Nov 23, 2021
The story of Genius Guild, the power of investing in Black
entrepreneurs, and the importance of sticking to your core
In "Black Muse," the season finale of Build The Damn
Thing, serial entrepreneur Kathryn Finney is joined
by guests to discuss black excellence, entrepreneurship, and
Featured Ep.8 guests: Renee Wittemyer | Brian Aoaeh | Michael Dyer
| Cheryl Contee | Geri Stengel | Sharmayne Lueiza Munoz | Barbara
Clarke | Teresa Chahine | Jeffrey Robinson
Quotes from the show:
“We're looking for black founders who are thinking big,
who are innovators, who have ideas that others are like, "Eh, I
don't know." I don't know if that works, but we know - because
we're operators and investors - that they can
work. " -- Kathryn Finney, Build the Damn
Thing, Episode #8
Facebook: Kathryn Finney
Website: Genius Guild
Subscribe to our podcast + download each episode on Google
Podcasts, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.
Produced by Genius Guild Content
Executive Producers: Kathryn Finney and Darlene Gillard
Post-Production Company: Prosper Digital TV
Post-Production Manager: Joanes Prosper
Post-Production Supervisor: Jason Pierre
Post-Production Sound Editor: Evan Joseph
Co-Music Supervisors: Jason Pierre and Darlene Gillard
Show Music: provided by Prosper Digital TV
Main Show Theme Music: "Self Motivated" Written & Performed by
Add'l Music: "Lil' Sumn" by Dreamadai
Special Thanks to The New Bedford Whaling Museum - New Bedford,
I met Kathryn at south by Southwest in 2018 in this tiny conference
room. And we made a connection that day, given our shared love of
data. And we are huge data fans. And so by really seeing the data,
we believe that that's the, that's the basis from which to address
challenges and create change. And Kathryn’s got this
incredible talent for painting the picture of what she wants to
achieve, opening up your imagination to a better future and how she
has this plan to get there.
She sees opportunities and embraces change and
challenge openly as a true innovator. We're proud to be an early
supporter and believer in genius Guild and Kathryn’s leadership as
an emerging fund manager and her vision of tech innovation that can
generate transformational solutions and intergenerational wealth in
the black community.
Venture capital was my occupation, but entrepreneurship is my
vocation. So I look at the world through the lens of possibilities
and what can be built. The future is built by those who build it.
And black people have been building the future and reaping no
benefits for far too long. This is why I'm building Genius Guild.
And this the season finale of build a thing here, why I chose
venture capital as a way to build a new black future.I'm from
Minneapolis. George Floyd was murdered about six blocks away from
where I went to elementary school. So for me, (sigh) it was I was
going to take this really big pause after leaving DID. And the
universe is like, "Uh-uh, girl. You know that idea that you've been
thinking about for eight years, remember when you started
digitalundivided and you originally wanted it to be a for-profit,
and you had this idea, but nobody was really funding anything to do
with black people because we weren't hot in 2012? Well, the
universe has caught up to you, Kathryn, and your ideas and so it's
time for you to build this."
I first met Kathryn in 2013. And in 2013, there weren't many people
talking about how to get more capital into the hands of black women
who are building startups, or even of getting more capital into the
hands of black founders in general, men or women. And she was
having that conversation through digitalundivided, through Focus
And then, it became the cool thing (chuckles) it
became the cool thing to do. And then, not not too long after that,
I woke up one morning and ProjectDiane was in the news. And before
ProjectDiane, not many people were talking about trying to get at
the data. But ProjectDiane put that conversation squarely in the
zeitgeist for people who are thinking about innovation and the
funding of innovation.
My name is Brian Laung Aoaeh, I am a co-founder and general partner
of REFASHIOND Ventures, and I am the co-founder of the Worldwide
Supply Chain Federation.And then, now with Genius Guild, I think
it's the same thing. I...I think Genius Guild is going about what
it's going to do in a way that is different from other people. it
definitely is going about its mission with a lot more experience
than almost anyone else that's doing this. And I think that makes a
big difference because, when you are doing something that is
pioneering, there are pitfalls that no one can predict. There are
difficulties and uncertainties that no one can predict. But, if
someone can figure out a way to work around the uncertainties and
potential pitfalls, I think it's Kathryn.
We're now in the system of shareholder capitalism, where it's...
The value is to maximize the return for the owner, the owner class.
Owners should get the most return.
Rhere was this amazing piece I read about whaling and
the whaling industry, and that the whaling industry was one of the
first examples of venture capital.
Every voyage was a unique corporate entity. So if a couple of
brothers, owned four ships, right?
They own them out right every time they sent one of
those voyages out, they would get investors in that particular
voyage. And so the risk was spread through the community, and if
you're a grocer or a, uh, or a, a blacksmith, or even if you're a,
uh, upstanding citizen and you had money, you can invest your money
in a voyage, in a whaling voyage.
My name is Michael Dyer. I’m the curator of maritime history at the
new Bedford whaling museum. And sometimes you'll see, there'll be,
there'll be six or 10 different investors in, in one voyage. And
then that vessel will come back and then it'll sail again. And
there'll be a different set of investors in it
And, the idea was to spread the risk and make as much
money as you could.
