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Financial institutions can support COVID-19 crowdfunding campaigns

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic adversely affected the financial outlook for millions of people, and continues to cause significant fiscal distress to millions more, but such challenging times have also wrought a more resilient and resourceful financial system.

With the ingenuity of crowdfunding, considered to be one of the last decade’s greatest “success stories,” and such desperate times calling for bold new ways to finance a wide variety of COVID-19 relief efforts, we are now seeing an excellent opportunity for banks and other financial institutions to partner with crowdfunding platforms and campaigns, bolstering their efforts and impact.

COVID-19 crowdfunding: A world of possibilities to help others

Before considering how financial institutions can assist with crowdfunding campaigns, we must first look at the diverse array of impressive results from this financing option during the pandemic. As people choose between paying the rent or buying groceries, and countless other despairing circumstances, we must look to some of the more inventive ways businesses, entrepreneurs and people in general are using crowdfunding to provide the COVID-19 relief that cash-strapped consumers with maxed-out or poor credit do not have access to or the government has not provided.

Some great examples of COVID-19 crowdfunding at its best include the following:

The possibilities presented by crowdfunding in this age of the coronavirus are endless, and financial institutions can certainly lend their assistance. Here is how.

1. Acknowledge that crowdfunding is not a trend

Crowdfunding is a substantial and ever-so relevant means of financing all sorts of businesses, people and products. Denying its substantive contribution to the economy, especially in digital finance during this pandemic, is akin to wearing a monocle when you actually need glasses for both of your eyes. Do not be shortsighted on this. Crowdfunding is here to stay. In fact, countless crowdfunding businesses and platforms continue to make major moves within the markets globally. For example, Parpera from Australia, in coordination with the equity-crowdfunding platforms, hopes to rival the likes of GoFundMe, Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

2. Be willing to invest in crowdfunded campaigns

This might seem contrary to the original purpose of these campaigns, but the right amount of seed-cash infusions to campaigns that are aligned with your goals as a company is a win-win for both you and the entrepreneurs or causes, especially now in such desperate times of need.

3. Get involved in the community and its crowdfunding efforts

This means that small businesses and medium-sized businesses within your institution’s community could use your help. Consider investing in crowdfunding campaigns similar to the ones mentioned earlier. Better yet, bridge the gaps between financial institutions and crowdfunding platforms and campaigns so that smaller businesses get the opportunities they need to survive through these difficult times.

4. Enable sustainable development goals (SDG)

Last month, the United Nations Development Program released a report proclaiming that digital finance is now allowing people from all over the world to customize and personalize their money-management experiences such that their financial needs have the potential to be more readily and sufficiently met. Financial institutions willing to work as a partner with crowdfunding platforms and campaigns will further these goals and set society up for a more robust rebound from any possible detrimental effects of the COVID-19 recession.

5. Lend your regulatory expertise to this relatively new industry

Other countries are already beginning to figure out better ways to regulate the crowdfunding financing industry, such as the recent updates to the European Union’s handling of crowdfunding regulations, set to take effect this fall. Well-established financial institutions can lend their support in defining the policies and standard operating procedures for crowdfunding even during such a chaotic time as the COVID-19 pandemic. Doing so will ensure fair and equitable financing for all, at least, in theory.

While originally born out of either philanthropy or early-adopting innovation, depending on the situation, person or product, crowdfunding has become an increasingly reliable means of providing COVID-19 economic relief when other organizations, including the government and some banks, cannot provide sufficient assistance. Financial institutions must lend their vast expertise, knowledge and resources to these worthy causes; after all, we are all in this together.

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Accel VCs Sonali De Rycker and Andrew Braccia say European deal pace is ‘incredibly active’

The other week TechCrunch’s Extra Crunch Live series sat down with Accel VCs Sonali De Rycker and Andrew Braccia to chat about the state of the global startup investing ecosystem. Given their firm’s broad geographic footprint, we wanted to know what was going on in different startup markets, and inside a number of business-model varietals that we are tracking, like API-focused startups and low-code work.

As with all Extra Crunch Live episodes, we’ve included the full video below, along with a number of favorite quotes from the conversation.

