By Kelly Knickerbocker
The VC ecosystem is starkly homogenous—long associated with its lack of diversity and representation. In 2020, eight out of ten VC investment partners were white, according to the NVCA-Deloitte VC Human Capital Survey. There’s a major lack of investment dollars flowing into Black-founded startups, too. TechCrunch has reported that Black women founders are particularly impacted by a lack of funding opportunities—receiving just 0.27% of all US VC dollars since 2018.
For years, venture capitalists have faced mounting pressure to diversify their portfolio companies and investment teams with Black people, other people of color, and women. In 2020, the conversation reemerged as protests took place across the globe in response to police killings of several Black Americans. Forced to reckon with its own staggering lack of diversity, players across VC vowed to work toward reducing racial disparities and inequalities in the industry.
2023, our list of Black founders and investors to watch celebrates a small fraction of the Black leaders and innovators who are making impacts in their communities, industries, and beyond. The list, which was expanded from 66 to 82 founders and investors this year, features some familiar faces and some new names.
To learn more about the criteria for being included in this list and/or how to submit a Black founder or investor for a future update, scroll to the end of this article.
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Black founders in edtech Black founders in fintech and blockchain Black founders in media, entertainment, and art Black founders in healthtech Black founders in foodtech and agtech Black founders in beauty, skincare, and haircare Black founders in travel, tourism, and leisure Black founders in business operations and productivity software Black founders in mentorship, coaching, and career readiness and placement Black investors
Black founders in edtech
These founders are innovating across the education technology (edtech) space—an industry vertical that refers to companies developing software and hardware solutions to enhance teaching practices and improve learning outcomes for students. Always vital, the tools being created in this sector were especially needed during recent years, when virtual- and hybrid-learning became essential. In fact, in 2022, investors funneled $9.03 billion into 1,287 VC deals, according to PitchBook Platform data.
Dr. Johnetta MacCalla Co-founder and CEO of Zyrobotics, the developer of inclusive, educational technologies for the diverse needs of children with differing abilities.
Chris Bennett Co-founder and CEO of Wonderschool, a Bay Area-based network of modern early education programs to ensure all families have access to high-quality early childhood care.
Joanna Smith-Griffin Founder and CEO of AllHere, a chatbot software designed to reduce chronic absenteeism and foster success among students. Using artificial intelligence, the startup's virtual advisor communicates 24/7 via automated two-way texting, proactively sending nudges and leveraging a customized knowledge base to ensure each family and student receives the right support at the right time. Named one of Forbes 30 Under 30, Smith managed family engagement, child development and personalized learning research at schools across the East Coast.
Black founders in fintech and blockchain
Financial technology (fintech) companies use the internet, algorithms, and blockchain and software technologies to offer or facilitate financial services traditionally provided by banks. Fintech investors and entrepreneurs continue to reap the rewards of an acceleration in digital transactions. Though VC funding for fintech startups slowed in 2022, startups in the space still garnered $85.27 billion in funding—down from $126.68 trillion in 2021, according to PitchBook data.
Sheena Allen Founder and CEO of Atlanta-based CapWay, a mobile banking and fintech company with the mission to restore trust and provide a fair opportunity to learn and grow wealth for all.
Joe Beard Co-founder of Dallas’ CollateralEdge, a fintech platform that provides banks with innovative, automated solutions to bolster the credit profile of loans and allow greater underwriting flexibility.
Trevor Rozier-Byrd Founder of Stackwell, an early-stage startup on a mission to attack the racial wealth gap by empowering a new community of Black investors—specifically Black millennials and Gen Z. Launched in early 2022, the app combines pre-built portfolios based on risk, educational resources and behavioral nudges in order to address the pervasive underinvestment and unbanking of Black people in the US. Prior to founding Stackwell, Rozier-Byrd worked at firms including State Street and WilmerHale.
Tavonia Evans Founder of Guapcoin, a blockchain and cryptocurrency startup created to amplify the economic voice of the Black community in Greater Atlanta and beyond.
Jerry Nemorin Founder and CEO of Oakland-based LendStreet, a lending platform designed to help people get out of debt, rebuild their credit and get a fresh start.
Natasha Bansgopaul Founder of New York’s VegaX, a digital asset management platform that offers access to actionable indexes and index-driven crypto products.
David Potter Co-founder and CEO of Curu, a SaaS lead-recovery platform based in Denver that helps lenders and loan marketplaces grow their new accounts by recovering their rejected applicants.
