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investment

11 mins read

Their $30M Investment Fund Focuses on Closing the Wealth Gap Through Employee Ownership

Apis &​ ​Heritage Capital is a $30 million investment fund that uses a novel “employee-led buyout” (ELBO©) structure to provide​ ​workers of color and workers in essential industries with the most powerful wealth building tool​ ​in the nation: equity in a thriving business.

The Washington, DC-based firm finances the acquisition of companies​ ​from retiring owners/founders and converts them into 100% employee-owned enterprises. A&H invests in companies where at least 40% of the workforce consists of workers of color.

In June 2021, the firm announced its first close at $30 million through its flagship Legacy Fund I.

The fund was supported by investments from the Ford Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation’s Zero Gap Fund, The Skoll Foundation, Capricorn Investments, Gary Community Investments, Ascension Investment Management, and many other impact investing institutions and individuals.

We caught up with the founders, Todd Leverette and Phil Reeves to learn more:

What inspired you to start a fund focused on employee ownership?

TODD: It’s interesting, I was raised by my parents to always ask “Given what you have, how are you using it to make things better for your community and for others?” That same inquiry and conviction was accentuated and refined at Morehouse College, where I met my partner at A&H, Phil Reeves. That question stayed with us as we moved through our respective careers. 

For me, I was always trying to figure out how to use the blessing of having the opportunity to work on Wall Street and go to law and business school—how to take those skills and that information and pour it back into the community in a way that changes people’s lives for the better. It was while I was working with the Democracy at Work Institute, the incubating and technical assistance partner for the Fund, that I found that answer. 

At the Democracy at Work Institute, I was tasked with bringing the power and benefits of employee ownership to Black and Brown communities. Employee ownership has the power and potential to create great companies that stay rooted in their communities, provide better workplaces, generate higher job satisfaction, and most importantly, help workers build wealth.

So, given that tall order, I did what I always do—I called the smartest guy I know, my partner, Phil Reeves, and together we developed the financing model for what we now call our “employee-led buy out” model and conceived of Apis & Heritage to bring the power of employee ownership to workforces of color.

Initially, we were trying to arrange financing for a single acquisition of a company to prove that our model could work, but our first outside partner, Michael Brownrigg, came in with a lot of fund management expertise and pushed us to create a larger fund for investment into numerous companies, rather than just raising money for a single acquisition. And here we are, Apis & Heritage Capital Partners (A&H), Legacy Fund I, having had a first close of $30M on Juneteenth of 2021, looking to announce our final close very soon, and having completed our first 2 “employee-led buy out” transactions in Colorado and Texas.

How do you plan to help employees create wealth?

PHIL: First, it is important to understand that 60% of Black workers and 75% of Brown workers retire with no retirement assets according to the Economic Policy Institute. Through employee ownership, the average worker nearing retirement in an employee-owned business has $147,000 in their retirement account. This is transformative.

Although the first generation of wealth in a company should go to the founders—the ones who took the risk to start the business and probably sweated to make payroll along the way—we are focused on helping employees earn the next generation of enterprise wealth. When we help a company transition into an A&H 100% employee-owned business, the mechanics of wealth creation are pretty simple: each year, the company gives a portion of shares to each full time employee.

The employees do NOT pay for those shares; they earn them through their hard work. Each year the company’s value is assessed by an outside expert, and that then sets the “share price” for each share.

When an employee is ready to retire, he or she then sells the shares they have earned back to the company. It is like owning shares in the stock market, except you own shares in your own company and you can help your company grow and become more valuable every day.

What are the benefits of a business becoming employee-owned? 

TODD: The data after almost 50 years is crystal clear—companies that are employee-owned, where workers feel like worker-owners, tend to outperform their peers in all of the important metrics: they are more profitable, more productive, and more resilient in economic downturns.

Additionally, research shows that the mental health of employees improves. And the reason is obvious—when employees are engaged and empowered as owners, they take more care about expenses, they look for ways to improve their work, they generate more ideas for new products or services, and they are happier.