Above the paywall, I wanted to share what De Rycker said about the European startup ecosystem: It’s been stuck in my head for the last day, because her comments points to a future where there is no single center of startup gravity.

Instead, considering her bullishness on her local scene, we’re going to see at least three major hubs, namely North America with a locus in the United States, Asia with a possible capital in India, and Europe, with a somewhat distributed layout.

Here’s De Rycker from our chat, responding to my question about how active the European venture and startup scene is today (transcript has been lightly edited for clarity):

What has surprised me even more [than change in the European startup scene over time] is the acceleration in the last couple of years. And I think it’s continued in the last few months, despite the COVID environment.

And that’s really because Europe isn’t just one location, right? It’s a collection of different ecosystems, different locations, different hubs. At any point in time there are 15 to 20 cities that are relevant, and they’ve all sort of reached this tipping point. And together, Europe is at this inflection point, in terms of the quality of entrepreneurs, [and] the number of opportunities. And it feels like it’s all come together with the digitization that’s going on that we’re all, you know, very much believing in right now. And the fact that there’s a ton of capital around. So I would say that we’re seeing a pretty frenetic pace, more than, candidly, pre-COVID, which is not something we expected. […]

But I would say that overall, Europe is incredibly active [regarding] deal pace, deal count, I wouldn’t say it’s very different from what I understand to be the situation in the U.S.

Undergirding what De Rycker said above, TechCrunch recently reported on the financial results of TransferWise, a European fintech unicorn that grew 70% in the last year, to £302.6 million in revenue. Toss in Adyen’s epic run as a public European tech company and there’s lots to celebrate from the continent, even if we don’t read enough about here in the States.

Extra Crunch Live continues with some really damn fun stuff coming up (including a few more that I am hosting). So, make sure you’re in and ready for the next edition as we dig deeper into season two.

Hit the jump for the full chat and some further bits from the transcript.

Sonali De Rycker and Andrew Braccia

Here’s the full video:

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Healthcare entrepreneurs should prepare for an upcoming VC/PE bubble

While many industries are taking a major hit due to the ongoing pandemic, the healthcare technology market continues to grow. In fact, total healthcare-related innovation funding for H1 2020 hit $9.1 billion, up nearly 19% compared to the same period in 2019, according to StartUp Health’s 2020 Midyear Funding Report.

As the virus continues to pose new challenges for the industry, investors are rushing to pump money into startups addressing healthcare sub-sectors ranging from telemedicine to patient financial engagement.

The inefficiencies and frustrations of the U.S. healthcare system make it a tempting target for disruption-oriented VCs. But here’s the hard truth: Healthcare is unlike any other industry. It has a morass of regulations that a “move-fast-and-break-things” startup can’t handle over the long term.

Healthcare is also a sensitive, personal issue. As such, patients are inherently reluctant to adapt to new technologies, even when they’re dissatisfied with the status quo. Consequently, it’s crucial that startup technology leaders in this space understand how to wade through these unpredictable waters in order to thrive and deliver a strong ROI for investors.

But here’s the hard truth: Healthcare is unlike any other industry. It has a morass of regulations that a “move-fast-and-break-things” startup can’t handle over the long term.

Entering health technology

VCs are seeing all the latest headlines about COVID-19 and spying a potential money-making opportunity to invest capital into innovative startups. However, they must overcome barriers to entry when offering patient-focused, technology-centric solutions before they can compete with legacy players. As the saying goes, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” and, within the healthcare startup space, COVID-19 presents an opportunity for those who stood ready to offer a solution to the market before the situation became a crisis.

Therefore, VC and PE investors should focus on the problem the potential startup is trying to solve as recent times have rapidly refashioned the need for certain solutions. Are there other key players leading the market, or is the startup a duplicative offering that is currently available? If the value proposition is unique, it may be interesting. If it’s not, investors may want to think twice.

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Want to hire and retain high-quality developers? Give them stimulating work

Software developers are some of the most in-demand workers on the planet. Not only that, they’re complex creatures with unique demands in terms of how they define job fulfillment. With demand for developers on the rise (the number of jobs in the field is expected to grow by 22% over the next decade), companies are under pressure to do everything they can to attract and retain talent.