Michael Broughton Co-founder and CEO of Altro, a free credit service that helps people build credit through recurring payments and subscriptions. Altro’s free app empowers members to easily link recurring payments—like rent and subscription services—to leverage unseen and uncounted payments to build their credit score. After being denied a loan to cover the cost of his college tuition due to a lack of credit score or history, Broughton founded his startup as a Gen Z-first approach for building and repairing credit.
Craig Lewis Founder and CEO of Dallas-based Gig Wage, the developer of an API and web-based payments platform designed to pay, manage, and support contractors.
Black founders in media, entertainment, and art
The founders in this category are active in the production, distribution, and sale of entertainment‐related products and services—which can include everything from movie theaters and production companies to record labels. Closely related, media startups and their founders seek to disseminate news, entertainment, and information through varied channels, like TV networks, print and digital publications, and gaming platforms.
Travis Montaque Founder and CEO of New York City’s Group Black, a first-of-its-kind media collective and accelerator rooted in the advancement of Black-owned media properties. A serial entrepreneur, Montaque is also the founder of Holler Studios and Crater.
Kyle Banks Co-founder with André Jones of The Tenth Magazine, a bi-annual publication that documents the history, culture, ideas, and aesthetics of the Black LGBTQ community. In 2020, Banks founded the nonprofit Kyler Cares Foundation to help improve health outcomes for people of color living with Type 1 Diabetes.
James Norman Founder and CEO of Pilotly, a consumer insights platform that creates meaningful engagements between content creators and global audiences. Norman is also a managing partner at Black Operator Ventures, a seed fund built for and by Black founders. The Oakland-based firm leads seed rounds and co-invests at the pre-seed and Series A stages.
Erika Alexander Co-founder and CEO with Ben Arnon of Color Farm Media, a Los Angeles-based developer and producer of content for movies, TV, streaming and podcasts that elevates underrepresented voices in media.
Morgan DeBaun Founder and CEO of Blavity, a media platform focused on serving the multifaceted lives of Black millennials.
Sean Green Co-founder and CEO of Artneral, a complete sales solution for art galleries, advisories, and private sales founded in 2013.
Black founders in healthtech
These luminaries are part of the fast-growing health technology AKA healthtech space. Healthtech companies provide mobility and other information technologies to improve healthcare delivery while decreasing costs. Startups in this space—of which PitchBook tracks 20,000+—often have crossover into sectors like cloud computing, internet services, and social mobility to optimize patient-center healthcare.
Ade Adesanya Co-founder and President of Los Angeles’ Moving Analytics, a digital cardiac rehabilitation and prevention program, delivered via mobile platform and health coaching.
Crystal Adesanya Founder of Kiira Health, a Los Angeles-based telehealth platform for collegiate women focused on addressing women’s health inequities.
Maya Hardigan Founder and CEO of Mae, a culturally competent digital health platform that connects Black expectant mothers with critical resources to drive positive pregnancy outcomes. Headquartered in New York City, Mae works in concert with healthcare payers and states to address the significant disparities in maternal health outcomes for Black moms across the US. Prior to founding Mae in 2020, Hardigan worked at Pfizer for a decade in strategy, platform, and innovation roles.
Derrick Miles Founder and CEO of CourMed, a Dallas-based startup that provides end-to-end concierge delivery of healthcare products and services to homes, condos, offices, hotels, and more.
Nathalie Walton CEO and co-founder of Expectful, a subscription meditation and sleep platform for hopeful, expecting and new parents. Headquartered in New York City, the startup calls itself a haven of holistic care for moms, providing empowering, anxiety-reducing and community-building to combat the wellbeing crisis facing millions of moms in the US. Prior to founding Expectful in 2020, Nathalie worked at Silicon Valley startups for more than a decade, including at Airbnb, eBay, and Google Shopping.
Bea Arthur Founder and CEO of The Difference, a New York City-based on-demand therapy technology that uses AI to connect users with live, licensed therapists via phone, app, or smart speaker.
Feyi Ayodele Founder and CEO of CancerIQ, a precision health technology startup designed to help doctors identify patients at high risk for cancer.
Kimberly Huggins Co-founder along with Brittany Brathwaite of Kimbritive, a New York-based startup that offers consulting services and workshops for Black women on topics like healthy relationships, pleasure, consent, contraception options, and other sexual health and wellness topics. The duo established an STI and HIV prevention-based student organization in college, which led to the creation of Kimbritive. Huggins is also a licensed social worker.
Dr. Eric E. Whitaker Founder and CEO of Chicago-based Zing Health, a startup offering tech-enabled insurance plans that provide Medicare Advantage plans to reduce healthcare disparities among historically underserved populations.
