Black VCs Making a Big Impact

Black investors remain underrepresented in VC. The latest VC Human Capital Survey tracked little progress in the representation of Black partners between 2018 and 2020, though there is some optimism to be found in the growing representation of Black junior investment professionals. Venture Forward’s mission to diversify and empower the VC industry includes accelerating the representation of Black investors and recognizing changemakers who share our vision for a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive venture community. Last year, we highlighted leaders and initiatives driving more Black representation in VC. This year, we’re highlighting the accomplishments of 15 Black VCs – rising stars to watch, community catalyzers, and investors making significant impact.

While we only featured 15 Black VCs in this post, there are many more whose accomplishments deserve to be recognized and celebrated – please help us do so by tagging them on social!

Adeyemi Ajao

Cofounder & Managing Partner, Base10 Partners
San Francisco, CA

Adeyemi (“Ade”) cofounded Base10 Partners in 2017, which he has since built into the largest US, Black-led VC firm, with $630M+ in AUM. Under Ade’s leadership, Base10 – a member of the VC Diversity Pledge – raised a new $250M fund in 2021 to grow HBCU endowments and catalyze wealth creation. Ade volunteers with CODE2040, an organization that creates access, awareness and opportunities for gifted Black and Latin engineering talent. Prior to starting his own VC fund, Ade was the cofounder and CEO of Tuenti (The “Spanish Facebook” which was acquired by Telefonica in 2010 for $100M), and launched Workday Ventures, the first fund focused on applied AI for enterprise software.

Mercedes Bent

Partner, Lightspeed
San Francisco, CA

Mercedes is a member of Lightspeed’s consumer investing team, where she invests in sectors driving the economic empowerment of the individual including crypto, fintech, career mobility, and the creator economy. She joined Lightspeed in 2019 after spending a decade working in finance and startups including Goldman Sachs, The Federal Reserve, General Assembly, and starting two of her own businesses. She co-leads the LATAM region for Lightspeed as well as Lightspeed’s Scout Fund, a preseed investment vehicle. Read more about Mercedes’ expertise in blockchain and crypto and why companies should focus on this strategy in their growth.

Candice Matthews Brackeen

General Partner, Lightship Capital
Cincinnati, OH

Candice co-launched Lightship Capital with a $50M debut fund to back underrepresented founders, including people of color, women, members of the LGBT+ community, those with disabilities, and all others who have been overlooked and underfunded by the traditional VC community. The firm focuses on CPG, E-Commerce, Sustainability, Artificial Intelligence, and Healthtech. Candice also serves as Executive Director and Founder of Lightship Foundation, an impact-driven organization enabling growth within the minority innovation economy through entrepreneur education and investment. Her dedication to moving inclusion in innovation forward is also reflected in her advisory roles across numerous organizations including the Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium for NASA, where she leads diversity of thought as the United States of America harnesses and accelerates technology toward a sustainable return of humans to the Moon’s surface. Candice serves on the Cincinnati Innovation District Advisory Council, the Endeavor Northwest Arkansas Board of Directors, and is a University of Cincinnati Kautz Uible Fellow. Venture Forward fun fact: Candice was a speaker at the inaugural VC University LIVE at the University of Michigan in May 2019.

Brandon Brooks

Founding Partner, Overlooked Ventures
South Carolina

Brandon—with his Overlooked Ventures cofounder Janine Sickmeyer – is raising an inaugural VC fund with a hard cap of $50M. The founder-turned-VC is raising a fund that focuses on “early-stage companies with one or more historically ignored founders.” In the interests of mitigating bias and ensuring equitable opportunities for founders, Overlooked Ventures refuses warm intros; all founders must go through the exact same process to connect with the firm. As of late December 2021, the fund had made its first seven investments. (Overlooked Ventures’ advisory board includes Mac Conwell, also featured on this list!)