First and foremost — above salary — employers must ensure that product teams are made up of developers who feel creatively stimulated and intellectually challenged. Without work that they feel passionate about, high-quality programmers won’t just become bored and potentially seek opportunities elsewhere, the standard of work will inevitably drop. In one survey, 68% of developers said learning new things is the most important element of a job.

The worst thing for a developer to discover about a new job is that they’re the most experienced person in the room and there’s little room for their own growth.

Yet with only 32% of developers feeling “very satisfied” with their jobs, there’s scope for you to position yourself as a company that prioritizes the development of its developers, and attract and retain top talent. So, how exactly can you ensure that your team stays stimulated and creatively engaged?

Allow time for personal projects

78% of developers see coding as a hobby — and the best developers are the ones who have a true passion for software development, in and out of the workplace. This means they often have their own personal passions within the space, be it working with specific languages or platforms, or building certain kinds of applications.

Back in their 2004 IPO letter, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page wrote:

We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google. [This] empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner.

At DevSquad, we’ve adopted a similar approach. We have an “open Friday” policy where developers are able to learn and enhance their skills through personal projects. As long as the skills being gained contribute to work we are doing in other areas, the developers can devote that time to whatever they please, whether that’s contributing to open-source projects or building a personal product. In fact, 65% of professional developers on Stack Overflow contribute to open-source projects once a year or more, so it’s likely that this is a keen interest within your development team too.

Not only does this provide a creative outlet for developers, the company also gains from the continuously expanding skillset that comes as a result.

Provide opportunities to learn and teach

One of the most demotivating things for software developers is work that’s either too difficult or too easy. Too easy, and developers get bored; too hard, and morale can dip as a project seems insurmountable. Within our team, we remain hyperaware of the difficulty levels of the project or task at hand and the level of experience of the developers involved.

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3 founders on why they pursued alternative startup ownership structures

There is no one-size-fits all model for building a startup.

At TechCrunch Disrupt, we heard from a handful of founders about alternative approaches to creating a sustainable company that ensures more than just VCs and early founders benefit from its success. 

One way is building a cooperative, which Driver’s Seat CEO Hays Witt described as “a kind of corporate entity that both allows and requires that we return the majority of our profits to our members, and that our members have a majority of governance.”

Driver’s Seat helps ride-hail drivers use data to maximize their earnings. It works by requiring drivers to install an app that educates them about how the co-op collects and uses their data. In exchange, the app gives them insights about their real hourly wages after expenses and how those wages relate to different driving strategies.

“At a community level, what we do is sort of align everybody’s interest so that as gig workers come into our co-op, as they generate data, the value of that data in the aggregate gets higher and higher,” Witt said. “The dividends that we’re able to return back to drivers gets higher and also the kind of insights we’re able to give communities about work gets higher at the same time. So we kind of align all of our impact and mission goals. And our business model is through our co-op structure.”

That’s not to say Driver’s Seat does not create returns for its investors — investors are just one group of many that benefit from the company’s success. Witt said a desire for accountability made him decide to form a co-op.

“If we are always accountable to our co-op members, and our co-op members are gig workers, then we’re going to know that we’re accountable to the right things,” Witt said. “Now, we have investor members, too. We’re accountable to them, too. But our structure means that the gig workers always have at least that 51%. [ … ] it’s certainly not the only way to build a business. But, you know, for us, it was the way that we would build a business that would align with our mission of really changing the gig economy.”

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Selling a startup can come with an emotional cost

What’s it like to walk away after pouring your heart and soul into building something?

Every founder dreams of building a substantial company. For those who make it through the myriad challenges, it typically results in an exit. If it’s through an acquisition, that can mean cashing in your equity, paying back investors and rewarding long-time employees, but it also usually results in a loss of power and a substantially reduced role.

Some founders hang around for a while before leaving after an agreed-upon time period, while others depart right away because there is simply no role left for them. However it plays out, being acquired can be an emotional shock: The company you spent years building is no longer under your control,

We spoke to a couple of startup founders who went through this experience to learn what the acquisition process was like, and how it feels to give up something after pouring your heart and soul into building it.