Black founders in foodtech and agtech
From alt-proteins and insect-based foods to sustainable food production, the founders highlighted in this section are developing products and services that impact what we cultivate, harvest, buy, and eat. For additional insights on topics related to foodtech, check out PitchBook’s Q3 2022 Emerging Tech Research: Foodtech report covering VC trends and emerging opportunities in the space.
Tinia Pina Founder of Re-Nuble, an agricultural tech startup based in New York that transforms food waste into organic fertilizer that can be used for organic farming, gardening, and landscaping.
Riana Lynn Founder of Austin’s Journey Foods, a SaaS and AI-powered platform intended to help food businesses develop, manage, and launch nutritious food products.
Lisa Dyson Founder and CEO of Air Protein, the developer of a meat alternative technology designed to create protein out of ordinary carbon dioxide. The proprietary process for creating air-based meat takes hours—not months—from the elements found in the air we breathe. Dyson is also the co-founder and Chairman of the Board of Kiverdi, a startup that uses NASA-inspired technologies to convert carbon dioxide into people- and planet-friendly bio-based products.
Jasmine Crowe-Houston Founder and CEO of Goodr, an Atlanta-based food waste diversion platform that tracks an organization’s surplus food from pickup to donation, delivering social and environmental impact reporting analytics.
Kellee James Founder and CEO of Mercaris, a market data service and online trading platform for organic, non-GMO and certified agricultural commodities based in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Black founders in beauty, skincare, and haircare
The founders in this section are creating goods and services to support peoples’ self-care journeys—from on-demand haircuts to vegan makeup. When we look and feel our best, we’re empowered put our best foot forward. These founders know that! They also know what a huge market opportunity beauty represents—in 2022, 238 beauty industry VC deals netted $1.52 billion in capital raised, according to PitchBook data.
Tracey Pickett Founder of Hairbrella, a rainwear company headquartered in Atlanta that combines fashion and function to keep hair dry and protected from the elements.
Darren Tenkorang Founder of London’s TRIM-IT, the first app-powered mobile barbershop, delivering high-quality haircuts straight to your doorstep in a high-tech barbershop in a van.
Songe LaRon Co-founder and CEO of Squire Technologies with Dave A. Salvant, a booking and payment platform that connects people with great barbers worldwide. Headquartered in New York City and founded in 2015, Squire is also a management platform for barbershops—allowing them to engage their customers, process bookings and payments and manage inventory. Forbes profiled both co-founders in 2021, spotlighting how the former finance guy and the former corporate lawyer ditched their careers to build a massively successful barbershop app.
Karen Young Founder and CEO of the direct-to-consumer shaving and bodycare brand OUI the People, based in Brooklyn.
Courtney Caldwell Co-founder and COO, with her husband Dr. Tye Caldwell (CEO), of ShearShare, a Buffalo, New York-based B2B mobile platform that matches licensed beauty professionals to unused salon space in 900+ cities.
Cashmere NicoleFounder of Beauty Bakerie, a cosmetics line offering long-lasting vegan and paraben-free makeup, headquartered in San Diego.
Kristen Jones Miller Co-founder and CEO of New York City’s Mented Cosmetics, an upscale beauty line created for women of color—including what Essence calls the “best nude lipsticks we’ve ever worn.”
Diishan Imira Founder and CEO of Oakland’s Mayvenn, a web-based and mobile point-of-sale app that allows salons and stylists to provide retail products to their clients without having to buy or hold inventory.
Hannah Diop Founder, along with actress and writer Issa Rae, of Sienna Naturals, a haircare company designed to nurture textured hair with natural ingredients.
Leila Velez Founder and CEO of Curl Lab, a startup that offers a personalized curly hair product line created by scientists, dermatologists, nutritionists, and curly hair experts. Prior to founding Curl Lab and relocating to New York, Velez founded Brazil’s Beleza Natural in 1993—when she was just 19. Beleza Natural went on to become a beauty institute chain that employed 4,000 people.
Black founders in travel, tourism, and leisure
It’s been a tough few years for the travel industry amid the ebbs and flows of COVID-19, but there’s hope for a better, brighter 2023 travel season. These innovative founders are using technology to facilitate better travel opportunities and experiences—this year and beyond. An area of travel PitchBook is tracking closely is sustainable tourism, one of 142+ emerging spaces covered in our platform. Sustainable tourism is the idea that travel should have a positive impact on the environment, culture, and economy of the destination being visited, and it is represented by several of the startups mentioned below.
