Durham-based Resilient Ventures began as a way to bring the word “equity” to life through investments in growing Black-owned businesses. The group has so far been making good on that promise, already deploying $1.9 million out of the $3.5 million of its committed capital investment fund to Black founders.
These are businesses that are both local and national. Triangle-based assisted living company LiveWell, multi-location coffee shop Beyu Caffe and CircleIn—a virtual learning platform that has established a significant employee presence in Apex—are all recipients of Resilient Ventures’ fund, alongside six other startups across the country.
While the investment group seeks to deploy capital in Black-founded high-growth startups that have established revenue and proven customer-market fit, its founders and managing directors Keith Daniel and Tom Droege started on their journeys of racial equity and justice work long ago.
Daniel spent 25 years as the director of Duke’s Fuqua School’s LEAD (Leadership Education and Development) program, while Droege founded Droege Computing Services in 1985. As the two found success in their own careers and had built a network of similarly successful people, they started to look at the larger implications of the racial wealth gap and what was actually needed to help solve it.
“We started realizing we had this shared entrepreneurial background,” Droege said. “And then when we really looked at what was needed, it’s not so much programs, but it’s just capital.”
Thus came the idea for Resilient Ventures in 2016. The name is a testament to the legacy of Black wealth-building in America, something that is often missing from traditional VC firms’ portfolios. Nationally, only around 1 percent of VC funding goes to Black founders.
“Our fund is a part of the historic movement to honor and to recognize the brilliance and the genius of black innovators and entrepreneurs,” Daniel said. “They’re more than deserving of the same opportunities white founders have constantly curated and maintained.”
By using their personal networks to secure funding, Daniel and Droege said they are helping close the capital gap between Black and white founders. But despite being a relatively small fund, Resilient Ventures’ impact goes beyond the money.
They also leverage their relationships so their portfolio company founders end up raising even more funding from others, Droege said. A perfect example is CircleIn, which has secured funding from another local investor in North Carolina that will be more than 10 times what Resilient invested in them.
Beyu Caffe, a Durham coffee shop and breakfast mainstay, has been able to open two more locations and one more is primed at RDU Airport. Even throughout Covid, Beyu has been a resilient business, Daniel said, fitting into the investment group’s overall investment philosophy.
Having come from entirely different career paths before deciding to launch the investment firm, Droege said he knew it would be a steep learning curve, but they feel they’ve done well coming up the other side of it.
Even though it’s a common statistic that nine out of 10 startups fail, and Resilient Ventures made several investments pre-pandemic before they could know how certain industries would be disrupted, the majority of its portfolio are on upward trends.
“We’re not just closing our eyes and throwing darts out there,” Daniel said. “We are watching teams. We’re watching founders. We’re relying on our systems, our investment committee and our advisors to help us make good decisions.”
Executing on their mission
As Daniel and Droege consistently make their way across the country to summits for Black VCs, investors and entrepreneurs, they are only emboldened to continue Resilient Ventures’ mission.
As time goes by, more and more people are becoming aware of the racial wealth gap both regionally and nationally. But even with the promises so many companies and organizations made in the wake of George Floyd’s killing and the Black Lives Matter movement, there remains an incredible amount of work to be done.
“There’s still a great need,” Droege said. “While it’s more in people’s vision, by and large, a lot really hasn’t changed in terms of relationships and trust.”
Moving forward, Daniel and Droege hope they can increase the amount of money they can invest in any given company as part of what they hope becomes a larger-scale movement.
“We can’t just keep saying we’re going to act charitable,” Daniel said. “We have to grow the wealth of our economy.”
He added, “We want to be counted amongst the impact- and change-makers, which means that risk is always going to be there. We’re willing to take the calculated risks because we know these businesses need to continue to feed our community.”