Mac Conwell

Founder & Managing Partner, RareBreed Ventures
Baltimore, MD

Mac launched RareBreed Ventures in 2020 after serving as a fund manager at TEDCO (Maryland Technology Development Corporation). Mac leveraged the power of Twitter to raise $10M for his first fund, a pre-seed and early-stage fund that primarily invests outside Silicon Valley, New York, and Boston. His nontraditional path to fundraising, openness to sharing guidance publicly, and penchant for breaking VC norms has made Mac a clear rising star to watch in VC. Venture Forward fun facts: Mac was awarded a full scholarship to Cohort 5 of VC University ONLINE and is was an emerging manager participant in LP Office Hours. He was also a featured speaker in a recent VC University Lunch & Learn on fund structures.

Jackson Cummings

Head of Wellington Access Ventures, Wellington Management
Oakland, CA

In June 2021, Jackson joined Wellington Management to lead Wellington Access Ventures, the firm’s diversity-focused investing on its alternative platforms. He was previously an investor at Salesforce Ventures, and co-created the Black Venture Institute (BVI), a curriculum-based program dedicated to teaching Black operators the foundations of angel and venture investing (note: BVI is currently accepting applications for the Spring 2022 cohort!). Jackson is also a board observer at BLCK VC and a Kauffman Fellow (Class 25).

Jackie Grant

Principal, Abingworth
Boston, MA

Jackie is a leading life science investor, with a PhD in Neuroscience from Stanford School of Medicine and an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. She joined Abingworth in 2018, where she sits on the boards of Atsena and Nido, serves as an observer on the Anjarium and Glycomine boards, and actively supports company creation efforts; she is responsible for a number of emerging new companies currently in stealth mode. In 2020, Jackie authored a critical call to action for the VC community to invest in increasing racial diversity in Nature. Here’s a preview video of Jackie’s article and call to action.

Arlan Hamilton

Founder & Managing Partner, Backstage Capital
Los Angeles, CA

Since she launched Backstage Capital in 2015, Arlan has raised more than $20M and invested in more than 200 companies led by underestimated founders. The firm is dedicated to minimizing funding disparities in tech by investing in high-potential founders who are people of color, women, and/or LGBT. She and her firm have broken the traditional VC investing molds, pursuing creative, inclusive strategies like crowdfunding a portion of their fund. Arlan’s 2020 book It’s About Damn Time is a VC must-read. She also produces a podcast (“Your First Million”) and leads the educational program Arlan’s Academy. Arlan was featured on the cover of Fast Company magazine as the first Black woman non-celebrity to do so. She is also the founder of Runner, an operations and HR talent source for inclusive startups. Venture Forward fun fact: Arlan is a past speaker in the VC University Lunch & Learn series and was the keynote speaker for VC University LIVE at SMU in November 2020.

Aaron Holiday

Cofounder & Managing Partner, 645 Ventures
New York, NY

In 2014, Aaron cofounded 645 Ventures with a focus on early-stage, data-driven investing. With backing by university endowments, pension funds, foundations, and other leading institutional investors, the firm has $200M+ in AUM and closed its most recent (third) fund in 2020 at $160M. The firm recently opened a San Francisco office to join 645’s New York hub, powering them and founders with a coast-to-coast ecosystem through their Connected Network. Here’s a look back at the firm’s 2021 year in review, where 3 portfolio companies exceeded $1 billion in valuations and the portfolio raised over $1.1 billion in follow-on funding. Aaron also made the 2021 Midas Brink List of VC investor up-and-comers to watch, with his key deals to date: Resident, Goldbelly, Fiscalnote, Iterable, and Squire. The firm also has a unique 645 Cares program, where the firm “gives back to causes that drive positive societal change.”

Candice Morgan

Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion Partner, GV
San Francisco, CA

Candice joined GV in January 2020 as the VC industry’s first Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (“EDI”) Partner to lead the firm’s diversity efforts and to guide GV in three key areas: 1) equity at the firm and across the VC ecosystem; 2) equity in GV’s investing strategy; and 3) equity in GV’s portfolio. Candice has advised more than 50 of GV’s portfolio companies on EDI strategies, and GV deployed nearly a quarter billion to women and underrepresented minority-led companies over 2020. She is on the board of Women Who Code and on the Steering Committee of BLCK VC. Prior to GV, Candice was the first Head of Inclusion & Diversity at Pinterest, where she spent over four years leading strategy and programs to drive diverse talent, policy and product outcomes. Read more from Candice on how to build a race-conscious equity, diversity, and inclusion strategy.

