Nobody would have blamed Shila Nieves Burney if she’d given up.
The founder of Zane Venture Fund’s first introduction to venture capital was not ideal. It included an unsuccessful attempt to secure investors for a fintech startup from Ghana. Despite getting close to sealing the deal, the funding fell through when the backer decided to invest in hotels instead of technology.
But that’s not all.
A few weeks before the deal fell through, Burney’s daughter, Zane, was hit by a bullet when the two were innocently caught up in gun violence on a random morning. Zane sustained non-life-threatening injuries, but still.
It would have been understandable if Burney decided to quit. Instead, she dug in deeper.
In fact, the inequities in funding she experienced only spurred her on–leading her to eventually raise her own fund, named in honor of her daughter.
A different path
Burney went about building the fund in reverse order.
She started to support founders by creating an ecosystem in advance of closing a fund. The firm runs events for founders and has recently launched a 12-week pre-capital program for diverse teams.
Burney reached out to Brad Feld–founder of Foundry Group and Techstars–because she wanted to give his book Venture Deals to this cohort of early-stage founders. Feld asked what else was needed to support the program, and offered an “Ask Me Anything” session. At that time, eight companies had qualified for the program, but one could not afford it. Burney was looking around for help because she did not want a lack of funding to be a barrier to acceptance. Feld immediately said he would cover the cost of the program for the eight companies.
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For Burney there is not a lot of funding for diverse entrepreneurs in the Atlanta area. This is the case despite the fact that Atlanta is the second-largest metro area of Black Americans in the U.S.
“We’ve been left out of many rooms and opportunities,” Burney said. “The ultimate goal is to build generational wealth.” Founders often have to go to the West or East Coasts to raise.
A few firms stand out. Notably Atlanta-based Valor Ventures, founded by Lisa Calhoun who invests at the seed stage in companies focused on financial inclusion. Then there is Collab Capital, founded by Barry Givens, Jewel Burks and Justin Dawkins, which is investing in Black-owned businesses.
Burney had planned to start raising her fund in March just as COVID-19 hit the U.S. The fund has an LP commitment from storied angel investor Sig Mosley who is a venture partner in the fund. Zane Venture Fund is in the process of raising a $25 million seed fund and hopes to close at the end of the third quarter. The firm plans to invest between $150,000 and $500,000 per seed deal and hold some reserves for Series A follow-on investing.
In response to a question on the recent killing of Rayshard Brooks in a Wendy’s parking lot in Atlanta this past weekend, Burney said:
“We are here at a critical moment in our country. One reason why I decided not to focus on women only, or women of color, is because Black men have it just as hard. They get passed over for opportunities. They have companies they can’t grow and scale. So I decided to include them in my thesis. They shouldn’t be left out. And I think these incidents over the past few weeks prove that. They are at risk, and we need to do something about it as a country. So that’s how I see my work affecting change; by investing in those who have the opportunity to get their own company, and to be able to grow and scale.”
Zane Venture Fund has founders on its radar it wants to invest in. Burney is hoping for an early close in order to be able to do just that.
Photo courtesy of Zane Venture Partners.
Illustration: Dom Guzman