A Portland-Based Venture Fund Just Raised Another $615,000 for Black-Founded Startups

Marceau Michel and Himalaya Rao unveiled the Black Founders Matter Fund in 2018 with the specific aim of raising $10 million for Black-founded businesses.

Marceau Michel and Himalaya Rao. (Robert J. Hill)

A Portland-based venture fund designated specifically for Black-founded startups got two large cash infusions totaling more than half a million dollars this month.

Marceau Michel and Himalaya Rao unveiled the Black Founders Matter Fund in 2018 with the specific aim of raising $10 million for Black-founded businesses.

This month, they got $615,000 closer.

Earlier this week, Oregon Sports Angels, an investing organization specifically dedicated to funding "promising early stage sports and sports technology founders," announced that its members have collectively invested $265,000 in the fund.

And the Oregon Growth Board—a state agency that invests out of the Oregon Growth Fund and the Oregon Growth Account—also recently invested $350,000 in the fund this month.

Michel tells WW that as an entrepreneur, he'd heard there was state money available for business development, but didn't know how to find it.

"I never knew where to get that money from. I felt really locked out of it. How do I get a piece of that action?" Michel says, adding that he's thrilled to help administer some of that funding, which the fund received at the end of a "six-month vetting process."

The Sports Angels investment came out of a series of conversations—Michel had previously worked with Sports Angels investor Andy Robbins—which resulted in a deal where the fund would specifically invest in startups relating to sports.

"They really respected me and Himalaya," Michel says. "I've had people say, 'I don't want to go through you, I'll go directly and invest in Black founders,'" but the Sports Angels saw value in investing in the larger fund instead.

Michel and Rao don't describe themselves as venture capitalists, telling WW last November that most people don't know what that is. The fund also doesn't operate like most other investment funds. It started as a T-shirt, and still sells T-shirts and sweatshirts on its website.

And Michel's and Rao's roles are intermediary: It's not just about writing checks but about building relationships.

"We function as a connector fund, because there are all these funds that want to diversify their portfolio but don't have the connections to do that—especially when it comes to Black founders," Michel says.

Recent recipients of Black Founders Matter funding include A Kids' Book About, a publishing startup dedicated to publishing children's books on serious topics like racism, money and cancer; OpConnect, a software platform for electric vehicle refueling stations; and Year One, which connects recent coding-school graduates with companies looking to diversify their rosters of engineers.

The fund's typical investment check is between $50,000 and $100,000, and all three recent investments are "right in that range," Michel says.

They're also all local. While the fund works with startup founders all over the country, local businesses "definitely takes preference for us."

"It's been nice to be able to get these resources out and get this funding to Black founders," Michel says. "We really are feeling that we're kind of hitting our stride."

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