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How Black founders are rebuilding Black Wall Street

September 14, 2022, 1:17 PM UTC

I had never learned about “Black Wall Street” until June 2020, when people across the country erupted in protest over President Donald Trump announcing he would host a rally on Juneteenth in Tulsa, where white rioters had burned down homes and businesses and murdered up to 300 people in Tulsa’s thriving Black business district in 1921. 

Until then, I had never heard of the Tulsa Race Massacre. Nor had I heard of West 9th Street, the once-vibrant Black business and entertainment district in Little Rock, Ark. Nor Rosewood, a thriving, rural Black town in South Florida. The burgeoning Black middle class of Wilmington, N.C. hadn’t been on my radar. Neither was the cultural hub of Leimert Park, known as the “Black Greenwich Village” of Los Angeles. No one I knew had talked about these districts, nor the urban renewal policies largely accredited to breaking them up and segregating cities and neighborhoods. Even in Oklahoma, many people hadn’t known about one of the worst incidents of racial violence in American history until recently—though it had happened out their back door. 

But as of recently, there has been a cultural push to revitalize the history of Black Wall Street into the very fabric of Tulsa. In 2021, the 100-year anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, the city opened a museum dedicated to the history of the Greenwood District. The city also launched a Black Wall Street legacy festival. There are plaques lining the sidewalk on East Archer Street, commemorating businesses like “Clark Tailoring” or “Harris Restaurant” that were destroyed during the riots. People are discussing the legacy of the Greenwood District and rallying around the idea of a resurgence of Black innovation and Black wealth. 

Right along with these efforts, there has been a flood of activity geared at building a new Black-led business ecosystem. Tulsa native Tyrance Billingsley II created an initiative called “Black Tech Street,” aimed at building a hub of Black tech entrepreneurs. A new organization, called Build In Tulsa, was formed to help connect Black founders with capital and resources, and it just landed $250,000 over the next two years from the Goldman Sachs One Million Black Women initiative to launch an accelerator that will fund and offer childcare and mental health resources to early-stage Black women entrepreneurs. Boulder, Colo.-based accelerator Techstars launched a program in Tulsa targeting underrepresented founders. A non-dilutive incubator program, ACT House, opened its doors. Venture capital fund Lightship introduced a regional fund specifically focused on Black founders. 

These efforts are still in their infancy, but those behind them are thinking big. Yesterday, I sat in on a portion of venture capital firm Visible Hands’ 14-week accelerator program geared at founders of color that kicked off in person in Tulsa this week.

“I would like Tulsa to [be known as a] beacon for Black tech and excellence in the same way that Black Wall Street was,” Billingsley of Black Tech Street said on a panel.

Wherever they operate, Black and other underrepresented founders have a steep road ahead of them. Only 1.3% of venture capital dollars went to Black founders in 2021, per Crunchbase data. When Black women are written checks, they are typically a fraction of the size, according to 2018 research. With fewer options, many underrepresented founders face difficult choices: Whether to hand over significant stakes in their company in return for much-needed capital, and whether to invest the time of going through multiple accelerator programs to land funding. Not to mention—Black founders are also less likely to be able to rely on wealth from friends and family to kick things off, due to the significant racial wealth gap.

For Lightship’s Charlton Cunningham, who was just brought on to run the fund’s efforts in Tulsa, addressing these discrepancies will start with a “flywheel.” Companies need to become successful, hire a plethora of people, give them equity, grow, then ultimately mint a bunch of new millionaires that will reinvest into the system. 

While it’s still early days, some of the work being done in Tulsa is already playing out, Build in Tulsa managing director Ashli Sims told me during a happy hour yesterday evening. Since launching its initial programs last year, Build in Tulsa has worked with 130 Black-founded companies, has handed out $85,000 in pitch prizes, hosted 2,500 hours of skills development training, and enrolled 20 companies with accelerator programs connected to the organization. There are currently 13 residents who have free office space for six months.

In many ways, it’s the very vision of what Black Wall Street once was that is energizing people. “I’m in awe of the glory days of Greenwood, and I know that that spirit is alive and well in our community,” Sims says.

As she puts it, it’s easy to get lost in the tragedy of Black Wall Street. But there is also reason to celebrate what was built—then rebuilt—by Black Americans there. After all, in the days after the Tulsa Massacre, some Black Tulsans fled. But others stayed back to hastily put the district back together—sometimes even having to rebuild homes in the middle of the night to avoid attempts from the city to block their efforts. It wasn’t until “Urban Renewal,” when highways displaced the Greenwood district, that the era of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street truly came to an end.

But Cunningham says that history could repeat itself: “If they [rebuilt] it one time, we can do it again.”

See you tomorrow,

Jessica Mathews
Twitter: @jessicakmathews
Email: jessica.mathews@fortune.com
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Correction: The online version of this newsletter has been corrected to reflect that the Visible Hands accelerator program is 14 weeks.

Jackson Fordyce curated the deals section of today’s newsletter.

VENTURE DEALS

- Patra, an El Dorado Hills, Calif.-based services company for the insurance industry, raised $146 million in funding from FTV Capital.  

- Nimbus Therapeutics, a Cambridge, Mass.-based clinical-stage drug therapeutics company, raised $125 million in funding. SV Health Investors led the round and was joined by investors including Bain Capital Life Sciences, Access Biotechnology, Atlas Venture, BVF Partners, Bill Gates, Lightstone Ventures, RA Capital Management, and SR One.