Knowing when it’s time to sell

There has to be some impetus to think about selling: Perhaps you’ve reached a point where growth stalls, or where you need to raise a substantial amount of cash to take you to the next level.

For Tracy Young, co-founder and former CEO at PlanGrid, the forcing event was reaching a point where she needed to raise funds to continue.

After growing a company that helped digitize building plans into a $100 million business, Young ended up selling it to Autodesk for $875 million in 2018. It was a substantial exit, but Young said it was more of a practical matter because the path to further growth was going to be an arduous one.

“When we got the offer from Autodesk, literally we would have had to execute flawlessly and the world had to stay good for the next three years for us to have the same outcome,” she said at a panel on exiting at TechCrunch Disrupt last week.

“As CEO, [my] job is to choose the best path forward for all stakeholders of the company — for our investors, for our team members, for our customers — and that was the path we chose.”

For Rami Essaid, who founded bot mitigation platform Distil Networks in 2011, slowing growth encouraged him to consider an exit. The company had reached around $25 million run rate, but a lack of momentum meant that shifting to a broader product portfolio would have been too heavy a lift.

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Fundraising lessons from David Rogier of MasterClass

Conventional wisdom says your company should be up and running and have some traction before you raise. But MasterClass co-founder David Rogier says entrepreneurs should try to raise funds before launching.

Before going live, David raised $6.4 million — $1.9 million in a seed round and $4.5 million in a Series A — for what would become MasterClass. To date, the company has raised six funding rounds and secured almost $240 million.

MasterClass’s first investment actually came from Michael Dearing, the founder of VC firm Harrison Metal and one of David’s business school professors. After graduating from Stanford University Graduate School of Business, David started working for Michael at the firm. About a year in, he quit to start his own company.

When David gave his notice, Michael told him he would invest just under $500,000, even though David didn’t have an idea yet.

“I was honored, I was thrilled and I was terrified, all within the span of 10 seconds,” David says. “It was an amazing gift, but I also felt an immense amount of pressure. I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and I didn’t want to mess it up.”

He drew a blank for a year, but finally got inspiration from a story his grandmother told him when he was in second grade. In it, she stressed the importance of education, the one thing no one can ever take away from you. Upon remembering that lesson, David knew he wanted to give as many people as possible the opportunity to learn from the best, and MasterClass was born.

In an episode of How I Raised It, David shares some of his secrets to raising capital.

First money, then metrics

Securing funding before you even launch your company definitely isn’t a common practice. But David is adamant that you should attempt it.

“Your metrics out of the gate are never going to be great,” David says. “You need enough funds to have the time to actually improve them.” At the beginning, instead of relying on data, you should sell investors on your vision.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Many investors don’t want to give you a dime until you’ve proven your concept works. To overcome this barrier, David figured out what he could do to help minimize risk for investors.

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SaaS Ventures takes the investment road less traveled

Open since 2017, the firm just launched its second $20 million fund

Most venture capital firms are based in hubs like Silicon Valley, New York City and Boston. These firms nurture those ecosystems and they’ve done well, but SaaS Ventures decided to go a different route: it went to cities like Chicago, Green Bay, Wisconsin and Lincoln, Nebraska.

The firm looks for enterprise-focused entrepreneurs who are trying to solve a different set of problems than you might find in these other centers of capital, issues that require digital solutions but might fall outside a typical computer science graduate’s experience.

Saas Ventures looks at four main investment areas: trucking and logistics, manufacturing, e-commerce enablement for industries that have not typically gone online and cybersecurity, the latter being the most mainstream of the areas SaaS Ventures covers.

The company’s first fund, which launched in 2017, was worth $20 million, but SaaS Ventures launched a second fund of equal amount earlier this month. It tends to stick to small-dollar-amount investments, while partnering with larger firms when it contributes funds to a deal.

We talked to Collin Gutman, founder and managing partner at SaaS Ventures, to learn about his investment philosophy, and why he decided to take the road less traveled for his investment thesis.