Ama Marfo Co-founder and CEO of Airfordable alongside Emmanuel Buah, a company that democratizes travel by allowing users to book a flight for a fraction of the upfront cost and the rest in recurring payments.
Joah Spearman Founder and CEO of Austin’s Localeur, which provides access to a global community of local insiders and authentic recommendations on where to eat and drink in over 200+ cities, plus travel tips, road trip guides, and personalized itineraries.
Jonathan Hayes Founder and CEO of North Carolina’s RewardStock, a platform that offers information on credit cards for travelers to earn, track, and use reward points to book trips.
Black founders in business operations and productivity software
In an era of tech tool proliferation and complicated tech stacks, these founders are using technology to increase business productivity. From streamlining internal teamwork to facilitating product design and development, these founders are creating one-stop-shops to make businesses and teams run more smoothly.
Ablorde Ashigbi Founder of 4Degrees, a SaaS platform headquartered in Greater Chicago that provides relationship-building recommendations and intelligent guidance on expanding team networks.
Jordan Walker Founder of Yac, an app designed to cut down on meetings and calls with voice messages, searchable transcriptions, and asynchronous screen sharing.
Tope Awotona Founder and CEO of Calendly, the modern scheduling platform for high-performing teams and individuals accelerating business forward. Headquartered in Atlanta and founded in 2013, Calendly is a powerful yet simple automated scheduling tool that takes the work out of scheduling check-ins, meetups, and meetings so that users can be more efficient with their time and energy. Prior to Calendly, Awotona spent the majority of his career in enterprise software sales at companies like IBM and Dell Technologies. He’s also a board member for SalesLoft.
Yaw Aning Co-founder and CEO of Malomo, an Indianapolis-based shipment tracking and customer marketing platform for e-commerce brands that helps its users generate revenue and increase customer loyalty.
Karissma Yve Founder and CEO of Gildform, headquartered in Detroit, an on-demand jewelry design and manufacturing platform that helps brands create jewelry from concept to creation—starting with a sketch.
Dennis Dicker Founder and CEO of Optonome, a Philadelphia-based startup whose software offers a dynamic calendar, secure file storage, HIPAA-compliant encryption, secure messaging and voice/video calling, and more.
Black founders in mentorship, coaching, and career readiness and placement
The founders highlighted in this section play a critical role in facilitating professional growth for people of all ages and life stages. From supporting new coding pros through job training and bootcamps to mentor-matching apps, these founders are working to cultivate curiosity, passion, expertise, and professionalism that will propel working professionals further in their careers.
Ruben Harris Co-founder and CEO of San Francisco’s Career Karma, an app created to help job training programs find qualified applicants, as well as match people with coding bootcamps to support them throughout their careers.
Janice Omadeke Co-founder and CEO of The Mentor Method, a mentor-matching platform based in Austin that connects tech leaders with change-making mentors. In 2022, The Mentor Method was acquired by The Cru.
Chandler Malone Founder and CEO of Bootup, a startup whose platform utilizes matching algorithms, employer-sponsored certifications, and concierge services to fill talent gaps in tech companies. Malone is also a managing partner at Underground Ventures, a venture studio based in Miami that supports promising underrepresented founders and their startups.
Angelica Ross Founder and CEO of TransTech Social Enterprises, a Chicago-based co-learning and -working community that economically empowers LGBTQ+ people and allies with practical, career-readiness skills.
Kimberly Bryant Founder and CEO of Black Girls CODE, a global nonprofit that teaches computer programming and tech skills to girls and young women from underrepresented communities.
Makinde Adeagbo Founder of /dev/color, a nonprofit community for Black software engineers to help each other grow into industry leaders.
Zachary Farley Co-founder of KITT LABS, a continuous learning community whose mission is to provide engineers with trainings and opportunities to help them through their tech journey.
Just 3% of US venture capital partners are Black, according to a survey by NVCA and Deloitte—it’s no secret that Black investors and other investors of color are unrepresented at firms across the United States. The individuals highlighted below are just a few handfuls of the Black investors who go to work every day in the private markets. They’re pushing back against the industry’s homogenous makeup now while simultaneously opening the door for more Black investors in the future.
Henri Pierre-Jacques Co-founder and managing partner of Harlem Capital Partners. He, alongside Jarred Tingle, built the New York City-based venture firm in 2015 to change the face of entrepreneurship by investing in diverse founders.
Abyah Nycole Wynn Co-founder and fund manager at True Capital Management, a wealth management firm in San Francisco.