And to be clear, these are not niche companies, these are strong and growing businesses. Indeed the world of employee-owned companies in America includes firms with tens of thousands of employee-owners; there are employee-owned companies that make billions of dollars in revenue.

In addition to all that—which is really important!—100% employee-owned businesses also pay ZERO federal taxes and in 44 out of 50 states, zero state taxes, which is another obvious financial advantage.

An estimated 10,000 Baby Boomers are retiring each day. What opportunities does this present for A&H?

PHIL: As you say, there is a massive transfer of business assets happening right now and for the next decade, as the Baby Boomer generation begins to retire and looks for ways to exit their businesses.

The reality is that some will be handed down to family members, but most will either be shut down or sold to private equity firms or to competitors. We want employees to have a shot at owning those businesses!

And we think a lot of owners want that too, they just may not be aware that the option exists for them or fear that they will have to carry a very large “seller’s note” for years if they try to sell to their employees.

A&H exists to make this transaction easier for owners by handling all the red tape and ensuring that they do not have to carry large seller’s notes if they sell through A&H to their employees.

Where do you see A&H in the next 5 years?

PHIL & TODD: As your prior question makes clear, there is a massive opportunity for A&H in the next 5-10 years. Only 17% of Baby Boomers who own companies have succession plans putting workers, particularly Black and Brown workers, at risk.

We think we can help thousands of workers of color, and low-income workers generally, become employee-owners, putting them on a path to financial security for themselves and their families, and really putting a dent in the racial wealth gap and even intergenerational poverty over time. 

Moreover, our efforts so far demonstrate that there is a hunger for this approach in the ownership world. We have seen it first hand: if owners can get a fair price for their companies and receive assistance navigating the process and paperwork, they would prefer to hand the company over to their employees. So we are really only limited by how much capital we can raise and how well we execute.

However, we are enormously grateful to our Legacy Fund I investors, particularly The Rockefeller Foundation for its early investment and ongoing support of our model. The early investments from The Rockefeller Foundation Zero Gap Fund and other leading investors helped us attract additional capital, making our first fund raising a success.

All of our investor partners have enabled us to establish a track record so that, in the future, we can raise Fund 2 and transition more and larger companies to employee ownership, potentially impacting thousands of workers and their families.

Expanding the ownership model has the power to help eliminate the racial wealth gap and make this country a stronger and more equitable place to work. Our goal is to establish Fund 2 within the next 5 years.

 

Tony O. Lawson

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2 mins read

Black Owned EdTech Startup, AllHere Raises $8 Million to help Schools Reduce Absenteeism

AllHere is an Ai-powered educational support platform founded by Joanna Smith, a former public school teacher and family engagement leader at a charter school in Boston.

Oftentimes, Joanna’s students couldn’t receive the help they needed because of issues with their attendance.

allhere
Joanna Smith, Founder & CEO of AllHere

Her attempts to leave voicemails and send letters home were futile as they went unanswered. Now, with her company AllHere, she is leaning on insights that she’s gained on how best to reach out more effectively to the student’s families.

AllHere’s approach has been proven through randomized control trial research to reduce chronic absenteeism by 17%, reduce course failures by 38%, and increase student retention.

Attendance was already an issue for K-12 schools before the pandemic, but the pandemic has increased absences across the board. This has led to K-12 schools turning to AllHere for assistance: the number of K-12 schools using the AllHere chatbot has risen by 700% to over 8,000 schools across 34 states, helping AllHere reach a total of 2 million families.

Although it was originally created with attendance in mind, schools have started to use it for other purposes as well, such as school closure announcements and troubleshooting IT problems. The two way text messaging AI bot allows schools to be in touch with families 24/7 to nudge them on attendance and give updates so teachers and admin can reallocate their time elsewhere.

By focusing on ways to improve attendance across the board, Joanna has found a way to help even more students than in her previous role as a teacher.

AllHere recently announced that it has raised over $8 million in a Series A round of funding. This round brings its total amount raised to $12.1 million. The most recent funding round was led by led by Spero Ventures and included Rethink Education, Gratitude Railroad, Potencia Ventures, Boston Impact Initiative, Softbank’s Opportunity Fund, Operator Collective, and Yard Ventures.


