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venture capital

1 min read

Community College Startup Campus Scores $23 Million to Expand Access to Top-Tier Education

Campus, a startup focused on revolutionizing community college education, has announced an additional $23 million in funding.

This Series A extension round was led by Founders Fund, with participation from 8VC. The news comes just over a year after Campus secured $29 million in its initial Series A round.

Campus offers a unique approach to higher education, providing students with access to high-caliber instruction at an affordable price. They achieve this by employing adjunct professors who are currently teaching at prestigious universities like Vanderbilt, Princeton, and NYU.

These professors are compensated competitively, at a rate of $8,000 per course, which is significantly above the national average for adjunct faculty.

“Campus is obsessed with giving everybody access to these amazing professors,” said founder Tade Oyerinde, highlighting their commitment to quality education.

The funding will allow Campus to further develop its innovative learning platform and expand its course offerings. While the majority of students participate online, the company also maintains a physical campus in Sacramento, California. This campus offers hands-on learning experiences in fields like phlebotomy, medical assisting, and cosmetology.

This latest investment demonstrates the confidence that venture capitalists have in Campus’s ability to disrupt the traditional community college model. Their focus on affordability and access to renowned instructors positions them well to address the growing demand for quality higher education.

by Tony O. Lawson

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3 mins read

AI Squared Secures $13.8 Million to Bridge the Gap Between AI and Business Applications

AI Squared, a company empowering organizations to harness the power of AI, today announced a successful $13.8 million Series A funding round.

Ansa Capital led the investment, with participation from existing investors NEA and Ridgeline. This latest round brings AI Squared’s total funding to $20 million since its founding in 2019.

Unlocking the Potential of AI Investments

Despite significant investments in AI, many businesses struggle to translate models into actionable insights. AI Squared tackles this challenge head-on by streamlining the integration of AI into existing workflows. Their platform acts as a bridge, allowing data science teams to seamlessly connect AI models and data sources directly to business applications, regardless of the specific software used.

“Far too many companies aren’t getting enough ROI from AI,” said Benjamin Harvey, Ph.D., founder and CEO of AI Squared. “Our tools directly address this challenge, making it easier for businesses to deploy and leverage the power of AI within their teams.”

Industry Expertise Meets Cutting-Edge Technology

The AI Squared team boasts a deep understanding of the data science landscape. Led by Benjamin Harvey, Ph.D., who brings over a decade of experience working in the National Security Agency and Databricks’ data science team, AI Squared tackles a critical hurdle for businesses – implementation.

Impressive Results and Strategic Growth

AI Squared estimates their platform reduces the time to integrate data and AI into workflows from months to minutes and significantly lowers implementation costs. This translates to a substantial return on investment for businesses.

The company’s impressive results have attracted prominent figures to their board of directors. Allan Jean-Baptiste, co-founder and General Partner at Ansa Capital, emphasizes the vast potential of AI Squared’s solution: “With new AI models emerging constantly, organizations risk falling behind. AI Squared tackles this by simplifying integration and accelerating the time to value for AI investments.”

Looking Forward: Democratizing AI

Beyond its technological advancements, AI Squared is committed to fostering inclusivity in the AI space. As one of the few Black-founded AI companies, they actively support underrepresented communities through initiatives like the AI Squared Innovation Lab, which provides resources for students interested in programming and technology.

With this new funding and a commitment to accessibility, AI Squared is poised to revolutionize AI adoption and empower businesses to unlock the true transformative power of artificial intelligence.

by Tony O. Lawson

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3 mins read

Diagon Raises $5.1 Million to Revolutionize Manufacturing Procurement

Diagon is a company that’s redefining the way manufacturers find and purchase equipment. They offer a next-generation procurement platform that streamlines the entire process, providing a consolidated user experience for a faster, more efficient workflow.

