A new venture capital firm has launched to reap returns from a highly-underrepresented demographic: women of color entrepreneurs. Statistically, this population represents less than one percent of the total venture capital dollars raised — despite being one of the most-educated and entrepreneurial groups in the U.S.
The Fearless Fund, founded by Atlanta women Arian Simone and Keshia Knight Pulliam, will deploy $5 million in pre-seed, seed, and Series A startups. The fund already has five portfolio companies and plans to invest in about 20 over the next few years.
“We wanted to start small, that was with intention,” Simone tells Hypepotamus. “We want to prove great returns for our investors.”
Simone is an entrepreneur herself, founding an entertainment-focused PR and marketing firm that works with clients like Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, and Walt Disney Pictures.
“I started as an entrepreneur in college, raising funds for my retail store. I was only 21 but I promised myself that, one day, Arian, you’re going to be that investor you’re looking for,” says Simone.
Pulliam, a Spelman College graduate and Atlanta-based actress, first made her acting debut as a young girl on The Cosby Show. She most recently appeared in the award-winning television show The House of Payne.
The two first-time fund managers have also brought on advisors: entrepreneur Rodney Sampson, founder of Opportunity Hub and a Professor of Entrepreneurship at Morehouse College; and Tracy Gray, founder and Managing Partner of VC firm The 22 Fund as well as an expert in gender lens investing.
Simone and Pulliam’s wide network in entertainment affords the firm a unique cache that not many VCs can pull off. In addition to recruiting several actors and celebrities as investors, The Fearless Fund is building out a sort of influencer marketing component for portfolio companies.
This “Celebrity Equity-Based Endorsement” program will connect startups with celebrities — public-facing promotion in exchange for company equity.
Aside from requiring portfolio companies have at least one female of color as a co-founder, The Fearless Fund has a relatively broad investment thesis. They are industry-agnostic and seek revenue-generating, early-stage companies showing traction.
They invest $50,000-$250,000 for first checks, with the potential for follow-on investment.
To build their pipeline, they’ve hosted two pitch competitions — one at Facebook headquarters and one at Atlanta-based Spanx. Judges included the two founding partners along with other business leaders and celebrities.
They found Ellis Island Tea, a beverage company founded by Forbes 30 Under 30 entrepreneur Nailah Ellis-Brown, at the Spanx pitch competition. Ellis-Brown is the first African-American female to own a beverage production facility.
Other portfolio companies include EnrichHER, an Atlanta-based fintech platform for women entrepreneurs, and 100 Black Angels Fund, a fellow investor in minority-founded startups.