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1 min read

$25 Million Black Women Owned Fund Receives Multi-Million Dollar Investment from Mastercard

Fearless Fund is a Black women owned firm that invests in women of color-led businesses seeking pre-seed, seed level, or series A financing. Its mission is to bridge the gap in venture capital funding for women of color founders building scalable, growth aggressive companies.

To help further access to funding for Black women, Mastercard today announced a multi-million dollar investment in the $25 million fund.

The investment will allow Fearless Fund to further expand its portfolio of women of color founded and co-founded companies in the consumer packaged goods, food & beverage, beauty, fashion, and technology sectors.

“This multi-million dollar investment from Mastercard is further proof of their commitment to providing resources in an effort to better serve the hard-working but severely underfunded Women of Color entrepreneurs who so deserve equal capital distribution. We have been working together with Mastercard for almost 3 years now and look forward to growing this relationship,” says Arian Simone, Co-Founder & General Partner of Fearless Fund.

Other investors in Fearless Fund include PayPal, Bank of America, Invest Atlanta, and the Florida A&M University Foundation.

Tony O. Lawson


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2 mins read

Saltbox Raises $10.6 Million To Provide E-Commerce Businesses With Logistics Support

The pandemic has accelerated the growth of the global e-commerce industry. Not only are more people shopping online than ever before, more people are also starting online businesses. According to Shopify, one of the largest digital retail platforms, online store creation on its platform rose 79% in 2020 over 2019.

Saltbox is an Atlanta-based “co-warehousing” startup that provides space for small businesses and e-commerce merchants to operate as well as store and ship goods, all under one roof.

saltbox

Saltbox has private “warehouse suites”, loading dock access, a self-service packing center, warehouse equipment for use, a photography stage, and more, all specifically geared toward e-commerce and retail entrepreneurs.

The startup was founded on the premise that the need for “co-warehousing and SMB-centric logistics enablement solutions” has become a major problem for many new businesses that rely on online retail platforms to sell their goods.

Many of those companies are limited to self-storage and mini-warehouse facilities for storing their inventory, which can be expensive and inconvenient, noted Saltbox CEO, Tyler Scriven.

saltbox

Their Atlanta location opened in November 2019 and has 27,000 square feet of space, all of which is full, according to Scriven.

Recently, Saltbox raised a $10.6M Series A round to accelerate its expansion across the United States. They also recently opened a 66,000-square-foot warehouse near Dallas. The Dallas area location marks the first expansion for the company outside Atlanta since it launched in 2019. They plan to expand into Denver, Seattle, and Los Angeles next.

Tony O. Lawson


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4 mins read

Black Owned Venture Capital Firm Raises $110 Million Seed Fund

MaC Venture Capital is a Black owned venture capital firm that invests in technology startups across a broad range of business sectors, including fintech, e-commerce and marketplaces, interactive media, connectivity, enterprise SaaS, space and aerospace, logistics, and more.

Today, the Los Angeles and Palo Alto based company announced it has raised its inaugural $110 million seed-stage fund. This is the largest investment received by a majority Black owned fund. They plan to use the funds to invest in 40 seed-stage companies across the globe, targeting $1 million for each initial investment.

“Although we are investing at a founder’s earliest stage, with a minimum viable product and early traction, we ground ourselves in seeking big opportunities — companies that have the potential to scale quickly, change an industry, and bring something net-new to society. We look for ambitious founders who want to build billion-dollar category leaders,” said Adrian Fenty, managing general partner.

“We evaluate investments based on the merits and potential of their ideas, not just resumes, to find value in founders where others might not. This brings us differentiated deal flow and the ability to look around corners to identify white space in areas that are often overlooked. Not only do we have the opportunity to really change the way capital is allocated by investing in more Black and Brown founders, we can also power companies that are closing the opportunity gap for large groups of people and create more diversity across a wide range of verticals,” said Marlon Nichols, managing general partner.

