Oftentimes when we hear the words ‘diversity and inclusion,’ the term ‘equity’ is left out of the conversation. Venture capital (VC) firms across the country have pledged to invest in Black-owned startups, but how many have made good on their promises?
Thankfully, Sixty8 Capital led by Kelli Jones, Indiana’s first Black, female VC, has put its money where its mouth is by announcing the first close of its $20 million venture fund this morning May 10. According to PR Newswire, investors include The Indiana Next Level Fund, 50 South Capital, Bank of America, Eli Lilly and Company, First Internet Bank, and the Central Indiana Community Foundation.
Jones, who serves as the Managing Director, leads the Indianapolis-based VC fund which is dedicated to supporting Black, Latinx, women, and LGBTQ+ founders, and uncovering potential in minority communities for those who have been hindered by race, gender, sexual orientation, or environmental circumstances. According to the press release, Sixty8 Capital “will seek to invest in 25 to 30 pre-seed and seed-stage companies with initial equity checks of $250,000to $500,000 per company,” with a focus on “undercapitalized founders.”
“There hasn’t been anything like this that’s been available for Black people, Latin X people in Indiana, much less the Midwest almost ever. The fact that I have now the opportunity to do that is also an overwhelming responsibility,” Jones expressed about her excitement about the announcement to ESSENCE. “What I’m most excited about is making the change.”
Considering that Black founders lead only 1% of VC-funded startups, and just 3% of investment partner roles are held by Black employees, Jones does not take her position in this day-in-age lightly. The Indianapolis native has traveled near and far from New York to Los Angeles but knew that she had to contribute back home. Though she can’t invest in anymore than 20 to 30 companies, she knows that as a minority – both Black and a woman – any investment would be transformtional.
“I realized that even though there’s a lot of VCs here and there’s a lot of capital and money floating around. Despite me thinking that people want to invest in diversity, it just wasn’t happening,” she explained. “It’s a little step but I think it’s enough to feel like we can finally start to close these gaps and start to see real inclusion because I think it takes a brown girl, a brown woman, a Black woman to sit behind the table and make those decisions if we really want to see the change that we need to see.”
In the original press release announcement, Jones explained her passion to “help lift the veil on how these founders can connect with VCs,” which she explained further to ESSENCE. Jones explained the importance of remembering that Black people have always been left out of the conversations about decision-making, economic mobility, and industrial revolutions. Technology was the only area where we could “harness our energy, our social capital,” according to Jones.
“What we tend to forget [is] that there are hundreds of thousands of small businesses that are led by Black people, Latinx people, and women that also need access to capital. Most of the time, they’re only relegated to loans or grants because that’s all most people know,” she explained. “When it comes to talking about more flexible types of capital, which is equity-based or revenue-based financing, we don’t talk enough about that in our community to the wider entrepreneurship community. I see it as an opportunity for us to really change the face of what these entrepreneurs look like.”
When it comes to buzzwords such as diversity and inclusion often used by large corporations, Jones urges that it’s all about equity, which she defines as opening up more access to the communities that don’t have resources readily available. “Instead of determining that you’re going to do this big thing, what happens when you invest in a fund like mine, or you invest in people of color that are already working with people of color? There is probably an organization out here for everything that is a problem in our community because we’ve been working on it for so long with little to no resources. What happens when we have those resources?”
As a change agent in her field, Jones is becoming the hope that she wishes to see in the venture capital field. As she pointed out, when we have resources in our communities, the opportunities to grow are endless. ‘Change is everything,’ Jones said, and we couldn’t agree more.