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5 mins read

The Mezzanine Fund: Empowering Growth Stage Businesses through Capital Activism

Anne Richie, the Founder and Managing Director of The Mezzanine Fund, is on a mission to revolutionize capital allocation. With over 25 years of experience in finance, she has successfully deployed capital in venture capital and corporate restructuring, honing a deep understanding of capital and industry exposure.

The Mezzanine Fund, under her leadership, disrupts traditional capital pathways with disciplined investment strategies and rigorous due diligence to empower women and BIPOC-owned lower middle-market companies while offering a compelling alternative to venture capital.

This interview sheds light on her transformative approach to capital and her commitment to empowering historically underfunded businesses.

The Mezzanine Fund
Anne Richie, founder of The Mezzanine Fund

What inspired you to start The Mezzanine Fund?

In the particular area of banking where I spent a good part of my career – debt restructurings and workouts – I never encountered diverse owners. After banking, I worked with tech start-ups and small businesses and witnessed the underfunded potential of women and people of color. I decided that I had to use my skills to make sure this potential was not lost.

In your work as a capital activist, what key factors do you consider when evaluating potential investments?

It may sound cliché, but I look first to the skills, experience, and character of the owners and their team and then to the feasibility of the growth plan and strategy. I have seen phenomenal pivots from entrepreneurs – creativity, drive, and integrity are what get investments repaid when things don’t go as planned.

What industries or types of businesses are particularly well-suited for mezzanine financing or debt financing as opposed to traditional venture capital?

Generally, with debt capital, there must be positive cash flow or a quick path to positive cash flow since the loans are usually repaid over the life of the loan. Mezzanine debt is particularly well-suited for supply chain companies that sell services and products to other businesses as they tend to be scaled and profitable, with a reliable customer base and established markets as compared to businesses that sell directly to consumers.

We are seeing a lot of opportunities in healthcare, logistics, light manufacturing, and business services, though we do not have industry restrictions.

Can you share some insights into the initiatives you’re involved in to change the landscape of investment fund management and support Black entrepreneurship?

The Mezzanine Fund is a founding member of MAP Labs, an initiative with our chamber of commerce that brings together lawyers, accountants, funders, and supplier diversity professionals to help diverse-owned businesses grow by merger, acquisition, and partnership transactions.

This lab will provide the networks, expertise, and relationships that are critical to growing larger businesses. I am also working on an initiative to raise awareness of the opportunities to grow the number of middle-market companies through the acquisition of businesses with no succession plans.

On the fund manager side, I am involved in IDiF, Black Women in Asset Management, and a newly formed group of Black women GPs, all of which aim to increase the number of Black women in the fund management industry and change the landscape of capital allocation.

Lastly, I attempt to increase the fund professional pipeline by teaching finance at the university level and participating in financial literacy training.

What advice would you give to founders who are seeking capital for their businesses?

(1) Know your numbers even if you have a CFO or Controller, (2) be sure to match the type of capital you seek to your specific need, (3) factor in more capital and more time than you originally may think you need, (4) be creative in seeking more support for customers for growth (i.e., faster payment terms), and (5) build relationships with banks and other funders before you need them.


by Tony O. Lawson

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4 mins read

5 Things Investors Look for Most in a Pitch

Pitching your startup to investors is a pivotal moment in the journey of any entrepreneur. It’s your opportunity to convey your vision, demonstrate your potential, and secure the financial backing you need to turn your dream into reality.

But to succeed, you must understand what investors are really looking for in a pitch. In this article, we’ll break down the five most critical elements investors pay attention to when evaluating startup pitches, supported by data and facts.

1. Compelling Problem-Solution Fit

Investors are acutely interested in the problem your startup addresses and the solution it provides. To capture their attention, your pitch should clearly define the pain point you’re targeting. According to research by CB Insights, 42% of startups fail due to a lack of market need. This underscores the importance of demonstrating a compelling problem-solution fit.

Actionable Tip: Back your claims with data and customer testimonials showcasing the demand for your solution. Highlight how your product or service is unique and more effective than existing alternatives.

2. Market Opportunity

Investors want to know that your startup operates within a sizable and growing market. They’re looking for a substantial addressable market that can support rapid growth. A study by Statista revealed that the global tech startup ecosystem was valued at over $3 trillion in 2020, emphasizing the vast opportunities available to innovative companies.

Actionable Tip: Utilize market research to validate the market size, trends, and your potential share of it. Investors want to see that you’ve thoroughly analyzed your market and understand where your startup fits in.

3. Strong Business Model

Your pitch must present a clear and sustainable business model. Investors are keen to know how your startup plans to generate revenue and eventually become profitable. According to Crunchbase, 29% of startups fail because they run out of cash, emphasizing the importance of a robust business model.