What was not known was that Black people, particularly Black men,
were very, very involved in the whaling industry, as leaders in the
whaling industry. And this is during the time of slavery. And so,
being on these boats was not fun but it was sure enough much better
than slavery. Michael Dyer
it was kind of, kind of a melting pot, uh, of labor doesn't mean
everybody liked each other and doesn't mean that racism wasn't a
thing. Um, but on shipboard, there was a higher calling and the
master was the boss and the master answered to the owner. And the
owner's idea of a good time was 2300 barrels of whale oil in two
years out on a voyage and nothing in between. So he didn't care who
did the killing just as long as he got his 2300 barrels of whale
oil after two years of investment. The U S government issued
black sailors, Siemens passport. What's really, really
interesting about that is that black sailors had greater
protections in foreign ports than they did in American ports in the
19th century. So a black sailor who, got into trouble or it was
discharged or were sick or something in Buenos Aires or Talcahuano
chili or Sydney, Australia would be treated as a citizen of the
United States and supported that way by the captain of the ship and
by his shipmates. and the U S Navy, if need be would come and, and
force the, this is a citizen of the country, whereas that same man,
if he wound up a shore in new Orleans or Mobile or Charleston or
Savannah could be seized, and sold back into, into slavery.
So I took all this information and started to really think about
what would the company look like? I knew it had to be a for-profit,
was not about that nonprofit anymore. At all. Not gon’ do it.
And was talking with partners, that I had worked with. And they
were like, we really think this is important. We think the work
that you do is really important, Kathryn, and you do work and you
build things that change industries. I, I build institutions, that
is what I do. So we received a lot of money, received over
seven figures, to build Genius Guild.
Genius Guild is a business creation platform that uses
the venture studio model. We have content community and a fund to
invest in high growth companies led by black founders. Our thesis
is, is that black companies produce alpha, not just for investors,
but also for their community and for themselves.
Another example of how capitalism has been manipulated is my
grandparents, my great-grandparents, who had a store in the
Greenwood section of Tulsa, Oklahoma. And that store, and their
house on Pocahontas street, was destroyed by the riots, like
utterly leveled. And they had insurance and it's been over a
hundred years and my family is still waiting for those insurance
it's still a challenge. It's still an uneven playing field. So an
example of that would be, I am an advisor to a major,, fund angel
fund that works with, female entrepreneurs. And they worked really
hard to weed out all of the bias, in their system. You know, they,
they were really serious about it.
And they said, we, we felt like we did a really great job of, you
know, getting, black and brown entrepreneurs through our cycle,
until it came to angels writing checks.I'm Cheryl Conti, Chief
Innovation Officer at the impact seat and chair and founder of
Dobigthings.today. On average, it takes seven introductions, to an
investor to get a white woman funded in their network, takes 50, 5,
0 to get a black female entrepreneur, uh, invested. And that's just
inefficient. Like that is just stupid, right? Like, this is just,
this is just, you know, annoying and dumb because look, women
purchase 85% of everything. These are these, these are facts. So
why wouldn't you want someone who understands what women want, what
purchasers want to create products and services for the people who
are buying them? I mean, this is just like some 19th century, old
At Genius Guild we invest in bold solutions. We invest in three
areas. We invest in healthy environments, so companies that are
figuring out ways to make our environment, particularly Black
communities, healthier and happier. Belonging and connectivity is
another one of our areas. We live in a very disconnected world
right now, where we're not connected to each other. And so we
are interested in companies that are connecting people. And last,
but certainly not least, we're interested in companies that are
restructuring and rethinking the flow of capital in our
communities, how capital flows in the Black community.
So the business case for investing in black and brown people, is
really lived experience. You're going to miss a lot of
opportunities for innovation, if only some people are creating new
businesses, talent is everywhere, opportunity is not. I'm Geri
Stengel, and I'm President of Ventureneer and I'm best known for
writing in Forbes, about the success factors of women
entrepreneurs.And, people of color have just as good ideas, have
the talent, they just need the money to start these businesses,
that are going to grow the economy and create jobs. And this is
really critical for coming out of the pandemic.
And so it's been really exciting to work at Genius Guild. This is
the first time where I feel like everything's coming together. I
don't feel limited. I felt free to be brilliant. I am really smart.
I am really, really smart, and that's not arrogance. That's just a
fact. And I know I'm really good at what I can do. And I know that
when I have an idea and a vision, I can execute it.
All I needed was someone to give me the space. And
that's what that partner did. That partner gave me space to be
brilliant, space and more importantly, permission to be a brilliant
black woman. And it was like, "Go off and do you."
In a lifetime of doing a lot of really big,
interesting things, this is the biggest, the most interesting, the
boldest thing I've ever done.
So increasing the representation of women and people of color as
founders and investors is critical to our mission at pivotal
ventures to advance social progress in the U.S. and when Kathryn
left digital undivided, we just started talking and brainstorming
about what she was going to do next. And her vision was compelling.
