I am simply blown away by what has happened in America over the last 3 years.
On June 19th, 2018, better known as Juneteenth, I launched VC Include, not knowing it would become a federal holiday. I intentionally chose that day as a signal of the potential for progress for American and for those that look like me. Juneteenth has been celebrated by African Americans around the country for years. Leading up to VCI’s launch, in the back of my mind, there was a feeling, a whisper that this day marked the perfect time to begin a journey that in its own way could help bring a bit of freedom to African Americans, women, the LatinX community, and other underrepresented groups in the VC and impact investment and sustainability space. As a Black Woman I knew it would be an uphill battle for a number of years. I had no idea if it would be successful, but I knew where to start…
My career trajectory is a long one: social entrepreneur, business manager, consultant, impact investor, champion of underrepresented founders in the U.S., LATAM, and Africa… I’ve been fortunate to serve as a leader of initiatives to grow and support underrepresented fund managers and companies. Over the last three years, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with LPs (or asset owners), asset managers, and service providers to determine how and where to grow while building this business brick by brick. VC Include has quickly evolved into a franchise with a growing team and a mission that is critical to growing sustainable businesses globally.
While communities of Start-ups and Angel Investors are continuing to grow in the tech and impact space, Black Women, in particular, have been dealing with the same challenges for centuries. What’s a bigger start-up than suddenly being free from enslavement and having to make your own way in life? There is no greater example of bootstrapping than people without education, capital, and legal protection building businesses and economic meccas like Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Durham, North Carolina. And yes, Angel Investors have always been there, whether it was a well-timed loan from a black church, or larger progressive organizations in the past that recognized black people had been locked out of the system. Juneteenth is the holiday that recognizes this long history.
Since 2020, the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial reckoning after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — we’ve seen both progress and setbacks. 68% of the businesses that have gone under during this pandemic were Black + Brown businesses. I lay at night wondering what combination of programs, federal dollars, and community engagement can rebuild small businesses and help transform them into bigger businesses that are technologically-enabled and thriving. VC Include is helping build an ecosystem of managers and companies to thrive and realize our mission.
My big aha in 2017 was realizing that the capital supply chain was broken, and investment could never happen at scale without more diversity and inclusion baked into the investment industry. The availability of loan and debt financing for Black and Brown companies was, at best, a trickle. At the time, the founders I worked with literally had no pathway to equity investments. If the top down approach didn’t exist, then I wanted to be at the forefront of its creation. Asset managers invest in companies and startups, and asset allocators invest in asset managers. I wondered why I wasn’t seeing women or people of color in those groups. Then the US government published a report that explained why: only 1.3% of asset managers controlling the $70T of Assets Under Management (AUM) are women or people of color. This leads to less inclusivity across the supply chain of capital — from founders to asset managers to those that invest in them (asset owners).
In 2020, American businesses pledged over $500 million to various social equity groups and organizations during the protests, but very few have fulfilled those promises. VCI plans to continue supporting growing asset management firms and large capital investors to invest in the funds that will not only support communities that protested last year but future challenges in this country as well.
Juneteenth is about liberation, agency, fighting back against economic injustice, and supporting people making their own path in a world that sometimes fears and hates them. We’ve lifted up where others have sometimes fallen, we’ve built bridges where that past has burned bridges and we’ve raised capital at a time when some are actually trying to burn capitols down.
They say if you don’t tell your own story, someone else will, and they’ll probably leave you out of it. I knew I had a unique story to tell, and a successful one too.
On this Juneteenth, we haven’t created financial freedom for everyone yet, but the mission that was a whisper in my ear in 2018 is now a powerful chant for change.
In health and abundance,
Bahiyah Yasmeen Robinson
CEO, VC Include