Miami Tech & Startup News

Q&A with Dami Osunsanya, a new director in SB Opportunity Fund

Q&A with Dami Osunsanya, a new director in SB Opportunity Fund

Beyond her very Miami story, this SoftBank leader shares her views on #MiamiTech and diversity/inclusion, what’s ahead for the fund and more

By Nancy Dahlberg

Dami Osunsanya is a new director in the SB Opportunity Fund, yet she’s not new to the SoftBank family. She joined SoftBank in 2019, at first working with the Vision Fund where she created and launched SoftBank’s first early-stage vehicle, an accelerator for underrepresented founders, and sat on the investment committee there. She then was co-lead and head of value creation for the SB Opportunity Fund. During her time in that role, she moved back to Miami area, where she was born and raised.

The $100 million SB Opportunity Fund is based in Miami and  launched in March of 2020 to invest in Black, Latinx and Native American entrepreneurs and give them access to SoftBank Group’s network. Two months ago, the fund announced it was fully deployed and would become an uncapped, evergreen fund as part of SoftBank’s commitment to invest in underrepresented founders. Today, SB Opportunity Fund’s 70+ portfolio companies include Miami tech companies Quicknode, Eight Sleep, Heru, Lula, Lumu, Mean DAO, Ontop and others.

We sat down with Osunsanya to learn more about her Miami boomerang story – yes, she moved away and came back – as well as her views about Miami’s tech ecosystem and diversity and inclusion progress here and her work at SoftBank. Here are excerpts of that conversation, lightly edited for brevity.

Q. Love that you a boomerang, Dami. What’s your boomerang story?

A. I was born in Miami-Dade, Jackson Memorial Hospital, and raised in Broward County. A lot of my time was spent in really being the oldest of three girls and being that natural leader, as my mom would say. Thinking of my Nigerian descent, I’ve had a true immigrant story in Miami. My parents had master’s degrees in Nigeria, but my parents took on odd jobs to get back on their feet and eventually re-earned their degrees. So that entrepreneurial spirit of Miami just really resonates with me because it was how I grew up. Eventually my dad was a computer engineer, and my mom is now still a social worker with the state of Florida. Where we settled was in Broward, and I thought I was going to be a lawyer. I went to a middle school magnet and a high school magnet, and had the honor of being a [Miami Herald] Silver Knight honoree. When I left, I thought I would never come back.

Q, We’re glad you did! Then what?

A. At Emory, where I did my undergrad, I studied finance and Chinese studies and took a traditional, operational and finance route. I’ve been a leader with extensive operational experience across hard tech, telecom, supply chain, CPG. I was at Kraft, I was at Sprint, I was at McMaster Carr, processing 15,000 orders a day wearing a hard hat and steel-toe shoes in the warehouse, managing and leading 100 employees, many of which had been working there before I was born.

So after earning my MBA at the University of Chicago, my last role before SoftBank was at Intel where I worked directly with the CEO, Bob Swan, in prepping for earnings and leading the team on our corporate finance. And then SoftBank told me about this once in a lifetime opportunity to help companies in the Vision Fund, our $100 billion dollar fund. I took that opportunity [in San Francisco] to work with companies like WeWork and Uber and DoorDash, helping them to seize new strategic partnerships across the portfolio. At SoftBank, I also launched our first Black and Latinx ERG (employee resource group).  I launched our first accelerator called Emerge and had the opportunity to invest in 14 companies. And then once we launched the Opportunity Fund, I got the opportunity to co-lead the fund and lead value creation, helping companies grow and scale.

I was in Miami during Christmas [2020], and I couldn’t go back. Miami just felt like home between the food and the culture. And then what really shocked me was this emerging tech scene. I was excited to take my talents back home and help us become the next Silicon Valley.

Q. What was your first leadership role at the SB Opportunity Fund like?

A. As head of value creation, I helped companies scale fundamentally, so I pushed founders to really think outside the box and be a partner with them from that first seed round, depending on where they come in, all the way to IPO hopefully. I’m really proud of our portfolio. We’re 70 companies in and roughly 50% of the companies have already raised or started to raise the next round. And it’s really about showing that there’s no tradeoff between diversity and excellence. I created services and a platform for the companies to leverage to continuously grow. What’s cool is having been an operator, it makes you an amazing investor but also helps you be an amazing advocate for your companies.

Q. Congratulations on your recent promotion. What do you hope to bring to your new role and what are some of your goals for it?  

A. My role as Director in the SB Opportunity Fund is to help with sourcing and diligence, but also lead the team and our strategy on how we differentiate ourselves and help founders go from seed to hopefully IPO. 

