It is clear that Black, women, Latinx and LGBTQ+ startup founders face an uphill battle when it comes to getting a share of the VC investment pie in Silicon Valley. Perhaps that’s why Sixty8 Capital, a firm based in Indianapolis, Indiana, smack dab in the middle of the country, has chosen to launch a new $20 million fund aimed at providing early stage funding for underrepresented founders.
The fund’s 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. It’s working with another Indy based VC firm, Allos Ventures, and Paul Ehlinger from Allos will be a venture partner at Sixty8.
“With this fund, what we’ll get to do is really start to empower people of color, women and other diverse communities by putting capital directly into their hands. Being able to invest directly into companies that are building amazing solutions that just so happen to be founded by diverse people. So that is why we launched Sixty8. I think there’s a unique opportunity we can address, and I’m really excited to have an impact both in our community in Indiana, but also around the Midwest and parts of the South as well,” Kelli Jones, managing partner at the firm explained.
Jones told me that she grew up in Indianapolis, and after moving to New York and later LA to work at the intersection of music, tech and entertainment, she returned to Indy in 2016 to begin helping Black people in the community where she grew up get trained to get decent jobs both in and out of tech. That led to the development of a startup incubator focused on Black founders and later a pitch competition.
She said at that point, it was clear the founders she was working with needed access to capital to have a chance to grow the businesses they were starting as part of the incubator and pitch competition, and the idea of an early stage fund began to take shape. She said that Indiana is known for B2B SaaS and she wanted to tap into that energy.
“You know we’re known as B2B SaaS and we’ve had some amazing exits here with ExactTarget and Salesforce and Angie’s List and Interactive Intelligence and Genesys, and so we’ve had a lot of really amazing things happening in the tech realm locally, but there’s not a lot of conversations being had around diversity and seeing more people of color and women and LGBTQ founders,” Jones told me.
Taking stock of the VC industry’s progress on diversity, equity and inclusion
The plan is to provide seed, pre-seed and maybe piggyback on an occasional A round with investments that range between $250,000 and $500,000 per company. She says that there is a ready pipeline from her other ventures including the incubator and pitch competitions and she is also plugged into the community where there is lots of startup energy.
She says that they wanted to set up a fund not only to address issues of diversity and having diverse people making decisions on investments, but also based on a strategy where the firm was able to invest in companies that may not always be perceived as typical venture backed business targets.
The first investment is with a B2B SaaS company called Qualifi, which uses AI to help companies with high volume hiring loads get through the qualification round much faster, taking from 7-10 days down to 3 or less, Jones told me.
The name of the firm hails back to 1968, a time in history when there was a lot of protest bubbling up around the country and calls for more equality for people of color, women and Gay rights. Jones says they had a different name when the firm first launched in 2019, but this seemed so much more appropriate for a company focused on empowering diverse groups.
“It feels like we’re still marching and trying to survive the same way we were in 1968 during the Civil Rights [movement] where we lost big leaders, and where the fire in everyone was just so big. We were fighting for women’s rights and Latino rights and Black rights and there was just so much happening, and it seems like in 2021 like we really still are in that same space,” she said.
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