Meet the 1 percent: Angel investors who happen to be Black

Meet the 1 percent: Angel investors who happen to be Black


Editor’s note: As Black Business Month comes to a close, WRAL TechWire takes an in-depth look at the rise of “Black angels” who are looking to close the gap in funding for minority owned businesses. This is the second of three parts. 

RALEIGH – With less than 1 percent of venture capital going to African American entrepreneurs, a growing number of Black angel investors are stepping up to close the existing funding gap.

However, they’re still something of a rarity. It’s estimated that only 1.3 percent of angel investors are Black.

How these ‘Black angels’ are working to close the funding gap

It’s not much better in the world of venture capital (VC) where VC firms reported 4 percent Black investment professionals (compared to 3 percent in 2018) and 4 percent Hispanic or Latino investment professionals (down from 5 percent in 2018).

Even so, these trailblazers from North Carolina are paving the way forward towards change. Here’s what they have to say:

Greg Boone

Name: Greg Boone

Age: 43

Hometown: Durham, North Carolina

Place of residence: Cary, North Carolina

Occupation: Co-CEO, Blue Acorn iCi

  • Tell me about how you got into angel investing.

Part of it is I went through my own exit in 2014 with my former mentor, Donald Thompson. It created an inflection point in my life where it’s like, ‘Okay, I could get used to this, being part of something, growing something, exiting at a bigger valuation. Rinse and repeat.’

You meet a lot of people with some great ideas, and it’s a model that I’ve seen personally work. Somebody needs to take a risk that the traditional sources are not willing to take. I’m very competitive; I believe that I make good bets; and I’m also willing to lose some dollars to create opportunities for others.

In 2015, I kind of got my first taste. Then I tried to go on a plan of making some small investment into a small company once a year. Sometimes it was investing a little bit more into the same company; sometimes it was adding others to the portfolio. I’ve invested in five or six startups at this point. If you’re not actually investing, you’re not creating the next exit for the next startup. I know that angel investing is not for everyone. You’ve got to be comfortable with high risk.

  • What kinds of companies do you invest in?

I invest in companies that focus on creating more jobs, directly or indirectly. I also invest in companies that are founded by underserved demographics or serve underserved groups, or those that inspire or grow other small businesses.

  • Are they mostly Black-led companies?

Mostly, but not all. I would say probably 70-75 percent of them are.

Are there any companies that you’re willing to name at the moment?

One of my earliest investments was Creative Allies and my most recent is The Diversity Movement. I am looking at investing in two other 2 person startups in the coming months. One of which is black-owned.

  • What are you looking for when you look at potential companies to invest in?

Most of my investments revolve around strong leaders who are both talented and coachable.
 They are mostly product plays or consulting focused on small and local businesses.

Ultimately, I focus on companies that are focused on a triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit.

  • What is it like being an African American in the VC world where less than 3 percent of venture capitalists are Black?

I don’t consider myself in the VC world, but I do view the space as clearly underrepresented.

And from what I’ve seen, it is not just at the leadership level inside of VC groups, even as you go down a few layers. 
But it’s not just from the VC side, the companies that are being invested in are extremely low.

  • Do you see a rise in Black angel investing?

I’m seeing it start to grow. There’s a moment right now that’s happening where folks are really doubling down on diversity, which I think in general is creating an opportunity. Again, it’s not just for the Black community, but I would say for the underserved community in general. People have woken up enough to understand that it’s actually beneficial to your business. Businesses that truly embrace diversity see stronger financial performance.

Also, if you’re expecting to grow the angel investment market, what better way to manage and create new successful exits of Black founders, or minority founders? They, in turn, become the next set of angel investors and it starts to exponentially grow. It’s an ongoing cycle. That’s going to really create the snowball effect.

  • Why is it so important for African Americans to get into angel investing?

You’re paying it forward. If you want to see more Black-owned businesses and more black leaders, put your money where your mouth is. It becomes a wealth-generation engine.

To be fully transparent, the companies that I’m invested in, none of them have transacted yet. It would be great if they did, but that’s not the whole point of this. The point is, someone gave me a shot and I am now in a position to pay it forward. Hopefully I can lead by example and show others that people that don’t necessarily look like the CEOs of yesterday.

Bill Spruill

Name: William (Bill) Spruill

Place of residence: Raleigh, North Carolina

Occupation: CEO and co-founder of Global Data Consortium

  • Why do you do angel investing?

