Driven by her goal to cultivate a supportive community for diverse tech startups, Kelauni Jasmyn founded the fiscally sponsored nonprofit Black Tech Nation in Pittsburgh in 2018. And in 2021, she became one of three founding general partners of Black Tech Nation Ventures (BTN.vc), a venture capital fund for tech startups led by Black and diverse leaders. The venture capital fund itself is one of a very small percentage of majority Black-owned venture capital funds operating in the U.S. today.
“Our goal is to help Black and diverse tech startups to build their companies to be unicorns,” Jasmyn says, defining “diverse” as companies owned by Black women or Latine, LGBTQ+ and Indigenous people.
In May 2022, $42 billion-asset First National Bank (FNB), based in Pittsburgh, announced that it would make an equity investment in BTN.vc as part of its 2020 pledge to devote $250 million to addressing “economic and social inequality in low- and moderate-income communities,” says Vincent J. Delie Jr., chairman, president and CEO of F.N.B. Corporation and its banking subsidiary, First National Bank.
For FNB, investing in this unique venture capital opportunity aligns with the community bank’s commitment to strengthening the communities it serves.
“We look forward to having a front row seat,” says Delie, “as [BTN.vc] foster[s] a thriving network of diverse innovators and entrepreneurs who will influence the tech landscape for years to come.”
Filling a need for diverse startups
In recent years, Jasmyn had been approached by several high-net-worth individuals and fund managers interested in investing in Black- and diverse-led startups.
She contacted experienced venture capitalist Sean Sebastian, founding partner of Birchmere Ventures, also based in Pittsburgh. Sebastian signed on as general partner, along with David Motley, cofounder of the African American Directors Forum.
BTN.vc is already over halfway to its $50 million fundraising goal. Jasmyn anticipates that the fund will hit the full close by the end of this year or early 2023.
Out of the 25 to 30 companies that BTN.vc will invest in over the next three to four years, the fund has already put money to work in five startups: one owned by a Black man, three by Black women and one by a Latine woman.
Jasmyn is eager to support entrepreneurs within the Pittsburgh area but emphasizes that the fund is scouring the whole country for the right investments.
Part of her mission, she says, is to create “longevity and generational wealth for underrepresented communities.” In this sense, she says, she and her partners are tackling the vexing problem of the racial wealth gap, because successful tech founders will have money to invest in their communities—or in other startups by people with similarly diverse backgrounds and ethnicities.
Five years ago, Jasmyn worked as a substitute teacher at a Chicago high school that she herself attended. She is keenly aware of the privilege she now wields.
“If we can continue to build more VCs and companies that look like me, it’s going to be a huge impact, not only financially but societally as well,” she says.
“My passion,” Jasmyn continues, “is to use what I have to give back to my community and create wealth and opportunity for myself and for them, too.”
Making intentional investments
Jasmyn praised FNB for “supporting this type of work and for making investments in the communities in which [the bank does] business.”
“First National Bank is instrumental in Pittsburgh,” she says. With the fund, Jasmyn aims to build partnerships within Pittsburgh’s tech ecosystem to attract and support Black tech professionals.
Delie shares a similar goal. He says FNB has “deliberately placed regional headquarters, offices and operational centers in or near underserved areas and urban centers to promote job creation and economic success.”
What’s more, Delie sees the community bank’s commitment to BTN.vc as part of a larger pattern. He notes that the bank’s new headquarters tower is located in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. This makes FNB one of the only public companies to locate its headquarters in a marginalized community.
When determining the size of investment FNB would make in
BTN.vc, the bank worked closely with the fund’s three general partners. The contribution, says Delie, “achieves an optimal balance between meaningful impact for the fund, anticipated returns and adherence to our responsible risk profile.”
In many ways, Delie’s goals for FNB and Jasmyn’s for BTN.vc fit together beautifully.
“We want to support Black and diverse startups,” concludes Jasmyn, “because we realize when all tides rise, everyone rises.”