A different investment approach

Gutman’s journey to find enterprise startups in out of the way places began in 2012 when he worked at an early enterprise startup accelerator called Acceleprise. “We were really the first ones who said enterprise tech companies are wired differently, and need a different set of early-stage resources,” Gutman told TechCrunch.

Through that experience, he decided to launch SaaS Ventures in 2017, with several key ideas underpinning the firm’s investment thesis: after his experience at Acceleprise, he decided to concentrate on the enterprise from a slightly different angle than most early-stage VC establishments.

Collin Gutman, founder and managing partner at SaaS Ventures (Image Credits: SaaS Ventures)

The second part of his thesis was to concentrate on secondary markets, which meant looking beyond the popular startup ecosystem centers and investing in areas that didn’t typically get much attention. To date, SaaS Ventures has made investments in 23 states and Toronto, seeking startups that others might have overlooked.

“We have really phenomenal coverage in terms of not just geography, but in terms of what’s happening with the underlying businesses, as well as their customers,” Gutman said. He believes that broad second-tier market data gives his firm an upper hand when selecting startups to invest in. More on that later.

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The stages of traditional fundraising

Funding comes in stages.

Understanding these will help you know when and where to go for funding at each stage of your business. Further, it will help you communicate with funders more precisely. What you think when you hear “seed funding” and “A rounds” might be different from what investors think. You both need to be on the same page as you move forward.

Early money stage

The first stage is early money, when cash is invested in exchange for large amounts of equity. This cash, which ranges between $1,000 and $500,000, typically, comes from the three Fs: friends, family and (we don’t like this nomenclature) fools. The last-named folks are essentially “giving” you cash, and these investors are well-aware that you will most likely fail — hence, “fools.”

Your earliest investors should reap the biggest rewards because they are taking the most risk. The assumption is that, ultimately, you’ll make good or improve their investment. The reality, they understand, is that you probably won’t.

Your first money may come from bootstrapping or F&F, and your first big checks may come from an accelerator that pays you about $50,000 for a fairly large stake in your company. Accelerators are essentially greenhouses — or incubators — for startups. You apply to them. If accepted, you get assistance and a small amount of funding.

Why do investors give early money? Because they trust you, they understand your industry and they believe you can succeed. Some are curious about what you are doing and want to be close to the action. Others want to lock you up in case you are successful. In fact, many accelerators have this in mind when they connect with new startups. At its core, the funding landscape is surprisingly narrow. When you begin fundraising, you’ll hear a lot of terminology including descriptions of various funding categories and investors. Let’s talk about them one by one.

Bootstrapping

As the old saying goes, if you need a helping hand, you’ll find it at the end of your arm. With that adage in mind, let’s begin with bootstrapping.

Bootstrapping comes from the concept of “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps,” a comical image that computer scientists adapted to describe how a computer starts from a powered-down state. In the case of an entrepreneur, bootstrapping is synonymous with sweat equity — your own work and money that you put into your business without outside help.

Bootstrapping is often the only way to begin a business as an entrepreneur. By bootstrapping, you will find out very quickly how invested you are, personally, in your idea.

Bootstrapping requires you to spend money or resources on yourself. This means you either spend your own cash to build an early version of your product, or you build the product yourself, using your own skills and experience. In the case of service businesses — IT shops, design houses and so on — it requires you to quit your day job and invest, full time, in your own business.

Bootstrapping should be a finite action. For example, you should plan to bootstrap for a year or less and plan to spend a certain amount of money bootstrapping. If you blow past your time or money budget with little to show for your efforts, you should probably scrap the idea.

Some ideas take very little cash to bootstrap. These businesses require sweat equity — that is, your own work on a project that leads to at least a minimum viable product (MVP).

Consider an entrepreneur who wants to build a new app-based business in which users pay (or will pay) for access to a service. Very basic Apple iOS and Google Android applications cost about $25,000 to build, and they can take up to six months to design and implement. You could also create a simpler, web-based version of the application as a bootstrapping effort, which often takes far less cash — about $5,000 at $50 an hour.