I fundamentally enjoy building companies and helping to build up people. The energy, creativity, drive and diverse mental models all help me with the ongoing growth of my own business

  • Tell me about Triangle Angel Partners (TAP).

I have not been a part of Triangle Angel Partners now for two years.

When I joined TAP, I was already doing my own angel investing. I had three specific objectives for joining TAP when I did it: to leverage it as a learning opportunity; to expand my network of other angels especially other African-American angels; and to show the flag around the presence of successful African-Americans that were a part of the tech community.

  • How long were you with them?

Five years.

Two reasons: My selection criteria and returns were better as an individual investor versus group investment. The lack of diversity inclusion within the network.

I did learn a lot and I did meet and connect with some great angel operators like Jon Jordan and Allen West so there was some value in the engagement.

  • Are you specifically seeking out African American-led companies?

No. Like most angel investors, I’m looking at deals that will make me money and generate a return.  Generally speaking, I focus on enterprise software and technology solving big and interesting problems.

  • What percentage of your with your portfolio are Black-led companies?

That’s a challenging question. Currently, I only have one active (small) investment that is led by a Black founder. It’s Courtroom5

It’s important for me to clarify that I don’t do this strictly to invest in African Americans because I’ve been approached along those lines. People say, ‘Okay, you’re a Black investor so you probably want to or should invest in my company

But I’m looking at deals. So I don’t focus on it strictly being about an African American. I think it’s important to invest in good business deals. Otherwise, it’s philanthropy.

  • So as an angel investor, what you’re seeing on the ground?

In the Triangle, I see a lot of young deals that are struggling due to a general lack of early-stage capital. This is especially the case with Black-led companies. One of the other big gaps seems to be the lack of education and training around how early stage ventures are formed and scaled. I routinely deal with questionable valuations and unreasonable expectations of how the process works. I believe this misalignment comes from a lack of authoritative and trusted learning/training resources.

  • Do you feel like you’re treated differently as a Black angel investor?

I do feel that I am invited to the table less often. While the Triangle community is generally a very open place, I definitely don’t feel the ground is level.

  • How do you feel about the term Black angel investor?

I regularly experience a conflicting duality internally. On one hand I want to be seen in the community to show that African Americans are a part of the community but on the other hand I don’t want to be treated any differently. A phrase I regularly say is that “I am an angel investor not a Black angel investor”. Being an “angel investor” is the equality I am striving for but the reality of the here and now is that I am a Black angel investor.

William (Tré) Clayton

Name: William (Tré) Clayton

Age: 26

Hometown: Clayton, NC

Place of residence: New York, New York

Occupation: Investment Banking/Venture Capital

  • Tell me about how you got into angel investing.

Angel investing has always been a desire of mine. In truth, I come from a family of civil servants; most are teachers and lawyers, some are doctors and social advocates, and a few are politicians.  I however never saw myself in any of the aforementioned roles, but I knew that I also had the call to serve my community. My parents identified my gift for numbers early on and placed me on the path of finance.

In high school I interned for two summers at Piedmont Investment Advisors, a Black owned money-market shop in Durham, NC. That experience propelled me into the world of finance and opened my eyes to the importance of financial literacy.

I would say that my first actual exposure to angel investing came through the lens of watching Shark Tank as a freshman in high school. From there I had encounters with several angel investors while in college who spoke to Howard students about the importance of gaining equity early on. During my junior year at Howard, I created my own personal mission statement, which was “to transform humanity through financial literacy and equitable opportunities for people of color; one minority investment at a time.”

Skipping forward a few years, and as I began my professional career, I gained further exposure into the realm of venture capital and decided to pursue a career in it to invoke economical change within my community. I was made aware of NeuroVice through a Forbes article that had been written and decided it was a great candidate for me to start off my journey as an angel investor.

  • What kinds of companies do you invest in?

While industry agnostic, the aim is for my personal portfolio of investments to be composed of high growth/impact companies in which the founder(s) are underrepresented minorities, or the companies will directly support and impact underrepresented minorities.

  • Can you tell me about some of your recent investments?

Being that I have just become an angel investor, my only investment thus far is in NeuroVice which is a biotech company responsible for the creation of PATI (The Protector Against Tongue Injury).

