symphonic Capital

Sydney Thomas, Symphonic Capital
The founder of Symphonic Capital, Sydney Thomas.      Sydney Thomas

Notable investments: Guava, Aidaly, Carda (at Precursor Ventures)

What kinds of companies she invests in: Pre-seed startups

Why she's on the list: After working in the public sector and with large corporations and startups, Thomas jumped into venture investing at San Francisco-based seed-stage firm Precursor Ventures and said she was "overwhelmed by the possibility to impact the future through this work."

She's spent the past six-plus years studying and investing at the pre-seed stage. She loves this stage of company in particular because it has the "opportunity to incentivize and create new ideas and businesses that push our country forward," she said.

Thomas launched Symphonic Capital in 2022 because she saw the potential for a VC fund to build a long-term mindset at these earliest stages.

Lo Toney, Plexo Capital

Lo Toney, Plexo Capital
Lo Toney, the founding managing partner of Plexo Capital.      Plexo Capital

Notable investments: Blavity, Mayvenn, StyleSeat, Wonderschool, Wrapbook

What kinds of companies he invests in: Plexo Capital invests in venture-capital funds and makes direct investments in select startups, with a focus on diversity.

Why he's on the list: Toney launched the institutional fund Plexo Capital with the thesis that building a network of fund managers and institutional partners from diverse backgrounds could provide an edge in boosting fund returns.

Previously a partner at Comcast Ventures and GV, Toney often saw startups led by women and people of color go overlooked in the venture capital world. Plexo launched in 2018 as a spinout from GV, with a $42.5 million fund. Plexo now has a presence in several prominent firms led by women and people of color, including MaC Venture Capital, Female Founders Fund, Equal Ventures, Base10 Partners, RareBreed Ventures, and Ulu Ventures.

In addition to backing those firms, it also makes direct investments in startups alongside them, with a similar emphasis on backing founders from diverse backgrounds. Plexo also runs a mentorship program for new fund managers called GPx.

Aaron Walker, Camelback Ventures

Aaron Walker, Camelback Ventures
Camelback Ventures founder Aaron Walker.      Camelback Ventures

Notable investments: Gritly, Social Cipher, Thrive

What kinds of companies he invests in: Pre-seed companies focused on education, workforce development, health, and financial inclusion.

Why he's on the list: Walker started Camelback Ventures nine years ago after a career as a ninth-grade English teacher in West Philadelphia, a lawyer putting together deals for companies, and as portfolio director for the Fund for Public Schools in New York City, supporting new ideas to improve education. Since Camelback's founding, the firm has invested $5 million in more than 100 companies led by underrepresented startup founders.

Do you know of other Black VCs who started or lead funds to back underrepresented founders? Let us know by contacting Vishal Persaud at

April Joyner contributed to a previous version of this list.

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