You can also teach yourself to code and build your MVP yourself. This is often how tech businesses begin, and it says plenty about the need for founders to code or at least be proficient in the technical aspects of their business.

You can’t bootstrap forever. One entrepreneur we encountered was building a dating app. She had dedicated her life to this dating app, spending all of her money, quitting her job to continue to build it. She slept on couches and told everyone she knew about the app, networking to within an inch of her life. Years later it is a dead app in an app store containing millions of dead apps. While this behavior might get results one in a thousand times, few entrepreneurs can survive for a year of app-induced penury, let alone multiple years.

Another entrepreneur we knew was focused on nanotubes. He spent years rushing here and there, wasting cash on flights and taking meetings with people who wanted to sell him services. Many smart investors told him that he should go and work internally at a nanotube business and then branch out when he was ready. Instead, he attacked all angles for years, eventually leading to exhaustion. He’s still at it, however, which is a testament to his intensity.

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A Black Venture Capitalist Sees Challenges as an Investing Edge

Marceau Michel’s idea for a new on-demand staffing company, Werkhorse, was good enough to win a start-up pitch competition and a coveted spot in a tech incubator in Portland, Ore., two years ago. But no matter what he did, Mr. Michel could not seem to land the funding he needed.

As he met with mostly white investors, he had a sneaking suspicion that he was not getting a fair hearing. “I ran into that glass ceiling of being a Black entrepreneur,” he said. “I kept having the goal posts pushed out on me.”

He was told he should first try to obtain more money from family and friends. Or to offer more proof that his idea would really work. Or to reach out again a little later.

After months of frustration, Mr. Michel unleashed a material cri de coeur: a T-shirt bearing the phrase Black Founders Matter and an upraised fist. There was no plan behind it, and he had little time to devote to selling the shirts. He set up an e-commerce system on Shopify to automate their sales and turned his focus back to Werkhorse.

While he wasn’t paying attention, the shirts changed the course of Mr. Michel’s career: They were the catalyst for a new investment fund dedicated to Black-owned businesses that the accidental venture capitalist sees as entwined with racial justice.

Even with the pandemic upending the economy, Mr. Michel raised $1 million for the fund over the course of a month this summer. Those contributions arrived as protests proliferated across the country in response to the death of George Floyd, the Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

The fund’s $10 million goal is modest compared with those set by Silicon Valley investors — the median size of all venture capital funds this summer was $100 million, according to data by Pitchbook — but Mr. Michel plans to put its resources into companies that he views as strengthened by the obstacles they must overcome.

Black start-up founders face far more difficulty raising money than their white competitors. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a charity based in Missouri that promotes education and entrepreneurship, surveyed more than 500 founders and found that outside investors and lenders put up about two-thirds of the money that white start-up owners use to start their businesses, while Black owners had to put up more than half themselves. On average, 17 percent of the funding to white start-ups came from investors, compared with 1.5 percent for Black founders.

“I see the pain, the frustration, of: ‘Can you see me? I am viable,’” said Philip Gaskin, the foundation’s vice president for entrepreneurship, who works with Black business owners to help them raise capital. “The inequities have been there for a long time.”

Several groups, like Black Angel Tech Fund and the New Voices Fund, already focus specifically on supporting Black business owners, and they are far larger than Mr. Michel’s modest operation. New Voices, for instance, has dedicated its entire $100 million heft to funding start-ups owned by women of color. And in this moment of heightened attention on racial equity, the venture capital community at large has been rushing to pledge additional support for minority-owned businesses.

But rarely is a fund started by someone like Mr. Michel. He does not come from great wealth or even start-up success. Instead, he is turning the frustrations he faced with his first company into a way to help others overcome the same challenges.

And more than most venture capitalists, Mr. Michel can relate to the business owners he is seeking to support. The son of Haitian immigrants, Mr. Michel grew up in Queens in a family that was financially secure but that had little to spare on speculative investments like Werkhorse.

“My parents came from poverty, so they had turned over a leaf of being stable and raising me in a stable environment,” Mr. Michel said. “They didn’t have the capital to give me to invest.”

But even as the typical barriers Black start-ups face were stalling Werkhorse, Black Founders Matter was gaining momentum.