PATI is the first, symptom-management, oral device technology that safely and effectively prevents tongue biting and oral trauma during seizures. PATI’s patent-pending, disposable design prevents dislocation or dislodgement during the episode, allows for natural airflow, and prevents saliva from collecting in the mouth which can lead to choking.

There are a few companies in the pipeline that I am considering investing in, one of which being Politicking, which is a mobile application dedicated to improving and galvanizing the millennial and Gen z vote by providing information about micro and macro politics.

  • Do you specifically seek out Black-owned companies to invest in?

I do!  Despite the recent focus on DE&I within the venture capital world, black founders still find themselves disproportionately underfunded, underrepresented, and left out in a lot of the strides that are being made.

  • What are you looking for when you look at potential companies to invest in?

I stated previously, I look for high growth/high impact names to invest in. Companies that address tangible issues or gaps in the market, such as NeuroVice, are the ideal opportunities I am targeting currently.

  • What is it like being an African American in the VC world where less than 3 percent of venture capitalists are Black?

It is extremely hard. Venture Capital is an ecosystem that exists in large form via relationships and extended network. For a lot of Black people in VC those relationships do not exist, and we find ourselves being left out of wonderful opportunities. Many of us lean on each other to gain knowledge of the industry, create connections, and build out a pipeline because very few others in the industry do so. Without individuals like Jewel Burks and the rest of the Collab Capital team, I would find myself utterly lost trying to navigate this space, which is why similar VC funds and programs, like BLKVC and HBCUVC, are so important.

I believe VC is about 20 years behind investment banking in that it took companies and other bulge bracket investment banks to advocate for inclusion of minority owned firms in deals to get to where we are currently; and even so there is still much to be done with that regard. I would love to see more funds push for a diverse LP group, for companies to require Black angel investors and Black fund operators. That is the next step in the evolution of VC, I can only hope that it does not take long to come to fruition as it could create generational wealth for so many that have long since been neglected and excluded.

  • What do you think needs to be done to bring more diversity to the VC world?

I alluded to it in my previous answer, but it will take an intentional and direct push from companies that are raising and from larger and more established funds to include Black and other underrepresented groups into the fold. Too often is the false narrative of a “limited pipeline of talent” spread as an excuse for the lacking diversity within the VC ecosystem (both at the founder and investor level). That has never been the case; there are diverse companies, LPs, funds, and angel investors that are out there in abundance but are struggling and fighting for inclusion in an industry that has historically ignored them.

In short, change will happen once action is taken, and excuses are eliminated.

What’s next for you in the VC world?

I am extremely excited to be a part of the Collab Capital team and I look forward to continuing to work with them to provide funding and resources to Black founders and startups. Collab Capital is set to close on the $50mm fund at the end of this month which is extremely exciting!

Regarding my personal journey as an angel investor, I look forward to working with Ashlyn and NeuroVice to secure an ideal fit for an acquisition later this year. Ensuring a successful exit is top of mind for us now. I also hope to have another investment under my belt before the end of the year.

I also intend to continue passing all that I am learning to others looking to break into the industry. Recently I had the opportunity to speak with three classes at my alma mater, Howard University, to discuss Corporate America, financial literacy, investment banking, and venture capital. I also was a speaker at Wharton’s esteemed 47th Annual Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Conference where I provided insight to my firm and my experience thus far with current MBA students. I am ecstatic to pay-it-forward and pass along all of the information and opportunities that those that came before me were so generous to share with those that are looking to break into VC.

Colton Palmer

Name: Colton Palmer

Age: 31

Hometown: Durham, NC

Place of residence: Durham, NC

Occupation: Facilitator: Gold Group Inc.

  • Tell me about how you got into angel investing.

My parents and their friends created an investment club called MMIC. They established a group that would invest together in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, which eventually led to business startups as well. They would rotate their monthly meetings around to different members homes, each playing host to a business meeting but also an opportunity to fellowship amongst families. They were even featured in Black Enterprise Magazine.

Throughout my youth, I was always interested in what they were discussing, but I still spent most my time with the kids during those meetings. When I was 19, I happened to be dropping in on my parents from NC State to grab a couple things and run back to school. When I arrived my dad encouraged me to hang around to hear a pitch from an entrepreneur who was looking to start a coffee shop in downtown Durham.

