At a time when the U.S. has been thrust anew into conversations about racial inequality, many Black venture capitalists say they are grappling with their role and responsibilities in a high-stakes industry that generates extraordinary wealth for a select few and helps determine which tech businesses succeed.

Adeyemi Ajao raised $137 million at his firm Base10 Partners in 2018 and it was seen as a triumph for representation. It was the largest war chest ever compiled by a VC firm with a Black co-founder.

Ajao moved to the U.S. 12 years ago from Spain, where his Spanish mother and Nigerian father mostly raised him. For years, he said he didn’t fully understand the legacy of racial dynamics in the U.S., and while he sought to back a wide variety of founders from underrepresented groups such as women and Latinx people, he didn’t think it was his job to focus on the number of Black entrepreneurs in his portfolio. Base10’s first fund invested in two startups with Black founders out of 23 companies.

Upon his reflection after Floyd’s death, Ajao decided to try to make tech more inclusive for Black people because of the group’s “structural disadvantages” in the U.S. and the untapped economic potential of such a strategy. He unveiled a plan to invest 1% of the firm’s profits and partners’ performance fees to groups seeking to diversify the tech industry, when announcing a second fund valued at $250 million. He hopes that VCs of all races will make similar commitments and consider what else they can do to help solve tech’s race problem, which will take many years and all participants, he said.

Photographed on assignment for Bloomberg in San Francisco, Calif.

Text by Nico Grant.

Using Format