They recently announced that they have secured $5.1 million in seed funding in a round led by The Westly Group, with participation from Valia Ventures, Techstars, Foster Ventures, Foxe Capital, Anthemis Group, Ventures Together, and REFASHIOND Ventures: The Industrial Transformation Fund.

Tackling Manufacturing Challenges

Establishing new manufacturing capacity often comes with intricate challenges. Identifying qualified suppliers and managing complex equipment projects are two of the biggest hurdles. Diagon offers a comprehensive solution to address these issues.

The platform provides manufacturers with access to a qualified network of equipment suppliers, system integrators, and service providers. This ensures they can find the right partners for their specific needs. Additionally, Diagon offers a user-friendly toolkit specifically designed to manage complex equipment procurement projects effectively.

Empowering Manufacturers Across the Board

With Diagon’s platform, manufacturers can experience a significant shift in their procurement process. Traditionally, sourcing equipment has been a time-consuming and complex task. Diagon simplifies this by allowing manufacturers to locate and procure equipment with the ease and speed typically associated with larger enterprises.

Furthermore, the platform offers functionalities like milestone tracking, real-time project status updates, and comprehensive project management, empowering manufacturers of all sizes to navigate complex projects efficiently.

Positioned for Growth

Diagon’s leadership team possesses a deep understanding of the manufacturing industry’s needs. Co-founder and CEO, Will Drewery, formerly managed over $700 million in annual capital expenditure (CAPEX) spend at Tesla. This firsthand experience fueled the vision for Diagon’s platform, designed to address the critical shortcomings of traditional procurement tools.

The company’s strategic plan leverages the $640 billion North American manufacturing equipment market. The funding will enable Diagon to make strategic investments in its future.

This includes ongoing platform development, recruiting top talent to propel the company forward, targeting manufacturers in key industries like aerospace, automotive, and battery production, and exploring various equipment financing options to cater to a broader range of customer requirements.

Looking Ahead

Diagon is poised to become a pivotal force in American manufacturing. With its commitment to streamlining procurement and empowering companies to build the factories of the future, Diagon is a game-changer for the industry.

by Tony O. Lawson

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2 mins read

The Folklore Secures $3.4 Million to Scale B2B Platform for Diverse Brands

Fashion tech startup The Folklore, founded by Amira Rasool, has secured $3.4 million in seed funding. The fresh capital brings their total funding to $6.2 million.

The new funding round was led by venture capital firm Benchstrength and included participation from Techstars, Black Tech Nation Ventures, and Slauson and Co.

The funds will be used to further develop their B2B platform and empower more diverse and marginalized brands in the fashion industry.

Their B2B offerings include The Folklore Connect, an online wholesale management platform that equips brands with user-friendly sales technology and increased discoverability through a network of global retailers.

One new service is The Folklore Capital, offered through partners, which allows brands to receive loans of up to $1 million as working capital. Rasool said a pilot program showed that brands typically seek loans between $10,000 and $30,000.

“Access to capital is probably one of the biggest things that prevents small businesses from scaling,” founder Amira Rasool explained to TechCrunch. “For diverse brands in particular, there are a lot of economic hurdles that these groups face, which makes it even harder for them to access capital. Since a large makeup of our community is diverse, we wanted to make sure that they had more resources that they can use to access capital.”

The Folklore also plans to offer additional resources to brands, such as The Folklore Source, a freelancer and manufacturing marketplace, and The Folklore Hub, which will provide educational content and downloadable templates.

With this additional funding and focus on user needs, The Folklore is well-positioned to grow its reach and empower even more creators and brands in the fashion industry.

by Tony O. Lawson

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2 mins read

Cookonnect Secures $1 Million to Bring In-Home Chefs to Busy Families

Atlanta-based startup Cookonnect is whipping up a recipe for success, having recently secured a $1 million pre-seed funding round from Los Angeles-based venture firm Slauson & Co.

Founded by Erica Tuggle, the company connects families with local chefs who prepare meals in the comfort of their own homes.