Following the pitch, I was hooked and wanted to invest, but just like most college kids had no money to invest. I told my parents how interested I was and how much I wanted to be apart of this investment opportunity. After hearing how passionate I was about the opportunity, my mother told me that my grandfather had been putting money in an account over the years to go towards college, but since I had gotten a full wrestling scholarship, she was waiting to turn over the account to me when I graduated. She asked if I would like to use that money, and that was all she wrote.

I made my first angel investment in 2009. That investment played a very very small part in the vision, execution, and success of Dorian Bolden and Beyu Caffe. I viewed the investment not just as an opportunity to make money, but also an investment in my future. It was an opportunity to gain an inside look at a business built from the ground up, as well as an opportunity to develop relationship and learn from an up and coming entrepreneur.

  • What kinds of companies do you invest in?

To be honest, I haven’t developed a criterium or even set my sights on any particular industry. Thus far I have decided on investment opportunities based on working with the business first. I serve as what I have coined a “facilitator” helping bring ease to different businesses needs whether it’s for a short-term project or campaign, or more long-term work. I have assembled a team of experts in their respective roles who I outsource based on the needs of the company. The relationships I have developed with companies have given me an opportunity to invest if and when the company begins to seek investment dollars.

Up to this point, I have had success connecting with great companies but more importantly great people. What I can say is, all of the companies I have invested in share common traits… passionate driven individuals at the helm who are just as passionate about their product or service. Dorian Bolden and Beyu Caffe, Brandon Evans and Bedlam Vodka, and now Ashlyn Sanders and NeuroVice.

  • Can you tell me about some of your recent investments?

My most recent investments have been with Bedlam Vodka and NeuroVice. My father made the introduction between the CEO Brandon Evans and myself on a tour of the distillery here in Durham, NC. I was interested in the company being that it was based out of Durham. After learning throughout the tour their uniqueness as a rice-based vodka, as well as the intricate distillation process I was very interested! Needless to say, tasting Bedlam is what put it over the top for me. I’ve never had a smooth vodka, that I could sip on the rocks. Following the tour, I sent Brandon a proposal targeting some areas that I thought I could be helpful with as it pertained to their overall growth. Fast-forward two years, and now I am a stakeholder.

My investment in NeuroVice came about when Ashlyn was looking to enhance her website. I attended NC State with her twin sister Robyn. I have been friends with them for quite a few years and it was an opportunity to work with someone I knew personally. Ashlyn’s PATI is groundbreaking, and I believe will change the medical industry approach to best practices as it pertains to seizures.

  • Do you specifically seek out Black-owned companies to invest in?

I love when I have the opportunity to invest in a black business and I do target Black businesses for investment.

My goal isn’t to just look for equity opportunities but rather work with and serve as a resource for Black businesses. If that work leads to equity, great. If it doesn’t, I’m good with that, too. I’m passionate about working with new businesses, enhancing existing businesses, and helping folks reach their goals.

  • What are you looking for when you look at potential companies to invest in?

I evaluate the business from top to bottom, then I have my team evaluate the business before offering my opinion to gain their unbiased perspective. The numbers, potential growth, and strategy are all key components but a lot of businesses make money, but they aren’t all lead and operated well. People are the root of execution so I look closely at the people behind the business. My investment is just as much in the people as it is in the business or service.

  • What is it like being an African American in the VC world where less than 3 percent of venture capitalists are Black?

I honestly can’t speak to the world of venture capitalism, and what its like to be black in that world. Through my experience it was relatively non-existent, so it’s uncharted territory for me and my team. Anyone can be a venture capitalist. There is a massive talent pool of Black entrepreneurs and very few people investing in those businesses. Start small, be patient and serve as a resource. I don’t sit back waiting and hoping for a return; I actively support the businesses I invest in.

  • What do you think needs to be done to bring more diversity to the VC/angel investing world?

I don’t think it’s a change in the VC world that is going to lead to more diversity. I believe it’s a change in mindset and approach. You hear venture capitalism and you automatically think of millions and millions of dollars. I don’t have millions of dollars to invest but I do have resources and people that I can bring together to raise capital. I just decided to create my own playbook.

  • What’s next for you in the VC world?

I am continuing to look into businesses that I believe my team and I can have an impact on. If those relationships evolve into equity opportunities we will continue to invest in businesses and people we believe can be successful.

Diversity, equity and inclusion can transform VC and private equity – here is how





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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.