By Nancy Dahlberg
Lightship Capital, the venture capital firm led by Candice and Brian Brackeen, announced this week it is raising a $50 million fund to invest in underrepresented founders in regions of the country that most VCs overlook.
Candice, an entrepreneur, also founded and runs Hillman, an accelerator and educational program based in Cincinnati for underrepresented founders. Brian, of course, is a Miami tech founder-turned-funder. Known as the No. 1 promoter of the Magic City as a place for tech (his “Miami Tours” are well known for luring more entrepreneurs and investors to Miami), he founded facial recognition innovator Kairos and is a mentor to tech entrepreneurs in Miami and beyond. He spends winters in Miami (smart man) and lives here part time the rest of the year. Lightship Capital is based in Cincinnati, and the Brackeens are general partners.
The new fund will invest in early-stage startups launched by people of color, women, veterans, LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities in the Midwest and the South, “all the places other investors fly over or vacation in, including Miami,” Brian said. The fund is currently reviewing three potential investments from Florida – two of them from Miami, he added.
In a Wall Street Journal report on Friday, Candice said the startups she has backed have had to hustle harder than startups elsewhere. “If everybody flies over the Midwest and no one is investing, these companies are hungry.” She also said she is a “capitalist at heart” and believes better returns will come from these overlooked businesses.
The statistics haven’t budged much: Startups with at least one female co-founder received less than 12% of all U.S. venture-capital funding last year, according to All Raise. Only 1 percent of venture capital dollars go to black startup founders, according to a study conducted by Silicon Valley Bank and others. The number of black decision-makers in venture capital in 2018 was just 1 percent, according to an annual survey by the Information.
For Lightship Capital Fund I, the Brackeens have closed on $22 million and have an additional $23 million in commitments. Lightship has about a dozen limited partners so far and a second fund is planned. It invests in CPG, e-commerce, sustainability, AI and healthcare focused early stage companies. Apply through Lightship’s website – “no warm intro required,” they say.
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