Spotlight on Black emerging managers: Shila Nieves Burney

News & Insights

This is the last installment in a four-part series. Read parts one, two, and three!

According to Venture Forward’s latest VC Human Capital Survey, Black investors represented just 3% of VC partners in 2020. The survey found that newer firms (i.e., those founded within the past ten years) had a higher representation of Black partners. In recent years, we’ve seen several, talented Black investors launching their own funds and making a big impact.

This month, we’re showcasing five up-and-coming Black emerging managers to amplify their incredible work. Combined, they manage $120M in VC assets.

Shila Nieves Burney is the General Partner at Zane Venture Fund, a firm focused on investing in diverse founders in the Southeast and other underfunded regions.

Sarah: How did you become a VC investor? Walk us through your career journey.

Shila: I’ve spent over 20 years in the nonprofit sector and the public health and education systems working to create equitable solutions for marginalized communities. In 2018 an entrepreneur approached me to source investors so that he could scale his business. At the time, venture capital was a brand-new phenomenon for me. Throughout the process of helping him raise funds, I realized that investors were missing out on a huge opportunity to back racially diverse entrepreneurs. So I decided to get educated and jump in to start my own VC fund.

Sarah: And how has it been going so far?

Shila: My mentor told me that becoming a VC would be hard, but not impossible, and I’d say that’s been true. My goal as an investor is to promote a cyclical wealth effect: that the founders we back take that capital and invest in other founders who look like them, ultimately closing the racial wealth gap and returning significant capital to our investors. We have eight investments so far and are still raising. While challenging, the process has also been incredibly rewarding.

Sarah: What’s your favorite career accomplishment to date?

Shila: When I was at the American Cancer Society, I worked on a health equity campaign with TV personality Steve Harvey to encourage Black men to get colonoscopies so their doctors could detect early signs of cancer. The campaign was hugely impactful and the number of men getting tested skyrocketed after the project debuted. We truly saved lives.

Regarding VC, I created Zane Access, the nonprofit arm of Zane Venture Fund, which provides capital readiness programming for underserved entrepreneurs. Starting a firm wasn’t enough for me – I wanted to educate people, too! To date, 67 companies have participated, raising over $13M in funding and hiring over 50 roles.

Sarah: What are you excited about for the future of venture and startups?

Shila: I’m excited about the LPs who see the opportunity in investing in diverse founders, not as charity work, but to level the playing field of opportunity and access. I’m also excited about the policy changes coming down the pipeline because a few of us stood up to say this wealth gap is a problem and we’re going to fix it: come hell or high water.

Follow Shila on social media to learn more about her! If you want to learn more about Venture Forward and our mission, subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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