If the folks at Breitbart had published a photo of Venus Williams in a story about her sister Serena, the legacy media would have been forever clacking that it was an example of right wing conservatives thinking all Black people look alike. Confusing photos of Venus and Serena should be as probable as mistaking me for Brad Pitt.  But it was the New York Times that posted the wrong photo in a story about Serena raising $111 million for her venture capital fund.

Serena Williams, arguably one of the most famous women in America and the winner of 23 Grand Slam titles, was understandably angry.

“No matter how far we come, we get reminded that it’s not enough,” the tennis legend tweeted. “This is why I raised $111 million for @serenaventures. To support the founders who are overlooked by engrained systems woefully unaware of their biases. Because even I am overlooked. You can do better, @nytimes.”

Less than two percent of venture capital funding goes toward Black entrepreneurs. Khalid David is one of the Black entrepreneurs Williams has chosen to help overcome what she views as systemic VC bias.

I profiled David in August 2020 in a post headlined, “Khalid David and Black Entrepreneur Stereotyping.” The BLM movement was its peak and corporate America was falling all over itself pledging to support Black entrepreneurs. Jamie Dimon, JP Morgan’s billionaire CEO, proudly was photographed taking a knee in front of a Chase branch.

I found it puzzling that David, who is Black, was struggling to raise a modest $500,000 in financing for his pioneering TracFlo app. TracFlo electronically tracks changes ordered on the fly by construction contractors that often results in subcontractors suffering financial hardship or ruin because the changes often aren’t properly documented. A major construction company had already begun using TracFlo, and David knew the construction business cold, having run a carpentry subcontracting business for years. His father also worked in construction.

David’s educational bona fides were impeccable:  An MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, a civil engineering degree from Columbia, and a degree in applied physics from Morehouse College.

David set me straight as to why he was having trouble raising funds.

“There’s a widespread tendency to stereotype Black businesses as restaurants, barber shops, and stores selling t-shirts, beads, and oils in predominately black neighborhoods,” David told me. “The idea that a Black entrepreneur could be responsible for developing game-changing software in the construction industry is difficult for some people to accept. Far too often, the expectation is that Black technology companies develop products aimed at Black consumers.”

David recently raised double the financing he was seeking, with $500,000 coming from Serena Williams’ venture fund. How he came to Williams’ attention makes for an interesting story.

Last fall, the actor Michael B. Jordan organized a Shark Tank-like bake off for Black entrepreneurs as part of his annual basketball event featuring men’s teams from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs). Jordan said he organized the competition to give Black entrepreneurs more of a fighting chance.

“We wanted to do something to sway the system a little bit,” Jordan told the publication Boardroom. “It’s a crazy stat that less than 2% of venture capital goes toward Black founders.”

Jordan asked his friends Williams and Charles King, a general partner in MaC Venture Capital and an accomplished Black media entrepreneur, to participate. Williams, who founded Serena Ventures in 2014, and King each pledged to invest $500,000 in the contest companies of their firm’s choosing. The contest judges were Williams, Alison Rapaport Stillman, a general partner in her firm, and Michael Palank, a general partner with MaC Venture who formerly headed one of King’s media companies.

Serena Ventures and MaC Venture both opted to invest in TracFlo, allowing David to raise $1 million.

Notably, the other contest finalists weren’t businesses catering to Blacks. One of them was GABA, a web application that uses machine learning to connect med and pre-med students to various resources, such as study tools, career coaching and mental health support. The other was Blacksteel, a rewards credit card aimed at entrepreneurs.

David was obviously pleased getting backed by two of the biggest names in sports and media.

“We are so grateful,” he told me.

At the end of the day, only venture funds with Black leaders could see TracFlo’s potential. Therein is some insight as to why less than two percent of VC capital makes its way to Black entrepreneurs.

Display art photo credit: ©zhukovsky/123RF.COM

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