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Kelauni Jasmyn, general partner at the new Black Tech Nation Ventures, can explain her aims for the new firm quite succinctly: “The goal is to get more Black people funded.”
That’s something Jasmyn has been working on already with Black Tech Nation, a Pittsburgh-based organization that supports Black entrepreneurs with education, content, community and more. Now she’s tackling the funding size of the equation more directly by raising a $50 million first fund with her fellow GPs Sean Sebastian and David Motley.
“We’re really at the beginning of something brand new, that I think will be historic and offer a literal economic shift for the Black community in building generational wealth,” Jasmyn said. “We get to be the ones who mold the foundation of that.”
Sebastian is a partner at Birchmere Ventures, a seed fund also based in Pittsburgh, while Motley is co-founder of BlueTree Venture Fund and African American Directors Forum. Sebastian also suggested that he and Motley are involved partly to enable a “transfer of knowledge” that will empower a new generation of Black investors, starting with Jasmyn.
Motley, meanwhile, suggested that this is an effort to take “take the Black Tech Nation platform and combine it with the Birchmere platform.” He recalled speaking to Jasmyn for the first time at Sebastian’s urging and immediately responding, “Sean, this is the real deal.”
All three of BTNV’s partners emphasized that while the fund has a social mission, they’re also focused on financial returns.
“We are no different than any other fund just because you put a specific community around it,” Jasmyn said. “You shouldn’t expect any less valuable returns. We just happen to have the advantage of untapped potential.”
The fund will make seed and Series A investments, and Motley said they’re focused on software startups — which could be software as a service, B2B or B2B2C. These ideas can be pre-revenue and even pre-product, but they need to be “scalable and lend themselves to significant value creation.”
Sebastian added that although BTVN is based in Pittsburgh, they’ll look at investments across the country, particularly entrepreneurs that come from outside Silicon Valley.
I wondered whether the fund’s financial goals could, at times, conflict with the more inclusive approach of Black Tech Nation, but the partners countered that the for-profit fund and nonprofit organization can actually complement each other. Motley said that Black Tech Nation “gives us more opportunities to say yes,” while Jasmyn suggested that if the venture fund has to turn someone down, she can still tell them, “Scoot over across the street [to Black Tech Nation] and maybe we can revisit this another time.”