Henri Pierre-Jacques & Jarrid Tingle

Cofounders & Managing Partners, Harlem Capital
New York, NY

Henri and Jarrid launched Harlem Capital and closed their first fund ($40M) in 2019 with a mission “to change the face of entrepreneurship by investing in 1,000 diverse founders over 20 years.” Fund II closed last year at $134M. So far, their portfolio of 39 investments spans across 14 cities. Since 2017, Harlem Capital has also produced substantive research and data reports highlighting diverse founders and funders. They’ve also developed a thoughtful 10-week internship program, to create opportunity for up-and-coming VC investors to get hands-on experience and break into the industry (note: the summer 2022 application is currently open, and the deadline to apply is February 15!). Hear more about Harlem’s mission on a recent Radio Milwaukee podcast episode.

Carmichael Roberts

Cofounder & Managing Partner, Material Impact
Boston, MA

Carmichael has been a tech VC investor for more than 15 years. After serving as General Partner of North Bridge Venture Partners for 10 years, he co-launched his own fund Material Impact in 2016, focused on the materials science sector. The firm closed its second fund in 2020 at $200M. He is also member of Breakthrough Energy, a mission-oriented group committed to changing the world by creating and building companies that address the threat of climate change and long-term sustainability of the planet. Carmichael is a former NVCA board member, where he served on the Diversity Task Force. Hear more about Carmichael’s journey into VC, his firm, and his views on diversity in the VC industry in this Fairview Capital interview. Venture Forward fun facts: Carmichael has been an integral part of Venture Forward’s LP Office Hours program, leading the Boston program and hosting office hours at the fund of funds-focused virtual program.

Disclosure: Carmichael is a Venture Forward donor.

Sydney Thomas

Principal, Precursor Ventures
Oakland, CA

In 2016, Sydney decided to launch her career in venture by building Precursor Ventures alongside Charles Hudson. She now leads deals within the fund focused on her thesis – the long-tail. In addition to all of this, she was selected for the prestigious Kauffman Fellowship (Class 26), sits on the board of Project Include, and serves as a Public Safety and Services Commissioner for the City of Oakland. She also co-creates the SMB Syndicate with two other awesome Black women – Tessa at Capitalize and Jennifer at Bonfire. In 2020, Marie Claire featured Sydney in an article on Black women in VC who are on a mission to disrupt the industry. That year, TechCrunch also featured her promotion. We’re grateful to witness Sydney as the trailblazer she is in the VC ecosystem and can’t wait to see what she does next!

Disclosure: Precursor Ventures is represented on the Venture Forward board

Lo Toney

Founding Managing Partner, Plexo Capital
San Francisco, CA

Lo is the founder and managing partner of Plexo Capital, the firm he incubated inside of GV (Google Ventures) and spun out in 2018. Plexo Capital focuses on driving alpha through a unique model that also “fosters diversity in venture capital.” The firm invests in VC funds, led by women and people of color, and startups. Plexo Capital’s debut fund closed in 2019 at $42.5M, and the firm is currently investing out of Fund II. In fall 2021, Plexo Capital launched GPx, an open-source educational community supporting emerging fund managers. Like Base10 Partners, Plexo Capital is part of the VC Diversity Pledge and has pledged 1% of the firm’s profits to HBCU Hampton University. Lo started his career as a VC in 2015 when he joined Comcast Ventures’ Catalyst Fund, focused on investing in minority entrepreneurs. Venture Forward fun fact: Lo participated as an LP host at our inaugural LP Office Hours program in July 2018 and at the LA program in November 2019.

Sources: Firm websites, VC bios, LinkedIn, Twitter, PitchBook, VC/tech news outlets

Additional Shoutouts

We also want to send a special shoutout to recognize members of the Venture Forward and NVCA boards of directors who have established themselves as not only leading investors but who have shaped our (and the industry’s) diversity efforts to increase Black representation. Thank you, David Hall (Revolution), Charles Hudson (Precursor Ventures), Elliott Robinson (Bessemer Venture Partners), and Nicole Walker (Arboretum Ventures)!

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