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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Tic Toc Tech: Fund for underrepresented founders

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“To start with, raising money is not easy, but it is much harder for minority entrepreneurs to raise funds from VC or even get loans. Thus, we have made an intentional effort to remove the barriers and established a $50 million fund for minority-led businesses throughout the Midwest,” said Lightship Capital general partners Candice Matthews Brackeen and Brian Brackeen. They firmly believe this to be a missed opportunity that they aim to seize. Startups founded by women received about 11% of all venture-capital funding in the U.S. last year, according to AllRaise, with as little as 1% of venture-backed startups in the U.S. having Black founders, according to a report by RateMyInvestor. Candice believes that it is a lost opportunity for investors who overlook the talent and creativity of innovative minority entrepreneurs.  

Cincinnati-based Lightship Capital has closed nearly $48 million for a $50 million fund to deploy among minorities and other underrepresented groups seeking investment throughout the Midwest. Their primary focus is consumer packaged goods (CPG), e-commerce, sustainability, artificial intelligence and health care-focused companies. In concert with their efforts in Indianapolis, they will strategically be located in a newly established urban innovation hub, 16Tech. The Lightship Capital Fund will be the largest-ever VC fund to invest in Midwest, minority-led startups.  

After experiencing the challenges associated with fundraising for her own tech startup, Candice Brackeen founded Hillman Accelerator, an inclusive entrepreneurship education program and now sister program to business bootcamp, NewMe. Brian worked with IBM and Apple before going on to found Miami-based facial recognition provider, Kairos AR Inc., before pivoting to the investor side of the table. When they launched Lightship, investors were less inclined to support a fund for minority-led businesses from the Midwest, but the Brackeens have been relentlessly determined. 

Indianapolis is touted as the Midwest’s Silicon Valley but often overlooked in terms of meaningful capital and support by investors from the coasts. Lightship will close these funding gaps and create the opportunity to reconcile and profit from what Morgan Stanley calls a “trillion-dollar blind spot.” The firm is unique in the venture capital world. They are looking for young tech companies run by people of color, women, LGBTQ, indigenous and disabled people. They also encourage wealthy minorities to step forward and invest in minority-backed businesses and funds. 

The Brackeens intend to make a meaningful impact in the Indianapolis community by combining their deep business insights and heart for service to raise money to build a philanthropic fund which will work to solve various issues related to poverty, education, health care, employment and business ownership. They also want to develop a collaborative ecosystem of resources that entrepreneurs can access to expand their business. For example, Lightship Capital has introduced FreshFry, a Louisville, Kentucky, food technology company and a Lightship Capital portfolio company to an Indianapolis business for food testing and lab services. FreshFry Pod is an all-natural, plant-based, sustainable product that cleans and extends the life of frying oil used by restaurants and other facilities that utilize commercial deep fryers. 

They have already started office hours for entrepreneurs to meet in Indianapolis in a socially distanced manner. They welcome Indy business owners to apply directly on the website for Hillman, Lightship Capital and NewMe programs and request for meetings. Visit Lightship Capital Website and click on the “Apply for Investment” tab to start the process. 

Rupal Thanawala is managing director at Trident Systems, a leading business and technology consulting practice, and tech editor for the Indianapolis Recorder. Contact her at rupalt@indyrecorder.com.

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