“Our service is all about helping people eat better, saving their time so they can focus on what matters most to them,” Tuggle explained to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We also prioritize supporting our chefs and assisting them in building more lucrative and flexible culinary careers.”

Cookonnect targets busy families, particularly working mothers, who often face time constraints. The service offers a distinctive solution: the opportunity to enjoy delicious, home-cooked meals without the hassle. Chefs undergo background checks and quality screenings to ensure a professional and reliable experience for families. Meal prices start at $20 per plate, with options available to accommodate dietary needs and preferences.

Currently, Cookonnect exclusively operates in Atlanta, but expansion seems imminent with this recent funding infusion. The company’s vision is to extend its services to families nationwide, providing them with a taste of culinary convenience and a helping hand in the kitchen.

To join the company, chefs must undergo interviews, and background checks, and possess up-to-date food safety certifications. Presently, there are over 30 chefs on the platform.

Tuggle identifies Cookonnect’s competition as delivery services like Uber Eats and Grubhub, as well as meal kit providers. Currently, Cookonnect serves a 38-mile radius of Atlanta’s city center, encompassing suburbs like Johns Creek, Alpharetta, Marietta, and Sandy Springs.

This year, Tuggle aims to onboard more chefs onto the platform, expand the Atlanta client base, and prepare to enter another market. She plans to utilize the $1 million raised to increase marketing efforts, hire a backend website engineer, and recruit a head chef.

by Tony O. Lawson

Are you interested in investing in Black founders? If so, please complete this brief form.

2 mins read

Fairview Capital Secures Investment from New York Life

New York Life, the nation’s largest mutual life insurer, announced today that it has acquired a minority stake in Fairview Capital, one of the largest minority-owned investment management firms in the U.S.

Fairview is a leader in venture capital and private equity investing, with over $10 billion under management since its inception 30 years ago. The firm invests on behalf of institutional investors, including public and private pension plans, foundations, and endowments.

Fairview’s leadership team will retain majority ownership of the firm following this investment. This team includes Co-founders JoAnn Price and Larry Morse, alongside Managing Partners Kola Olofinboba, Alan Mattamana and Aakar Vachhani, and Partner Kwesi Quaye.

This partnership promises mutual benefits. “New York Life’s investment will create exciting opportunities for Fairview’s growth,” stated Larry Morse, Fairview’s Co-Founder. “We’ll be able to accelerate our expansion and collaborate with the industry’s top venture capital firms and leading diverse and emerging fund managers,” he elaborated.

Fairview Co-Founder JoAnn Price underscored the firm’s unwavering commitment to transforming the venture capital and private equity landscape. “We remain dedicated to fostering positive change within the industry while maximizing value for our investors,” Price remarked.

This move bolsters New York Life’s $1 billion impact investment initiative, launched in 2021 to tackle the racial wealth gap. The company has already committed $200 million to Fairview, which has subsequently invested in numerous diverse and emerging fund managers, impacting hundreds of businesses in total.

by Tony O. Lawson

Interested in investing in Black founders? If so, please complete this brief form.

2 mins read

Black Tech Nation Ventures Raises $50M to Fuel Diverse Tech Startups

Black Tech Nation Ventures (, a venture capital firm committed to empowering Black and diverse founders in the tech sector, announced the successful closing of its $50 million inaugural fund on February 28, 2024. This achievement marks a significant milestone in the firm’s mission to bridge the funding gap for historically underrepresented groups in the tech industry.

The newly secured fund will primarily target pre-seed and seed-stage software and enterprise-focused startups led by Black, Latinx, female, indigenous and LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs who have the potential to generate outsized returns. “We set up to equip and train a new generation of more diverse entrepreneurs and investors,” said David Motley, one of three general partners. “We are committed to providing intellectual as well as financial capital to help our founders navigate growing a successful company and opening up opportunities for future venture capitalists who are Black or diverse to participate in the industry.”