“With MaC Venture Capital, our mission is to invest in visionary founders who are building the future we want to see. And a big part of that is thinking about culture and how it’s shifting, changing behaviors, and eventually guiding new social norms. Our cultural investment lens stays ahead of that, leveraging research to identify how consumers and companies will spend their time and money in the future and looking for investment opportunities that will ultimately participate in those shifts,” said Michael Palank, general partner.

“I don’t think there’s another fund that looks anything like us,” said Charles D. King, general partner. “We represent a very diverse range of perspectives, skill sets, and networks, bridging Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., and we leverage that to support our founders. And we have the ability to broker mission-critical introductions that can cement a company’s trajectory, whether in technology, business, politics, entertainment, or finance.”

The firm intends to make 40 investments with this new fund, with an average investment of $1 million. The fund’s limited partners include Foot Locker, Inc., Goldman Sachs, Greenspring Associates, Bank of America, Howard University, MacArthur Foundation, the University of Michigan, State of Michigan Retirement System, and Mitch and Freada Kapor, among others.

Related: Black Owned Venture Capital, Private Equity & Angel Investment Firms

Tony O. Lawson


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1 min read

Africa Focused Flutterwave Now Valued at Over $1 Billion after $170 Million Investment

Founded in 2016, Flutterwave is a payment processing company that makes it easier to do business across the Continent by allowing users to make international payments in their own currencies.

Yesterday, the San Fransico based company announced that it has secured $170 million from a group of international investors as part of a successful Series C round.

flutterwave
Flutterwave Ceo and co-founder, Olugbenga Agboola
The round was led by growth-equity firms Avenir Growth Capital and Tiger Global Management with participation from new and existing investors. The fundraise brings the total investment in Flutterwave to $225 million and values the company at $1 billion.
flutterwave
Flutterwave Co-founder, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji

“We may consider the possibility of listing in New York or a possible dual listing in New York and Nigeria,” Flutterwave’s CEO and co-founder Olugbenga Agboola told Reuters on Tuesday.

This latest investment, made a year after Flutterwave announced a partnership with Visa and Worldpay, highlights the growing interest in the booming payments market in Africa.

 

Tony O. Lawson


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2 mins read

BlocPower, A Black Owned Climate Technology Startup Just Raised $63 Million

BlocPower is a Black owned climate technology startup that transforms antiquated buildings into greener, smarter, and healthier facilities with efficient heating and cooling systems.

blocpower
Donnel Baird, founder and CEO of BlocPower

Buildings account for around 40% of US energy consumption.  Small and medium sized buildings overconsume energy per square foot because they do not usually have the capital and technical expertise to access high efficiency equipment for their buildings.

Keith Kinch, Co-Founder of BlocPower

As a Public Benefit Corporation, BlocPower partners with utilities, community leaders and institutions, and building owners to identify unhealthy, energy-wasting buildings (non-profits, houses of worship, schools, small businesses or multi-family residences) to retrofit.

blocpower

Their machine learning platform determines which retrofits will produce the most energy savings at scale and uses the cloud and IoT to gather data and remotely monitor energy consumption.

By installing modern, efficient, all electric heating and cooling equipment, BlocPower improves indoor air quality and reduces or eliminates fossil fuel use, saving building owners 20 to 70 percent on energy costs.

blocpower

To fund these projects, BlocPower created an innovative financing solution that enables small and medium sized building owners to bring energy efficiency improvements to their properties with no out-of-pocket cost.

Yesterday, the company announced a $63 million Series A round. The round, which was comprised of $55 million in debt, and $8 million in equity, was led by American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact, AccelR8 and The Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, with participation from Kapor Capital, Elemental Excelerator, CityRock Venture Partners, The Schmidt Family Foundation and Salesforce Ventures.

Retrofit project investors are repaid using utility bill savings generated by the solar and energy efficiency retrofits.

So far, BlocPower has completed retrofits in more than 1,000 buildings in New York City and has projects underway in 24 cities, including PhiladelphiaMilwaukee, and Oakland.

