Venture Noire’s Keenan Beasley discusses the obstacles that minority founders face in the world of venture capitalism and how his non-profit aims to provide support to these entrepreneurs.
Keenan Beasley began his career in marketing, working with brands such as Duracell, Procter and Gamble, L’Oreal and Reckitt Benckiser, before setting up his own ad agency BlkBox.
Now, his focus is on the non-profit organisation he founded, Venture Noire, which aims to help founders from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds in the US get in front of investors and VCs, providing supports they might need in the early stages of business.
“We help minority founders get their businesses off the ground,” Beasley told Siliconrepublic.com. “Our target audience is corporate executives that are looking to make the leap and college students coming out and looking to jump into the entrepreneurial space. We help them with the early stages of their business – from concept to seed stage.”
Supporting minority founders
Beasley said there is no shortage of minority founders looking for help, so Arkansas-based Venture Noire is there to support those who put their hands up and try to connect them with investors or mentors. When asked what the main obstacle is for founders from minority or disadvantaged backgrounds, he said: “I think it’s not having the freedom to fail.
“When you have a lack of funding – especially if you’re building a tech or hockey-stick growth company, you need the freedom to be able to operate in the negative for a number of years. If you’re an underfunded and undercapitalised company, that freedom is not offered.”
‘Impact investing is a great vehicle to close the gap and create a thriving and robust ecosystem’
– KEENAN BEASLEY
In order to give founders the freedom to test things out, fail and do better the next time, Venture Noire provides them with access to shared resources; providing subsidies when possible or upfront costs in some cases.
“When you’re trying to understand how to file a patent for the first time, just that process alone can be upwards of $10,000 or $15,000,” Beasley said. “We have a number of legal services that provide counsel and that’s outside of the hard costs. They’re doing it for free in our ecosystem.”
He explained that some of the companies working with Venture Noire will waive fees to help founders, giving the example of online banking platform Mercury, which helps clients quickly set up bank accounts.
“There’s a lot of hidden costs associated with starting a company and we want to reduce those for the folks that we work with,” Beasley said.
Getting new faces in front of VCs
While Venture Noire is providing a service to the start-ups and entrepreneurs that it supports, a single organisation can only do so much. When asked of what changes he’d like to see in VC culture and entrepreneurship in general to support minority founders or entrepreneurs from disadvantaged backgrounds, Beasley said that it’s all about proximity.
There are plenty of successful start-up ecosystems around the globe, but these can be hard for people to find their way into from the outside if they don’t already have connections with other founders or start-ups.
“What Venture Noire is trying to do is build a diverse ecosystem,” he said. “When you look at Silicon Valley, it’s a very successful ecosystem. You’ve got the so-called ‘PayPal mafia’ – those are groups where success breeds success. What we’re trying to do is expose those VCs to diverse communities to replicate the model that already exists.
“I think we need to make minority investing the norm. We want to make it a familiar process and that’s just by bringing those worlds together. Venture Noire allows diverse entrepreneurs to get in front of VCs that they might not have gotten in front of otherwise.”
Making an impact
On the topic of the recent Black Lives Matter protests taking place in the US and in cities around the globe, Beasley recently told MarketWatch that he expects a rise in “impact investing” among forward-thinking VCs. But what might the long-term impact of these investments might look like? It all depends on where the investment is coming from and what this support involves.
“It’s not just a US problem. It’s a global problem – the impact of income inequality,” Beasley said. “When you have too much wealth pushed at the top and a really impoverished lower base that doesn’t have the ability to survive … that’s a threat to the normalcy of society. That’s where civil unrest comes from.
“Impact investing is not only about finding great deals or having [return on investment]. It’s about ensuring we have a thriving economy and people with jobs. We look at recent protests and couple that with the extreme job loss from this pandemic.
“It has been a really tough time for a lot of underserved and underrepresented communities. Impact investing is a great vehicle to close that gap and create a thriving and robust ecosystem.”
Creating a new normal
Beasley went on to say that making changes needs to go further than impact investing. While many businesses in the tech industry might be working towards improving the diversity of their workforces, there are still very few people of colour at the top of companies.
He said this may be due to a level of familiarity. “When you look across boards and executive seats, it’s really around trust and a lot of the people have worked with each other in various stages of their careers at other companies.
“I think there’s a historical trickle effect. It’s just going to take a lot of course and a leap of faith to really have this entire paradigm shift that’s required. That’s what people are starting to look at and do and the companies that make the drastic changes in their executive leadership and board often see profitability rising and innovation improving.
“Companies that are taking those chances are seeing the payout. I think that’s not just a trend, but that’s going to become the norm. I see changes coming and I definitely think the future looks a lot brighter than the past.”