The firm has already invested in 10 companies in cities including AtlantaBostonDistrict of ColumbiaIndianapolisNew York, and Pittsburgh. These include; EMTECH, a fintech infrastructure company; Goodfynd, an enterprise solutions provider for food truckers and mobile vendors; The Folklore, an e-commerce platform connecting brands from the African continent to premium retailers in the US; and Kloopify, provider of supply chain sustainability analytics. Multiple investments have already secured up-round follow on funding. expects to back 20-30 companies from its inaugural fund, typically seeking entry at the pre-seed and seed stages with checks in the $250,000 to $1M range. The firm has led, co-led and or helped complete funding rounds.

The team has built a unique deal funnel to match its investment focus, which includes diverse professional development groups, top tier research universities, and historically Black colleges and universities.


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10 mins read

Fabrice Do Rego on Changing The Face of European Venture Capital

Fabrice Do Rego is the co-founder of The Blueprint VC, a venture capital firm focused on backing under-represented founders in France and Belgium.

In this interview, Fabrice shares his motivations, investment strategies, and insights for the future of European VC. He also delves into his views on promising sectors, the rationale behind a sector-agnostic approach, and the challenges he faced as a Black fund manager.

Fabrice Do Rego

What inspired you to start a VC fund?

What inspired me to launch a VC fund was the coming together of several factors that I summarize by the notion of Ikigai, a Japanese concept referring to something that gives a person a sense of purpose, a reason for living.

I went to business school, I started my career in M&A in large international investment banks, I then became an entrepreneur by creating an M&A boutique where I advised SMEs, startups, and scaleups in their fundraising, development strategies, and exit strategies. I loved it and still do. This ties in with the two essential points of Ikigai, what I like to do and what I’m good at.

Then, what was probably the most important and founding point in my thinking was to think about what the world needs in a logic of economic AND social value creation. To put it simply, I realized two things that I thought didn’t make sense. (1) Teams of diverse founders are on average more efficient than homogeneous teams and despite everything we see that (2) only a very small amount is invested in these teams of mixed founders (I’m talking about diversity of gender, origins, etc.). There is therefore a market inconsistency which seems obvious to me.

Finally, what was also decisive was our conviction that the more efficient we are, the more diverse we are going to make the ecosystem, the more we are going to create new role models and the more we are going to ensure that having diverse founding teams will be the norm. We create a virtuous circle.

Ultimately, rationally the decision to launch a fund with this investment strategy was very simple. Now the implementation of this especially in a very tense market environment is another debate… 😉

What are some of the most promising sectors for venture capital investment in Europe right now? 

I don’t think I’m going to be very original in saying that everything related to AI will constitute a significant part of the investment. However, I think that in terms of the structure of these investments, these are going to be significant amounts in relatively few companies. Unlike B2B SaaS which will continue to attract a lot of funding but with relatively lower amounts in a relatively larger number of startups.

Beyond that, within Blueprint VC there are two sectors for which we have taken a slightly more proactive approach in terms of dealflow, these are HealthTech and everything linked to Climate and Decarbonization because we have a very positive long-term vision. We believe that the issues linked to these two segments are essential and must be addressed and I also believe that the added value of diverse teams is even stronger in these segments.

What was your reasoning behind making your fund sector-agnostic?

The choice to be sector agnostic lies in elements that are purely mechanical and/or financial. Namely, a diversification of risk, a larger pipeline, and therefore a higher rate of selectivity, and agility with regard to our strategy to try to be ahead of trends, etc.

Then some elements are a little more intangible. For example, I am quite convinced that in early stage the needs of entrepreneurs are very similar, whether in terms of organization, recruitment, financing, etc. I don’t have the feeling that early-stage specialization has any impact on the fund’s performance. Maybe potentially on dealflow but given our strategy on typology of founding teams, I’m not too worried about that.

