There is a moment from around April 2021 that Pilar Johnson thinks about often.
She was scared and nervous. The Houston native grew up in a low-income neighborhood and had no experience in venture capital. As she waded into the industry, imposter syndrome frequently crept in. Then, she and her team at Debut Capital raised a million dollars in early 2021. That funding milestone — crossed in three months, no less — quieted her nerves. For now, at least.
“I felt like ‘OK, we are really doing this,’” she told TechCrunch. “People are connecting to our mission to disrupt the VC space by prioritizing the underrepresented. It was a very special moment for me.”
Johnson’s investing thesis is to support the next generation of diverse founders seeking to address marginalized communities’ needs. As the daughter of a Mexican mother and African American father, Johnson is part of an increasing number of minority investors working to augment funding for overlooked founders.
She told TechCrunch that she lets empathy lead her investment approach, a method likely welcomed by diverse founders often accustomed to VCs exhibiting the opposite. Her notable investments include the popular beauty brand Ami Colé, the social gathering spot Ethel’s Club and wellness company Golde.
Johnson lacks roots in the Bay Area, but that’s starting to matter less than it did in the past. A decade ago, Johnson didn’t foresee a career in helping make venture capital more equitable. But outside perspectives like hers may help shift where money is allocated in the industry.
“If anybody is interested in being an investor and doesn’t think they have the skills, I would say, don’t believe that. You can completely become an investor, and it’s needed.” Pilar Johnson
Safe to say, she’s one to watch.
“We can [make] space for these underrepresented founders to be able to come to us so that they can raise more capital,” she said. “That’s the goal of Debut existing.”
Figuring things out
After studying radio and film at the University of Austin, Texas, Johnson moved to New York without knowing a soul. She said her dream was to live in New York. Growing up in Texas, movies allowed her to escape from her surroundings; now was time to take that chance in real life.