Chingona Ventures, a three-year-old, Chicago-based venture outfit that invests in pre-seed startups, primarily in the Midwest and primarily founded by overlooked individuals who are focused on massive markets, has closed a new fund with $52 million in capital commitments. Limited partners in the new fund include PayPal Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners, Melinda Gates’s Pivotal Ventures, Foundry Group and the Office of the Illinois State Treasurer’s Illinois Growth and Innovation Fund, among others.
It’s a huge step up from the outfit’s $6 million debut fund and a sign of confidence in Samara Hernandez, an engineer who spent six years at Goldman Sachs before joining the venture firm Math Venture Partners in 2015 as an investor and then striking out on her own in 2019 with Chingona, where she remains the firm’s sole general partner.
While it’s a little too early to judge the success of her portfolio, Hernandez has been active, managing to work checks of between $100,000 and $250,000 into 27 companies with that first fund, and investing in eight more with her second effort. Among these portfolio companies is Career Karma, a four-year-old startup that matches employees and contractors to job training programs (and which raised $40 million in January) and Suma Wealth, a financial wellness platform for the Latino community that has raised $6.6 million to date, per Crunchbase data.
Both startups underscore Chingona’s areas of interest, which include fintech startups, as well as startups focused on health and wellness, food tech and the future of learning.
They also play to Hernandez’s strengths, including an understanding of the massive and growing Latino market in the case of Suma Wealth. (Hernandez, who was born in Mexico and raised in the U.S., notes that one of every four kids being born today in the U.S. is Latino, yet that Latinx companies still attract less than 1% of venture capital funding in this country.)
She is also willing to back founders who’ve heard no from other backers, as with Ruben Harris, the co-founder of Career Karma. Though Harris and his co-founders had passed through Y Combinator, he had a network, and he lived, at the time, in Silicon Valley, he reached out to Hernandez cold over Twitter after countless other meetings where he was passed over. “They didn’t believe his strategy but I believed in him so I ended up investing,” says Hernandez. (Career Karma earlier this year expanded on its initial strategy, which was to help aspiring students and working professionals navigate their way to the right bootcamp. Harris also recently moved to Miami from the Bay Area.)
Indeed, with far more capital at her disposal, Hernandez says the plan is to do more of the same, with slightly larger checks, ranging from $250,000 to $1 million.
Chingona — a Spanish word for a woman who is fearless and gets things done, says Hernandez — wants to “be the first and largest check into a round,” she says. “What I realized with fund one is that a lot of these founders really need someone to lead and to write the biggest check and help catalyze the round.”
With investors like PayPal and Insight now looking to her for some of their deal flow, she’s more than happy to lead the way.