Osei Van Horne Co-global head and managing partner of sustainable growth equity investments at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, J.P. Morgan’s growth equity investing practice focused on climate action. Van Horne is also the head of his firm’s social impact commitment to Project Black. Prior to his current role, Van Horne was managing director and co-founder of the technology division of Wells Fargo’s growth equity practices. He is on the board of advisors of the Women’s Venture Fund, an All Raise mentor and adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business.
Erik Moore Founder and managing director of Base Ventures, a seed-stage VC firm in Berkeley, California with the idea to fund disruptive ideas and champion nontraditional thinkers.
Taj Ahmad Eldridge General partner of Include Ventures, a fund of funds for fund managers who need to be included in the venture industry.
Arian Simone Co-founder and CEO of the Atlanta-based Fearless Fund, which invests exclusively in early-stage businesses run by women of color.
Richard Kerby Co-founder and general partner of Equal Ventures, a seed-stage venture fund that backs founders and businesses that are disrupting legacy markets. The firm has identified climate as one of its key investment areas in 2022—outlining a few new areas of climate tech they plan to dive deeper into throughout the year. Prior to Equal Ventures, Kerby was an investor at Venrock, where he led seed-stage and Series A investments in companies like 6Sense, Amino, Beckon and others. Before that, Kerby held roles at Institutional Venture Partners (IVP) and the banking division of Credit Suisse.
Karim Webb CEO of 4thMVMT, which focuses on communities impacted by institutional racism and invests in entrepreneurs who lack access to capital, operational resources, and networks to start and grow a business.
Arlan Hamilton Founder and managing partner at Backstage Capital, a seed investment fund that backs overachieving, underrepresented startup founders. Founded by Hamilton in 2015, the firm is based in Los Angeles and dedicated to minimizing funding disparities in tech by investing in high-potential founders who are people of color, women and/or LGBTQ+. With an active portfolio of nearly 150 investments, Backstage capital has recently invested in Shop Latinx and Currents.fm.
Mercedes Bent Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, where she focuses on consumer, fintech, crypto, edtech, and future of income investments.
Marlon Nichols Founding managing partner of MaC Venture Capital, a seed-stage VC firm in Los Angeles that invests in visionary founders and their tech companies.
Lo Toney Founding managing partner at Plexo Capital, a San Francisco-based institutional investment firm he incubated and spun out from GV (Google Ventures). Founded in 2018, Plexo Capital invests in emerging seed-stage VCs led by diverse teams—like CodeSee and 54gene. Prior to Plexo Capital, Toney was a partner on the investing team at GV where he focused on marketplaces, mobile and consumer products. Before that, he held positions at Comcast Ventures, Zynga, Nike, and eBay.
Boris Moyston Founder and senior managing partner at Relentless Venture Partners, a VC firm that funds early-stage US-based tech companies founded by Black and Latin American innovators
Christina Lewis. Chairwoman of BFO21, a private family investment office based in New York. Lewis is also the founder of All Star Code, a program that teaches youth of color to code, and co-founder of Giving Gap, a donor platform that connects donors and volunteers to Black-founded nonprofits in the US.
Tracy Gray Founder and managing partner at Greater Los Angeles’ The 22 Fund, an early growth VC and advisory firm focused on increasing the export capacity of US manufacturing companies. The firm’s mission is to create the clean, quality jobs of the future in underserved communities and build generational wealth for women and BIPOC. Gray is also the founder of We Are Enough, which educates women on why and how to invest in women-owned businesses, and a LP for Portfolia’s Green and Sustainability Fund.
Brian Hollins Founder and managing partner of Collide Capital, a New York-based firm that guides founders on their institutional capital journey and equips them with resources, knowledge, and hands-on operational support.
Leslie A. Brun Founder, chairman and CEO of Chicago’s Ariel Alternatives, a PE firm that invests in mid-market, scalable businesses that are or will become Black, Latino and/or Latina owned. Brun is also the chairman and CEO of Sarr Group, LLC, a private family practice that invests in the hospitality, automotive, and manufacturing sectors.
Ulili Onovakpuri Managing partner—working alongside fellow managing partner Brian Dixon—at Kapor Capital, an impact-driven investment firm based in Oakland, California. Kapor Capital launched its $126 million Fund III in 2022, its largest to date, with the continued mission of investing in tech startups that center positive impact for low-income communities and communities of color.
Amy Duffuor General partner at Azolla Ventures, a VC firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts that invests in early-stage tech companies with the potential for gigaton-scale climate impact.
Sasha McKenzie Deal lead at Boston’s Wellington Management, one of the world’s largest independent investment management firms.