Finally, on a personal level, I find it more intellectually stimulating to be confronted with different sectors, or even different situations. Possibly drawing inspiration from completely different sectors to advise/support entrepreneurs from another sector, etc. It also prevents boredom and a potential drop in motivation for me.

What, if any challenges have you faced as one of the few Black fund managers in Europe?

First thing to say is that for everyone, whoever you are (except a few very privileged people) it is very difficult to raise a fund (especially a first one), especially in a market environment such as what we have known since mid-2022.

Then obviously when we come with an “original” thesis, which has not yet been deployed in continental Europe and with a typology of GPs that we are not used to seeing, we indeed experience difficulties. 😉

Finally, putting aside aspects linked to bias and possible stereotypes (which I cannot measure in any case), it is true that we had limited access to networks of LPs such as HNWI, Funds of Funds, etc. but we built it little by little. So, it takes time, and you just must be aware of it.

How do you see the European VC landscape evolving in the coming years? What trends do you expect to see emerge?

I think a lot of funds will disappear over the next few years. However, I don’t think it’s a bad thing in absolute terms.

I think that the number and size of funds, in addition to the available cheap money and an unprecedented global environment linked to COVID, led us to the bubble that we experienced at its peak in 2021. It is therefore normal or even healthy that there is a correction.

If we can take advantage of this correction to restore the structural inconsistencies of the market, that is a good thing.

I don’t know what the future will hold at this level. But what I hope because I think it will be a good thing for the ecosystem and its efficiency is that:

  • there is a real segmentation between the funds and their investment phase (pre-Series A, post-Series A/Growth, Late stage, etc.)
  • the number of early stage (pre-seed/seed) funds will be very large but with significantly lower average AUM

What advice do you have for other emerging fund managers?

The following fundamentals should be mastered before considering contacting LPs to raise a fund:

  • Develop an ultra-clear investment thesis that demonstrates that you have thought through all aspects from the genesis to the exit of the fund through execution.
  • Mastering portfolio construction is essential. Show that you have thought in detail about the unit economics of your fund and that you have considered a certain number of scenarios.
  • Surround yourself with a complementary and exceptional team on each of the added value topics that you offer to your portfolio companies.

Once you have these basics, the essential point is to distribute your time well with potential LPs. My recommendation is to spend a lot of time early on with LPs that are intrinsically aligned with your investment strategy AND that can put an anchor investor ticket.

At the same time, you start building the relationship with the other LPs and once the anchor(s) have confirmed their interest (by committing) you accelerate the discussions with the others.

by Tony O. Lawson

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3 mins read

Eastside Golf Receives $3.4 Million to Drive Cultural Shift in Golf

Eastside Golf, the lifestyle golf brand founded in 2019, recently closed a $3.4 million seed round led by EP Golf Ventures, a partnership between the PGA of America and Elysian Park Ventures. The investment aims to accelerate Eastside Golf’s growth and redefine the cultural perception of golf.

Founded by Olajuwon Ajanaku and Earl Cooper, Eastside Golf has achieved remarkable success, experiencing a 600% year-over-year growth in the past two years. The company has grown from 2 employees to 16, its revenue reportedly increasing from $100,000 in its first year to $4 million in 2023.

eastside golf
Eastside Golf founders, Earl Cooper (L) and Olajuwon Ajanaku (R)

The brand’s unique apparel line has resonated beyond traditional golf circles, embraced by professionals, celebrities, and athletes.

EP Golf Ventures, recognizing Eastside Golf’s potential, commended the founders for creating a brand that transcends golf’s traditional boundaries. Jay Adya, Managing Partner at Elysian Park Ventures and EP Golf Ventures, expressed confidence in Eastside Golf’s capacity for immense growth.

Seth Waugh, CEO of PGA of America, highlighted the organization’s commitment to evolving golf culture. The partnership with Eastside Golf aligns with PGA of America’s goal to broaden participation in the sport and make it more inclusive. The investment supports Eastside Golf’s mission to create new entry points for diverse audiences.