Actionable Tip: Provide detailed financial projections and explain your path to profitability. Highlight your monetization strategy, pricing model, and customer acquisition plan.

4. Traction and Milestones

Investors seek evidence that your startup is gaining traction and achieving milestones. Metrics such as user acquisition, revenue growth, and partnerships are essential indicators of progress. According to PitchBook, startups that secure funding typically have a median of two years of operation and have raised around $1.3 million before their initial funding round.

Actionable Tip: Showcase your key performance indicators (KPIs) and growth trajectory. Highlight any noteworthy achievements or partnerships that demonstrate your startup’s potential for success.

5. Strong Team

Investors often say they invest in people, not just ideas. Your team’s expertise, experience, and commitment are critical factors in the investment decision. A Harvard Business Review study found that startups founded by teams with complementary skills are more likely to succeed.

Actionable Tip: Introduce your team and emphasize their relevant expertise. Highlight their past accomplishments and how they are uniquely positioned to execute your startup’s vision.

SBLK Ventures is committed to connecting Black-led startups with our network of investors. If you are a startup that is raising capital, we invite you to fill out this form to be considered.

6 mins read

Black Owned VC Firm Invests in an African American Owned Mining Company in Tanzania

Brown Venture Group is a Black owned VC firm and venture studio exclusively focused on Black, Latino, and Native American technology entrepreneurs.

The Minnesota-based firm provides technology founders of color with investment capital, training, and professional networks that assist in launching and scaling tech-based startups.

We caught up with Dr. Chris Brooks, co-founder and managing partner at Brown Venture Group.

brown venture group
Dr. Chris Brooks, Managing Partner at Brown Venture Group

Describe your path to becoming a venture capitalist. 

My path to VC was an extremely improbable one. At age 16 I was charged with 3 felonies, including attempted murder.

My career has been most heavily in the nonprofit and education sectors.  Two of my 3 degrees are Theology degrees. The thread woven throughout my life is a deep curiosity about and commitment to racial and economic justice.

These two things led me to co-found Brown Venture Group with Dr. Paul Campbell in 2018, and it is a perfect space for me to live out my passion and calling.

What are your thoughts on the state of today’s venture capital market? 

VC has been a gated community for most of its history.  Women and people of color have had little to no access to the industry, both as Executives of VC firms and as recipients of VC capital allocation.  

This remains true today, but things are changing.  Hundreds of new firms led by and focused on women and people of color have emerged over the last decade.  

It is inevitable that a subgroup of these firms/funds will have great financial success, and the industry will be changed forever.

Your firm recently partnered with the Africa Chamber of Digital Commerce (ACOFDC). What inspired the collaboration and what do you hope to accomplish?  

Africa has always had millions of remarkable entrepreneurs.  Due to the long-term impact of European colonization of Sovereign African Nations, access to capital for (Black) African entrepreneurs mirrors the trends in the USA  – it could be argued that it is exponentially worse on the African continent.  

Currently, over 90% of VC investment on the continent is allocated to white entrepreneurs.  Reflect on that.  The partnership between Brown Venture Group and the African Chamber of Digital Commerce has 3 goals:

  1. Accelerate technology investments on the African Continent and within the African Diaspora globally
  2. Strengthen the relationships between African leaders and African-American leaders
  3. Scale a global, interdependent, Black tech economy.

Imagine what it would look like to give access to transformational capital to African entrepreneurs at scale.  Imagine the results, both in terms of financial returns and in terms of global impact.  This is our shared inspiration: a world where Africans own Africa.

What spurred your firm’s interest in African investments? 

We understand that there are disproportionately great investment opportunities on the African Continent, in both existing technologies as well as emerging technologies. 

Our interest stems from the dual purpose of financial returns and (positive) impact.  We are just getting ourselves familiarized with the various nations and sectors. 

Eventually, it is our intention to increase our investment activity in African entrepreneurs and tech companies.

You recently invested in a mining company located in Tanzania. Tell us about the significance of that deal. 

Our first fund only invests in US-based companies.  Our investment in Pula Group, the only American mineral exploration company operating in Tanzania, represents our strong commitment to investing for both returns + impact. 

Pula Group aims to disrupt and redefine the African mining sector, which is currently dominated by extractive outside interests.  We share deep values and vision related to the future of Black ownership.

What advice do you have for other fund managers? 

It is critical to have a very well thought through investment thesis, as well as some concretized, deeply held core values.  These 2 components will guide you internally while they simultaneously send signals to investors and to the broader market about who you are and your intentions. 

Additionally, financial returns must always be prioritized above social impact.  Both matter, but leading a fund includes an inherent ethical mandate to produce financial returns for the fund’s investors (limited partners). 

Without those returns, the fund and/or the Firm is not sustainable long-term.

– Tony O. Lawson

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