- Xeneta, an Oslo, Norway-based ocean and air freight rate benchmarking and market analytics platform, raised $80 million in funding. Funds advised by Apax Digital led the round and was joined by Lugard Road Capital

- Redesign Health, a New York-based company that builds and launches health care businesses, raised $65 million in Series C funding. General Catalyst led the round and was joined by investors including CVS Health Ventures, UPMC Enterprises, Eden Global Partners, Euclidean Capital, Samsung Next, TriplePoint Capital, and Declaration Partners

- Patch, a London and San Francisco-based B2B platform for integrating climate action, raised $55 million in Series B funding. Energize Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Coatue Management and Andreessen Horowitz

- Liquid Instruments, a Lyneham, Australia and Solana Beach, Calif.-based instrumentation software company, raised $28.5 million in Series B funding. Acorn Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Lockheed Martin Ventures, Powerhouse Ventures, Spirit Super/ANU Connect Ventures, MA Growth Ventures, Significant Capital Ventures, and Boman Enterprises

- Alcatraz AI, a Cupertino, Calif.-based 3D facial authentication security company, raised $25 million in Series A funding. Almaz Capital led the round and was joined by investors including The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Endeavor Catalyst, Silverline Capital, Golden Seeds, JCI Ventures, Ray Stata, and LDV Partners.

- Soda Health, a Bentonville, Ark.-based health care tech company, raised $25 million in Series A funding. Lightspeed Venture Partners, Define Ventures, and Qiming Venture Partners USA invested in the round. 

- ​​Goldsky, a San Francisco-based data infrastructure platform for crypto teams, raised $20 million in seed funding co-led by Felicis and Dragonfly Capital

- Kafene, a New York-based digital point-of-sale platform, raised $18 million in Series B funding. Third Prime led the round and was joined by other investors.

- Sightfull, a San Francisco and Tel Aviv-based revenue analysis and optimization platform, raised $18 million in Series A funding. Dell Technologies Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Norwest Venture Partners and Tiger Global

- Ideon Technologies, a Richmond, British Columbia-based subsurface imaging company for the mining industry, raised $16 million in Series A funding led by Playground Global.

- Theom, a San Francisco-based cloud data security platform, raised $16.4 million in seed funding co-led by Ridge Ventures and M12.

- Isometric Technologies, a San Francisco-based collaborative management platform, raised $15 million in Series A funding. Blackhorn Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Maersk Growth and Mantis VC.

- Thirdwave, a remote-based blockchain discovery engine company and business data and analytics provider to gaming teams, raised $7 million in seed funding. Framework Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Animoca Brands, Play Ventures, Shima Capital, Hustle Fund, and Oceans Ventures

- Tract, a San Francisco-based online teaching platform for kids by kids, raised $7 million in seed funding. NEA led the round and was joined by angels including Sangha Capital/ACTAI’s Bill Tai, 23&Me CEO Anne Wojcicki, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, Zynga founder Marc Pincus, and Chegg CEO Dan Rosensweig

- Tidelift, a Boston-based solutions provider for open source software supply chain resilience, raised $6.5 million in Series C extension funding. AEI HorizonX, The Boeing Company, and Cisco Investments invested in the round.  

- Phantom Neuro, an Austin-based robotic orthopedic neurotech company, raised $6 million in additional funding. Time BioVentures, Risk & Return, LionBird Ventures, Draper Associates, and Breakout Ventures invested in the round.  

- Cognitive3D, a Vancouver-based spatial analytics platform, raised $2.5 million in seed funding. Konvoy led the round and was joined by investors including Space Capital and Boost.vc.

- Bitsy’s, a New York-based food and beverage brand, raised $1.34 million in funding from Fearless Fund.

PRIVATE EQUITY

- Alsendo, backed by Abris Capital Partners, acquired a majority stake in Zaslat, a Brno, Czech Republic-based parcel delivery platform. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

- CES Power, backed by Allied Industrial Partners, acquired Brickworks, a San Diego-based smart mapping software, geographic information system services, and zero-emissions infrastructure provider to the entertainment industry. Financial terms were not disclosed.

- Latticework Capital Management acquired Catalina Research Institute, a Montclair, Calif.-based independent clinical trials center. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

OTHER

- Kyruus agreed to acquire Epion Health, a Hoboken, N.J.-based digital patient engagement solutions provider. Financial terms were not disclosed.

FUNDS + FUNDS OF FUNDS

- Avance Investment Management, a Miami and New York-based private equity firm, raised approximately $1.1 billion for a fund focused on investments in the services, technology, and consumer sectors. 

- Telstra Ventures, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm, raised $350 million for its third fund focused on pre-growth and early growth companies across cloud, cyber, crypto, carbon, climate, and other software and digital sectors.  

- Comvest Partners, a West Palm Beach, Fla.-based private investment firm, raised $252 million for its debut fund focused on North American companies with enterprise values of more than $50 million in the business and technology services, consumer and e-commerce, financial services and specialty finance, health care, industrial services, and transportation and logistics industries. 

PEOPLE

- Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, a London and New York-based private equity firm, hired Michael Lamach as operating advisor to CD&R funds. Formerly, he was with Trane Technologies.

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