LISC Leads Institutional VC Commitments to First-Time Fearless Fund investing in Women of Color
Updated: Oct 29, 2020
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Oct 26, 2020, 12:25 ET
The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) is the first institutional investor to invest in Fearless Fund, a $20 million venture capital fund in Atlanta launched by women of color that invests exclusively in early-stage startups led by women of color.
For LISC, one of the nation's largest community development financial institutions (CDFIs), the goal is to pave the way for mainstream investors to follow suit and inject capital directly into the hands of VC fund managers of color. In 2019, VC investment in the U.S. reached $136.5 billion, yet only 2.2 percent of that amount went to women founders, and less than 1 percent went to women founders of color. This tremendous disparity contributes directly to widening the wealth gaps in America.
This VC investment is just a small part of LISC's overall efforts to provide financing and help close the racial wealth gap, recognizing that racial inequality has cost the U.S. economy $16 trillion over the last 20 years, according to recent research from Citi.
"The lack of access to financing is not only a side effect of the racial wealth gap; it's part of the root of the problem. By increasing access to capital in an inclusive manner, we tackle one of the core challenges to closing the wealth gap," said George Ashton, managing director of LISC Strategic Investments, the team that manages LISC's venture investments. He noted that Fearless Fund was originally targeting a $5 million raise but is now slated for a $20 million fund after LISC's encouragement and subsequent discussions.
"Our investment illustrates one of the many ways that LISC addresses social justice and economic opportunity as part of the same whole—in this case, allocating capital and resources to help scale up a minority-led VC fund that we expect will both generate a positive return and will also have a tremendous positive impact," Ashton continued.
Fearless Fund is founded by three women of color—Arian Simone, a successful entrepreneur, author and philanthropist; Keshia Knight Pulliam, an entrepreneur, philanthropist and actress who starred as Rudy Huxtable on the Cosby Show and, more recently, as Miranda Payne on House of Payne; and Ayana Parsons, senior partner at the global consulting firm Korn Ferry, who has nearly 20 years of experience and expertise in consumer markets.
From left to right: Arian Simone, Keisha Knight Pulliam, Ayana Parsons
"Women of color should be able to pitch to people who look like them on the other side of the table," said Simone. "Black and Latina women start more businesses than any other demographic, and yet we have a tougher time accessing capital than any other market segment. Fearless Fund is designed to change that."
LISC's $750,000 investment serves this first-time fund as "catalytic capital" intended to move the fund meaningfully toward its goal of providing funding opportunities for companies led by women of color and the communities they serve. Catalytic capital differs from traditional investments because it commits early to propel the fund forward and accepts more risk in order to support impact.
LISC paired $500,000 of its own assets with a $250,000 grant from Fifth Third Foundation in order to lay the groundwork for other investments. "The collaboration is important," Ashton noted, "because foundations are not typically able to invest directly in VC funds. But, through CDFIs like LISC, they can use their grant dollars to do so. It is another avenue for foundations to advance their own goals related to racial wealth equity."
The Fearless Fund investment also dovetails with the objectives of other LISC-managed initiatives, like the Black Economic Development Fund and the COVID-19 Rapid Relief and Recovery Fund, both of which prioritize funding for business owners and communities of color, according to Maurice A. Jones, LISC president and CEO.
"A person's race, class, gender or zip code should never determine his or her life prospects," said Jones. "Our goal is to use all the tools at our disposal, including our capital management strategy, to build a broadly shared prosperity throughout the country," he said.
About Fearless Fund Fearless Fund invests in women of color-led businesses seeking pre-seed, seed level or series A financing. Our mission is to bridge the gap in venture capital funding for women-of-color founders building scalable, growth-aggressive companies. Fearless Fund is built by women of color for women of color. For inquiries, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
About LISC With residents and partners, LISC forges resilient and inclusive communities of opportunity across America – great places to live, work, visit, do business and raise families. Since 1979, LISC has invested $22 billion to build or rehab more than 419,000 affordable homes and apartments and develop 70.3 million square feet of retail, community and educational space. For more, visit www.lisc.org.