Tony O. Lawson


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3 mins read

Largest Black Owned Mutual Fund Secures $200 Million Investment To Scale Minority Owned Businesses

Ariel Investments, the largest Black owned mutual fund, is launching a private investment firm, Ariel Alternatives, which will initially focus on funding and scaling minority-owned businesses. The move into private investments is a first in the company’s 38 year history.

Ariel Investments co-CEO Mellody Hobson along with Leslie Brun are the co-founders of Ariel Alternatives. Mr. Brun, an Ariel board member and founder of the investment firm, Hamilton Lane, will be its chairman and CEO and will lead the first initiative of Ariel Alternatives called “Project Black.”

The new fund, which has secured $200 million in initial funding from JPMorgan Chase, plans to invest in minority owned businesses and non minority owned businesses that will serve as leading suppliers to Fortune 500 companies.

The firm plans to infuse the non minority owned businesses with the capital and minority executive talent needed to qualify as a certified minority business. In order to qualify as a certified minority business, suppliers must be at least 51% minority owned, managed, and controlled, according to standards established by the National Minority Supplier Development Council.

According to Brun, Project Black aims to fill a massive diversity gap in the corporate America supply chain. Fortune 500 companies spend about 2% annually on minority-owned suppliers, well short of the 10% to 15% spending goals many corporations set last year.

Despite “announcements and pronouncements” by corporations about increasing the amount they spend with minority-owned suppliers, many have difficulty finding those with enough capacity to meet their needs, Brun said.

“We’re intending to create those minority suppliers of scale, in concert with our Fortune 500 relationships, to provide the solution to their issue, as well as create the opportunity for us to then leverage that into the social impact initiatives that we have,” he aded.

According to a release announcing the fund, “Project Black will forge a new class of Black and Latinx entrepreneurs. The initiative will seek to position these companies as leading suppliers to Fortune 500 companies — supporting supply chain diversity.”

Project Black plans to focus predominately on health care, industrial, media and marketing, outsourcing, manufacturing and packaging, technology, transportation and logistics, and financial and professional services.

 

Tony O. Lawson


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2 mins read

Black Owned App for Beauty Salons and Stylists Has Raised Over $3 Million

ShearShare is a Black owned app that works like an Airbnb for hairstylists and barbers. Instead of renting houses, they rent salon and barbershop stations.

The company was created in 2017 when husband-and-wife team, Courtney and Dr. Tye Caldwell discovered that 40% of salon and barbershop space goes unused every day.

Black Owned App
Courtney Caldwell (R) and Dr. Tye Caldwell (L)

ShearShare helps stylists communicate directly with their clients, including about specials they might be offering. Throughout COVID-19, the company has been enabling licensed cosmetologists and barbers to rent a sanitized salon suite, station, or nearby barber chair by the day.

The spaces are provided on demand without having to sign a long-term contract or pay commissions. Salon and barbershop owners make money on their unused space at a time and price that’s convenient for them.

“As the second largest industry for freelancers turns its attention to a new operating normal, many beauty and barbering professionals are taking time to revisit their priorities, including how to better manage operating costs, maximize revenue, and access professional workspace on-demand,” said Courtney.

The company has, in total, raised $3.4 million in funding. According to the company, despite an economic slowdown,  they have experienced a 157% increase in users over the past few months.

Tye and Courtney said they will use the capital to fund product development, invest in marketing, and grow the now 16-person ShearShare team.

 

Tony O. Lawson


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1 min read

Meet the man in charge of over $100M recently donated to Black-Owned Businesses and HBCU’s.

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) is a non-profit financial institution that provides capital to projects in low-income, disadvantaged, and underserved communities at affordable rates.

LISC supports community development initiatives in 35 cities and across 2,100 rural counties in 44 states. In 2018, they reported grants, loans, and investments totaling US$1.5 billion, leveraging $4.4 billion in total development and supporting over 700 partners across America.

They recently received $60 million from Lowe’s, $40 million from MacKenzie Scott (ex-wife of Jezz Bezos), and $25 million from Netflix.

We caught up with their CEO, Maurice Jones, to discuss what his organization does and what they plan to do with these funds.

 

 

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Tony O. Lawson


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