Diversity-focused VC fund Harlem Capital debuts with $40M

Harlem Capital has upgraded from angel syndicate to full-fledged venture capital fund, closing its debut effort on an oversubscribed $40.3 million.

The firm was launched by managing partners Henri Pierre-Jacques and Jarrid Tingle in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood in 2015. The pair have since graduated from Harvard Business School and hired two venture partners, Brandon Bryant and John Henry, and two senior associates to help expand their portfolio. The over-arching goal: invest in 1,000 diverse founders over the next 20 years.

“We fundamentally believe we are a venture fund with impact, not an impact fund,” Pierre-Jacques tells TechCrunch. “The way we generate impact is to give women and minority entrepreneurs ownership.”

Capital from Harlem Capital Partners Venture Fund I, an industry-agnostic vehicle that invests in post-revenue businesses across the U.S., will be used to lead, co-lead or participate in $250,000 to $1 million-sized seed or Series A financings. To date, the team has backed 14 companies, including B2B feminine hygiene product Aunt Flow, gig economy marketplace Jobble and pet wellness platform Wagmo. Harlem Capital plans to add another 22 businesses to Fund 1.

You need diversity funds like ourselves to get this market anywhere close to parity. Harlem Capital managing partner Jarrid Tingle

With its first fund close, Harlem Capital becomes one of the largest venture capital funds with a diversity mandate. Despite an increasing amount of punishing data exposing the gender and race gap in venture capital, minority founders continue to rake in just a small percentage of funding each year. According to a RateMyInvestor and Diversity VC report released earlier this year, most VC dollars are invested in companies run by white men with a university degree. Other recent data indicates startups founded exclusively by women raised just 2.2% of overall VC funding in 2018, with numbers on pace to increase only slightly in 2019. Meanwhile, the median amount of funding raised by black female founders, as of 2018, was $0.

The stark contrast in funding for female versus male entrepreneurs or white women versus black women founders is in part a result of a lack of diversity amongst general partners at venture capital funds and amongst the limited partners that choose which venture capital funds to provide capital. While there’s little data available on diversity of LPs, 81% of VC firms didn’t have a single black investor as of 2018.

“There’s no rational reason why this problem exists,” Tingle tells TechCrunch. “It persists because VC funds in general have been closely held and clustered around Silicon Valley. They come from particular schools with particular networks with a small head count that doesn’t turn over frequently. Some firms have strategically added a few partners here and there, but not enough to change the organization. You need diversity funds like ourselves to get this market anywhere close to parity.”

“A lot of investors are frankly missing out on opportunities,” Tingle adds.

Having met through the Management Leadership for Tomorrow Program, a nonprofit organization identifying a new generation of leadership, Tingle and Pierre-Jacques have built a prolific internship program at the firm. With as many as six interns admitted each quarter, the goal is to train future investors of color.

Limited partners in Harlem Capital Partners Fund I include TPG Global, State of Michigan Retirement Systems, the Consumer Technology Association and Dorm Room Fund.