Resilient Ventures Seeks To Close Wealth Gap By Backing Black-Owned Businesses

The first startup Resilient Ventures has invested in is Chicago's Five to Nine. Left to right: Ayanga Okpokowuruk, CTO and lead engineer; Jasmine Shells, Co-Founder & CEO; Denise Umubyeyi, Co-Founder & COO; and Pedro Suarez, Director of People Analytics and Marketing.

Throughout his life as a software developer, Tom Droege has built a level of wealth and made philanthropy an important part of his life. But while he realized giving away money didn’t solve inequity overall, he thought that a more sustainable alternative—investing—just might.

Upon participating in several racial equity workshops, Droege teamed up with the Rev. Keith Daniel to pilot a six-lesson, eight-week, small group study called “Christianity Deconstructs Racism” with 14 groups a few years ago.

Keith Daniel

Successful Black-owned startups are often seen as a rarity in the tech community. Knowing that there was something Droege could do to address the inequity of wealth in the Black community, Droege brought Daniel on board as a fellow managing partner to create Durham’s Resilient Ventures, an angel investment fund aiming to do its part to close the wealth gap by investing in Black-owned startups. The fund has so far closed on $1.1M of its $10M goal.

“What we hope Resilient is, is a better recognition of reality,” said Droege. “There are entrepreneurial, high-growth African American-founded ventures out there that are hidden, just like the Negro Leagues and Jackie Robinson once were. So often the narratives are counter to that. ‘They’re not ready.’ ‘There’s not enough.’ And that’s just not true.”

Daniel worked in higher education for a third of his career, until his life took a sharp turn to ministry focused around social-justice work. Daniel and Droege met through a mutual friend’s advisory board. After Daniel and Droege’s “Christianity Deconstructs Racism” study concluded, their visions came together to found Resilient Ventures.

“I was like, I’ll sign up for that,” Daniel said. “I think that’s a worthy mission, and it feels right for the way my life has taken shape in terms of working with young people and helping them understand entrepreneurship and the challenges.”

Daniel and Droege are committed to talking honestly about the experience of Black entrepreneurs and both of their perspectives. In Droege’s own career, he’s fully aware that as a white man, there were some obstacles he didn’t encounter.

“I did good work and I had a very solid reputation,” Droege said, “but I didn’t have to jump over any hoops.”

Tom Droege

Resilient Ventures has invested in Chicago-based Five to Nine, a startup using analytics to foster workplace connectivity and inclusion. Five to Nine also joined the Morgan Stanley Multicultural Innovation Lab accelerator. But Daniel said Resilient Ventures is about more than just money, and they have assisted other Black-owned startups through mentorship.

“We’ve helped many others by listening in on pitches, making connections through our networks, making suggestions,” Daniel said. “So we’ve given a lot of advice and tried to fulfill our mission beyond capital.”

Because of their work in Resilient Ventures, Daniel and Droege have spoken to several hundred people at summits in Chicago, New York and Durham.

“Whether or not we raise the entire amount or not we don’t think is the full recognition of our success,” Daniel said. “But quite frankly, it will be our biggest challenge for this type of fund to reach that on the first go anyway.”

Although the original self-imposed deadline was to raise the $10 million by the end of the year, Droege and Daniel hope Resilient Ventures will go beyond just their financial goal.  Droege said there are at least 40 other funds with a similar mission.

“We hope that our impact will be larger than our $10 million fund because that’s a small fund,” Droege said. “So our goal is to be part of a movement, and that includes being part of a group of other funds that are doing the same thing.”

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About Suzanne Blake 15 Articles
Suzanne is an intern reporter for GrepBeat, who focuses on profiling startups and innovation in the area. She is a junior studying journalism and political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Reach Suzanne at suzanne@grepbeat.com.