#MiamiMade: Meet Kenasha Paul, FIU’s Venture Miami Opportunity Program director

‘I want to leverage the existing work I already do in this space and be a champion for women of color who often get overlooked’

As Miami undergoes an unprecedented movement catapulting our city into Florida’s own version of Silicon Valley, local business owners are feeling wary of being left behind – especially female founders of color.

But Miami’s own Florida International University has a solution that may help calm the nerves of local female business owners of color – and they’ve partnered with the City of Miami’s Venture Miami team to do it.

Initiated by FIU’s Office of Engagement in collaboration with Mayor Francis Suarez’s Venture Miami team, which is led by FIU’s Vice President of Engagement and Senior Advisor for Innovation & Technology Saif Ishoof, and supported by a $150,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase, the Venture Miami Opportunity Program aims to close the inclusion gap for female business owners by serving as a bridge to venture capitalists, angel investors, and other sources of capital.

FIU’s newly hired Opportunity Program Director Kenasha Paul will serve as a critical connector, alongside the Venture Miami team, by connecting female entrepreneurs of color with investors, venture capitalists, and resources in #MiamiTech.

“The Venture Miami Opportunity Program will provide Miami’s female business owners of color the opportunity to leverage the momentum that’s happening in our city so that they can get in the #MiamiTech game,” said Paul. “I was born and raised in Miami, I graduated from FIU, and I started my business in this region. This movement is #MiamiMade, and that’s exactly how I want to be defined – I want to leverage the existing work I already do in this space and be a champion for women of color who often get overlooked.”

Paul’s #MiamiMade journey

A first-generation graduate of Haitian descent, Paul’s Miami journey is comparable to so many Miami women who live and play in our region, having to work twice as hard with opportunities often passing to others – yet she persisted. Throughout her time at FIU, Paul served as vice president of the Student Government Association in 2008, was the first Black Student Union council president in 2009, and the first Black Alumni Panther Network president in 2010.

Upon graduating from FIU, Paul made her way north to Nova Southeastern University where she earned her Juris Doctorate degree in 2014. That same year, after realizing her love for community service and public affairs, Paul started her organization, first with the annual Black Professionals Summit and then launching Black Professionals Network, a year-round program and mobile app platform, to build that space between community professionals and corporate partners and help Black professionals advance their careers, power up businesses, and build up social capital.

“My love for this community is evident, and as a problem-solver and connector by nature, I wanted to channel that energy to uplift my community past the deficit-framing conversations and springboard us into the future of opportunities and abundance,” said Paul. “Furthermore, as a Black ecosystem builder and entrepreneur – I have insights into what Black households are looking for, and I also understand what funders are looking for. That’s why the Venture Miami Opportunity Program is the perfect program for me to take these women and entrepreneurs to the next level.”

With the availability of investments to underrepresented groups consistently ranking low, according to a recent report published by aīre ventures, there is a clear need for Miami to build an inclusive tech ecosystem by building both social and financial capital for underrepresented founders in the #CapitalofCapital with the #HumanCapital that defines it.

Not another Silicon Valley

Since the #MiamiTech boom, many have been wary of duplicating the inequities present in Silicon Valley here in Miami. Many investors have touted that they want to invest in Black founders but don’t know where to find them. “We’re consistently getting asked the question ‘how are investors going to find these Black businesses? Or ‘what should funders expect for the investments they’ll receive?’” said Paul. And she provided the most-lawyer answer to that question – “It depends.” said Paul. “It depends on what type of ventures they want to add to their portfolios and then matching them with Black founders already working in that space. These Black founders exist, and while you may not regularly cross each other’s paths, us making the connection point is what matters, and together developing it into a mutually beneficial partnership.”

Leveraging her own entrepreneurial knowledge and her work previously as Business Development Consultant for the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) and a Kaufman Foundation FastTrac Coach; these women founders are in great hands with Paul. 

For the first six weeks of the program, participants will have targeted meetings with financial advisors within FIU and the community to build strategic growth plans to prepare for catalytic investment, with a goal of having at least 50 percent of the participants ready to pitch during Miami Tech Month in 2022.

“Our goal is to have the cohort comprised of people from Miami, building in Miami, and hiring talent from Miami,” continued Paul. “We’re #MiamiMade, and FIU, the City of Miami, and our partners at JPMorgan Chase want to ensure that our community knows that as we continue to turn #MiamiTech into a city-wide movement.”

How to apply

Applications for the Venture Miami Opportunity Program are open – if you’re #MiamiMade and are ready to scale your venture to the next level, make sure to submit your application for the Venture Miami Opportunity Program’s first Cohort by Tuesday, Feb. 1 (updated). For more information on the Venture Miami Opportunity Program, please click here or contact Kenasha Paul at [email protected].

From left, Saif Ishoof, VP of FIU’s Office of Engagement & Senior Advisor for Innovation & Technology for Mayor Francis Suarez; Kenasha Paul, Venture Miami Opportunity Program Director; Caryn Lavernia, Assistant Vice President of FIU’s Office of Engagement and Miguel Asencio, Engagement Project Manager


Krysten Brenlla