With the secured funding, Eastside Golf plans to launch new product lines, including wholesale and women’s apparel. The company aims to double the number of pop-up events in major markets, hosting its second-annual Eastside Golf Invitational during New York Fashion Week. The highly anticipated “Spring Forward” collection will debut at the PGA Show in Orlando.

eastside golf

The company’s success extends to celebrity endorsements, including NBA stars Chris Paul and Jayson Tatum, NFL great Victor Cruz, musician DJ Khaled, and former President Barack Obama. Collaborations with global brands like Jordan Brand and strategic partnerships with the NBA, MLB, and Mercedes Benz underscore the brand’s impact.

Deeply committed to social causes, Eastside Golf has donated $150K to support HBCU golf, emphasizing inclusivity and authenticity. The founders envision creating brick-and-mortar locations and expanding internationally, with gratitude for EP Golf Ventures’ support.

With a focus on inclusivity and innovative design, Eastside Golf is poised to lead the way in making golf more accessible and appealing to a diverse audience.

by Tony O. Lawson

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4 mins read

SteelSky Ventures’ Maria Toler on Leading One of the Largest Women’s Health Funds

SteelSky Ventures is one of the largest venture capital funds focused on women’s healthcare. The firm manages $73 million in total assets under management and has invested in some of the most innovative companies in the women’s health space.

In this interview, Maria Toler, Founding and Managing Partner of SteelSky Ventures shares insights into the firm’s journey to becoming a leader in women’s health venture capital, its strategies for supporting portfolio companies, and its commitment to inclusive and equitable solutions.

steelsky ventures

Becoming one of the world’s largest women’s health funds is a significant achievement. Could you share insights into the journey and strategies that led SteelSky Ventures to reach this milestone?

Embarking on this incredible journey, my entrepreneurial spirit has been evident since childhood, from running lemonade stands to founding Collegeboxes, a student storage company acquired by U-Haul. As a serial entrepreneur, the disparity in venture capital funding for women’s health entrepreneurs spurred me to establish a fund that supports groundbreaking companies. Achieving this required resilience, tenacity, and support from a mission-aligned ecosystem.

How does SteelSky Ventures foster the growth of its invested companies beyond providing capital?

At SteelSky, our sustained support extends beyond capital. Through the SteelSky Scale program, we collaborate closely with portfolio company founders on strategic introductions, financing strategies, and talent acquisition. We facilitate discussions among founders on industry trends, recently hosting a panel on M&A.

Our Scale program has enabled portfolio companies to secure transformative partnerships and collectively achieve valuations exceeding $5 billion.

Ensuring inclusivity and equity in women’s healthcare, how does SteelSky Ventures address the diverse needs and experiences of women?

To enhance access, care, and outcomes in women’s health, we prioritize investing in founders employing diverse approaches to problem-solving. This allows us to source and scale companies driving real innovation in overlooked and underserved communities. For instance, our portfolio company Mae addresses the Black maternal health crisis with a culturally competent care marketplace tailored to Black women, increasing access and improving outcomes.

What advice would you offer entrepreneurs seeking investment from SteelSky Ventures in the women’s healthcare sector?

SteelSky partners with passionate founders innovating in women’s health. We invest in Series A companies with product-founder fit, demonstrated solutions to critical women’s health issues, and readiness to collaborate with leading healthcare institutions.

Examples from our portfolio include Midi Health, addressing menopausal care, Origin, a leader in pelvic floor physical therapy, and Twentyeight Health, providing telemedicine for reproductive healthcare.

For other venture capital firms aiming to make an impact on women’s health, what advice would you give?

To impact women’s health, assemble a diverse team providing a comprehensive perspective on disruptive areas. SteelSky’s all-female team and ecosystem of advisors and advocates have been foundational to our success. Diverse leadership fosters innovation and understanding of the nuanced challenges in women’s health, driving meaningful impact.

by Tony O. Lawson

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