Image
Credit…Akila Fields

Rick Turoczy, a founder at the Portland Incubator Experiment, where Werkhorse was based, put the Black Founders Matter shirts on his blog, Silicon Florist. So far, Mr. Michel has sold about $10,000 in shirts.

Mr. Michel began to tell his story to local business publications, and it resonated. “There weren’t many voices, Black voices, that were asserting themselves in this space,” he said. “I happened to be one that someone caught wind of.”

A report in Black Enterprise Magazine was spotted by the mother of a reporter for TechCrunch, who then contacted Mr. Michel for an article. “That was the interview that changed the future of Black Founders Matter, because she asked what I wanted to do besides sell T-shirts,” he said. Without hesitating, he blurted out an idea about starting a venture fund for Black-owned start-ups. When the reporter asked how much money he would raise, he picked a number — $10 million — and was surprised when it became the headline.

Mr. Michel’s advisers — including Mr. Turoczy — saw an opportunity for him.

“They said: ‘We love what you’re doing and we want to help,’” Mr. Michel said. He put Werkhorse on hold, and the Portland Incubator Experiment’s leaders introduced him to the managing director of a Portland-based venture capital fund, Rogue Venture Partners. Mr. Michel spent six months at Rogue absorbing the customs and procedures of venture capital investing.

By March 14, 2019 — his 35th birthday — Mr. Michel was ready to share a pitch for a venture fund. He presented it to a packed theater in Portland for the incubator’s annual pitchfest: Pie Day, the crowning event of Portland’s start-up scene.

Mr. Michel explained to the crowd how the hurdles that Black business owners face make their businesses more resilient and safer for investors. He pointed out that only 1 percent of investment in tech start-ups went to Black entrepreneurs, and that although Black women owned 12.5 percent of all businesses in the United States, they got only 0.02 percent of investment. And he highlighted examples of Black founders who had excelled — and made boatloads of money for the investors who dared to help them.

“Investing Black is financially viable,” he told the crowd. Then he announced the creation of the Black Founders Matter fund.

Stephanie Kelly and Jason Saunders, a white husband-and-wife team of start-up investors, were drawn to the potential of the companies Mr. Michel wants to support. “If you look at the return on investment there, it’s stratospheric compared to the broader venture universe,” Mr. Saunders said. “It’s kind of the other end of the spectrum from the Bay Area tech bros who have an idea and get $100 million.”

Even though the Black Founders Matter fund hasn’t handed out any money yet, Mr. Michel has already steered funding to one project. In June, he and Himalaya Rao-Potlapally, a venture capital consultant who has become a partner with him in the fund, announced that they had invested $40,000 in a Black-owned start-up publisher called A Kids Book About. Mr. Saunders and Ms. Kelly put up $25,000.

The publisher produces books to help children and parents talk about difficult subjects like bullying and divorce. Jelani Memory helped found the publisher after writing a book for his own children about dealing with racism.

He had such a hard time raising money at first that he found ways to minimize his costs, such as using a print-on-demand service that produced a copy only after a customer had paid for it. That meant Mr. Memory’s business was profitable almost from the start.

“When people really start seeing the metrics, there’s going to be a landslide in that direction,” said Mr. Saunders. He said he and his wife were eager to take part in the $10 million fund.

Recent months have provided Mr. Michel’s fund with obstacles, but also a renewed sense of purpose.

After the onset of the pandemic, “everything went dead” for the fund, Mr. Michel said. “I felt like, maybe this isn’t the right time to be doing this.”

Then came Mr. Floyd’s death in May. Suddenly, Mr. Michel’s idea was not a whisper on the fringe of the venture capital industry but part of a broader discussion on racial equity.

Mr. Michel began attending protests in Portland, which has had some of the country’s most visible demonstrations, and spoke at some of the gatherings. He believes ending police brutality is just the first step toward racial equality.

“If police officers are not killing Black people anymore, does that mean that Black lives are inherently better?” he said.

Without better opportunities for Black Americans to build wealth, Mr. Michel said, “we’re still locking them out of prosperity.”

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