My goal is to continue our mantra of generating outsized returns while focusing on funding the most special founders that happen be Black, Latinx, and Native American. I am also excited to leverage our ecosystem beyond capital to help create the future of tech. 

Miami is the best place to build this and to showcase that grit and work ethic needed to succeed comes from all backgrounds and that diversity is the core of true success. 

Q. What are some examples of the ways the SB Opportunity Fund supports their diverse community of founders?

A. A lot of it is about hands-on support. For one company we literally helped source products from China for them. It could be giving them something as simple as WeWork space for their growing team. What we really want to do is leverage our SoftBank brand to help them.

One of my favorite examples is a company called Vitable based in Philly. As they were raising their round, we were excited for them and started speaking to some of the executives in the Vision Fund and the founders of two different portfolio companies are now angel investors in Vitable. So when we talk about the power of the SoftBank ecosystem, that’s exactly it.

Another company is Career Karma. We basically sat [with founder Ruben Harris] and said, Okay, let’s think through your strategy and your different means of growth. So one of the examples was, let’s work with larger companies to upskill their employees … and now that’s a new product line for him. The operational expertise that I can leverage from all my time at different companies really comes in handy in giving them that executional help.

This unique community of 70 founders in the SB Opportunity Fund is very special. We connect them not only with each other, but also to the other 350+ companies within the SoftBank ecosystem. And then we also have external support — people like Mark Cuban and former Governor Jeb Bush have come and spoke to our founders because access is everything. We know being a founder in general is impossible, but to be a new diverse founder is particularly difficult so we’re here to give them all the connections and networks we can.

Q. More broadly, what’s your view of the way Miami’s ecosystem is progressing?

A. I’ve been nothing but impressed for a few reasons. One is the caliber of  Miami tech that was already here. I think folks didn’t quite realize that — it was very much overlooked. As more folks are coming, I love that Miami tech and the roots of Miami are getting the opportunity to shine. Two, I’m impressed that so many folks are willing to move and bring their families there. I personally have four best friends that also left and thought that they would never come back and have all moved back the same year. The third point though is it’s not only for VCs and funders. I have corporate lawyer friends and folks that work for big tech companies that are already moving here as well. There’s an ecosystem truly developing and with government being so supportive with Mayor Daniela and Mayor Francis,  and I think the future is just continuous growth and making sure that as we’re growing, we’re being mindful of the Opa-Lockas and the Miami Gardens and making sure that we’re bringing everyone on this journey.

Q. What sectors are you seeing rising up here?

A. I’m really excited about healthcare and crypto in Miami. I had the opportunity to speak to University of Miami’s new healthcare innovation center and they were so excited to partner with our companies on doing data studies and leveraging their patients. That’s incredible. That’s the Miami ecosystem and how you can actually partner with universities and funds and founders and create that bridge.  And of  course we are the “Capital of Capital,” but now we’re also the Capital of Crypto.  Quicknode was one of our actual first investments out of the SB Opportunity Fund and it’s incredible to see what’s happening here. Those are two that get us excited, but we’re a generalist fund at heart and excited about any tech-enabled company that’s really focusing on building a long sustainable business.

Q. Let’s talk about diversity and inclusion in Miami. What can we do better and what have we done well?

A. The thing that’s special is Miami is the most naturally diverse place — every time I am craving, a Jamaican beef patty it is like no more than five minutes away from me. And at the same time, the people that create this ecosystem are here and excited to engage so I think that there’s a lot more opportunity here than probably any other place in the US. It’s one of the most exciting opportunities here.

As I think about the momentum that we’ve had in the last year, including companies in our portfolio that are all diverse and really getting the attention and the validation and the capital, what we just need to do is double down on that.

I think oftentimes there’s a lot of rhetoric about how do you help founders, let’s have like ecosystem lunches and dinners. I think the best thing we can do is give founders funding and let them grow and scale and have high expectations for them to deliver.

 And what we have found is that [diverse founders] are excited for the opportunity and our portfolio is showing that.

Q. What have been some special moments for you since returning to Miami?

A. My Cafecito Talk with Mayor Francis was about the Opportunity Fund and he was just so excited about the momentum we were having and wanting us to be here. And again, it was that welcoming spirit, that energy, honestly part of the reason why I moved here was because of his energy. And then secondly, I hosted a SoftBank event during Art Basel, that’s now also Tech Basel, and had over 60 Black and Latinx founders congregate during Art Basel and I think that that’s just the realization of the true momentum.

Q. What is your advice for diverse founders who want to get the attention of SoftBank’s Opportunity Fund?

A. We’re an open book, Apply, put your deck in and you’ll get a response from us. We believe that an open-door policy is the best way to find the most amazing founders.

Dami Osunsanya participated in a panel discussion during eMerge America’s La Casa event during Techbasel
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