Her curls are as exuberant as her smile, and as a young woman with an enthusiastic Twitter following and steady media presence, you would be forgiven for thinking Sydney Sykes is a fashion influencer rather than a venture capital firm founder and financial guru.
While 81% of venture capital investment firms do not have a single Black investor, Syd Sykes is a part of a new generation of young female African-American venture capitalists and financial influencers who are not only providing expert advice but building numerous startups from scratch.
Here’s a list of five influential female African-American investors and financial gurus with inspiring insights on money and financial success.
The advocate: Sydney Sykes
Sydney Sykes. Photo credit: Blck VC.
Although Sydney Sykes is only 27, she’s already co-founded a venture capital firm, Blck VC, and made Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list before she earned her MBA (Stanford, 22’).
The Harvard grad is now an active angel investor and a tireless advocate for African-American financial advisors and investors seeking to make finance a more diverse place.
Sydney Sykes on money, career, and life:
As an investor and advisor, Sykes believes that barriers should be confronted head-on. Whether it is choosing a new investment or settling on a new career, Sykes states that it is important that we eliminate the cognitive limits that we might place in our own way because of the way we might be perceived.
Move forward with confidence, armed with information and a willingness to work hard, but be clear on your motivation: build dreams that are uniquely your own, forged by your (rather than society’s) vision of what your world should look like.
Her “just get it done” quote:
“Hustle hard with purpose. Whether it’s VC or your college choices, there will be a lot of pressure to do what everyone else thinks is impressive, but if you don’t find it rewarding then that experience will never be worth it. Still — no matter what you do — having a rewarding career and being fulfilled with your life is going to take hard work, so always hustle, but make sure you know why you’re doing it.”
Follow her at @Syd_Lykes on Twitter.
The educator: Brittany Davis
Photo credit: Twitter – @iBrittDavis
Harvard MBA, Brittany Davis is a General Partner of evaluated investments and helped place millions with startups as a New Ventures Manager at Village Capital before landing at Backstage as a general partner. Davis overcame financial hardship in her youth to win a full scholarship to the prestigious University of North Carolina, and eventually earned an MBA from Harvard, where her interest in entrepreneurship and venture capital investment peaked.
Recently, Davis has launched a financial education and entrepreneurship accelerator called Start Up Jamaica, designed to empower underrepresented groups to build successful businesses.
Britany Davis on money, career, and life:
Davis believes that a strong network is key to building a career, but it is also important to look outside the network of people who are similar to you when making decisions as an investor.
Traditional investment firms tend to look for opportunities that appear in expected circles: be open to new ideas that come from unexpected places.
Her “get up and go” quote:
“I am here to change the face of venture capital, and also how venture capital is done. For founders who have been historically underestimated — and for investors looking to back them — I truly believe that now is our time.”
Follow her at @iBrittDavis.
The trailblazer: Arlan Hamilton
Photo credit: Backstage Capital
Arlan Hamilton was homeless in 2015 when she launched Backstage Capital, a venture capital fund that will invest more than $36 million with Black female entrepreneurs in the US.
After a chance meeting at a Y Combinator event, Harlan sold her belongings and moved to Silicon Valley. Sleeping on the floor of an airport, Hamilton knocked on doors until she found an investor willing to give her the $25k that she used to launch Backstage Capital in 2015.
Arlan Hamilton on money, career, and life:
While Hamilton does not deny the existence of bias in financial services, she is optimistic about the abilities of Black women and their allies to create lasting change. A self-taught investor, Hamilton’s unwillingness to give up on her dreams of parity with investors and entrepreneurs with, as she puts it, virtually “unlimited” money is a testament to her belief that privilege can also be grit and ingenuity.
She’s also the author of It’s About Damn Time: How to Turn Being Underestimated Into Your Greatest Advantage.
Her “dream it now; do it” quote:
“You’re going to find all kinds of land mines, all kinds of people sticking their foot out, all kinds of challenges as you raise. So you need to be 100% committed with 100% conviction in what you’re doing.”
Follow her at @ArlanWasHere on Twitter.
The accelerator: Sarah Kunst
Photo credit: Twitter – @sarahkunst
Cleo Fund founder and Managing Director, Sarah Kunst recently launched a $10 million fund to specifically support female entrepreneurs. An investment advisor to Bumble, her fund’s portfolio includes StyleSeat and PlateJoy.
Kunst, who graduated from Michigan State University, started her career in venture capital and investment at Sequoia Capital as an investment scout—helping the firm find and vet viable investments. She launched Cleo Capital because she saw so many female entrepreneurs with bright ideas but limited access to capital.
Kunst’s fund’s investment has helped start-ups, such as the female-led StyleSeat, generate billions in value for its entrepreneurs and affiliates.
Sarah Kunst on money, career, and life:
Kunst grew up in a rural town with a single gas station. Her ability to think outside of her native habitat allowed her to imagine a world that was inclusive of diverse investment talent. Kunst thrives on a compassionate outlook on the world, but she believes that building financial security allows black female entrepreneurs to create their own opportunities.
Kunst emphasizes collaboration, purposefulness, and confidence in career-building and investment.
Her “work through it” quote:
“Everyone who’s successful in the world had to spend time building towards their success and learning and building the skill set for what they eventually wanted to do. I’m not the person who says, oh, I can’t believe I had to suffer the indignity of working at these places—those experiences were some of the best things to happen to my career because that’s where I learned so much of what I know now.”
Follow her at @sarahkunst on Twitter.
The storyteller: Arian Simone
Photo Credit: Twitter – @ArianSimone
Venture capitalist and financial guru, Arian Simone went from homelessness to the helm of one of the most buzzed-about female-led VC funds in the country. Best of all, she uses her story to inspire other young women to ignore the practical barriers they may face and to achieve financial and career success.
After graduating from college, Simone received more than 150 job application rejections after being laid off from her first job. She ended up living in her car for almost a year after losing her apartment. Instead of viewing this fall to homelessness as a personal defeat, Simone saw it as a pit stop, allowing the experience to inspire her to create financial security by refusing to stop knocking on doors and demanding a seat at the table.
Author of My Fearless and Fabulous Journey: From Homeless to Hollywood, Arian Simone recently launched The Fearless Fund, a $20 million early-stage fund dedicated to supporting women of color in launching new businesses.
Arian Simone on money, career, and life:
Simone sees the world more as a journey rather than a playing field. She believes that despite obstacles to success, a savvy would-be investor or VC can build a career and create meaningful change by owning their right to be center stage.
Simone’s belief that endurance is a critical part of the battle for financial security is wisdom echoed by decades of savvy investors. Staying “in the ring” personally and professionally, according to Simone, means showing up for your own life, doing the work but never giving in to the idea that your efforts are meaningless.
Her “just keep moving forward” quote:
“Enjoy the process and know that all things work together for the good; whatever you are going through plays a role in your story. Don’t get distracted, stay focused, energy grows where attention flows. Stay in the ring. Even if you take a few punches, don’t leave the ring. The only way you can win the fight is if you stay in the ring.”
Follow her at @ArianSimone on Twitter.
While Black female investors have a long way to go towards income and representation parity
with their peers, the impact of the new diversity among investment firms is already being seen
in the marketplace.
The number of Black female founders raising $1 million or more from venture capitalists has more than doubled since 2018, going from 34 to 90 in 2020, according to Project Diane, a biennial study monitoring investment in Black female-led companies.
According to recent research, female-led companies do exceptionally well for their investors when they go public and Black women make up 42% of all new female-led businesses (but only 14% of the female population). That means a more diverse financial services industry doesn’t just make people feel good, it can also make everyone money.