And every time we talked, she had refined and refined this vision,
and it was amazing to have this firsthand view into the Genesis of
genius Guild. My name is Renee Wittemyer, and I am the
director of program strategy and investment at pivotal ventures. So
for Genius Guild, we really believed that the model to invest in
market based innovations focused on ending racism and supporting
black innovators to sustainably grow and scale, their solutions
will have this huge, significant impact on black communities and
the racial and gender wealth gap, pivotal ventures aims to disrupt
the status quo, really to draw a spotlight on the chronic
underinvestment of women and girls of color in the U S and advance
action to change it.
I'm a very convincing person. I can sell really anything, but I
knew that I needed another tool. And so, I went back to the partner
and said, "I need more money." And it was a big risk, because
usually as a black woman, when you ask for what you need, you are
usually told that you're being greedy. And that's so ironic. You're
asking for what you need to be able to do the work that you need to
do, and people are often like, "You should just be happy with
whatever we give you and make it work, because we're not going to
fully support you."So when the partner came back and said, "We're
going to give you what you need," and it wasn't a fight and it
wasn't a battle, and it was, "We believe in you," it was an
incredibly emotional moment for me, because I knew, as a black
woman, that that doesn't really happen for us.
We trust in Kathryn’s ability to build, to take risks, to reinvent
and question the status quo and to try different approaches.
Because at pivotal, we want to seed innovation and support leaders.
We want to help people provide them with the resources they need to
take on these big problems, especially leaders like Kathryn, who
are impatient for change and have a concrete plan of how to get
And in a short amount of time, we have been able to do incredible
work. Our first investments are like bold and interesting and ideas
that other people wouldn't get or see. But then when you hear about
it, you're like, "Of course. Of course that's a great market. Of
course this company is making tons of money." We couldn't see it
because we had too many blockers. We were blocking our own
brilliance, or maybe we're so conditioned to block black brilliance
that we can't even see it when it's in our face.”
And so, I'm super excited about that. We have a team
now of almost 10 of just the most amazing people.
Sharmayne Lueiza Muñoz
So I started working with Kathryn as her executive assistant at
that time, genius goad was just in the making and beginning of this
year, Kathryn asked me to come along and join her full time at
Genius Guild. I wasn't quite sure what exactly genius skill was or
what it was about, but that Kathryn wanted me to be part of it. I
was all on board at that. Okay. Whatever you want to do, Kathryn,
if you want me to support you, I'm going to jump on
I’m Sharmayne Lueiza Munoz chief of staff at genius guild. Working
with Kathryn has been incredible. She is an amazing leader that
allows her staff to grow and develop in the areas that they work
in. She sees a potential in you that you may not see, and she
brings that out in you and makes you realize like I can do this and
if I can't it's okay. And then she'll be there to support and guide
...And we actually all work really well together. Our
culture, our team culture is so unique that we're precious of who
we want to bring into our team.
Genius Guild has three sections: a lab, content studio, and the
greenhouse fund. And the goal is to find, support, and fund
market-based solutions that end racism. And we do that by funding
and supporting black founders. And we're... not just anybody who's
black can get funding. We're looking for black founders who are
thinking big, who are innovators, who have ideas that others are
like, "Eh, I don't know." I don't know if that works, but we know
because we're operators and investors that they can work.
We're not just looking from the money standpoint when
we make investments and support companies. We're looking from the
vision and we're looking at the founder. And so, we're looking for
companies that serve the black community, but also can scale
beyond. And as soon as I started talking about the fund, it's been
so amazing, the number of people who have wanted to work with us,
who want to invest in us. Our lead investor, Barbara Clark of
Impact Seed, I had met many, many years ago, right when she
was getting really in the mix of investing. So Barbara is probably
the most significant investor in black women out there.
For Genius Guild. I had already reached out to Catherine when I
knew she was leaving digital and divided. And I was like, let me
know what you're doing next. As soon as you know what you're doing,
as soon as you figure it out, I want to know I want to be one of
the first to know.
Kathryn approached us to take a leadership position in
Genius Guild. Again, Kathryn is good at asking for what she needs
and we were happy to step up. I have been an investor in multiple
funds and I think it's really important to publicly say, this is a
fund that is worth investing in and I'm really excited about
my name is Barbara Clark and I am president and co-founder of the
impact Seed, I invest in people of color for the simple reason
that they have good ideas and problems that need to be solved and
venture capital hasn't recognized it. They only fund a couple of
percentage points of all the venture capital goes to people of
color. I do not believe that that they only have 1% of good ideas.
So that's why I fund them because just because the mainstream
Silicon valley venture capital market doesn't see their value,
that's their fault, not, not these entrepreneurs fault. So I go
where the money is, I'm going to make money off of this. And also
they're solving problems. All the companies I invest in are solving
problems I care about.
Kathryn Finney :
I raised over $5 million, close to $10 million, without really
saying anything to the public. And I was able to do that because I
had spent 20 years building the relationships that could. I had
this network. People had saw the work I could do. People saw I
could do the work. And so it wasn't a hard ask, because they were
like, "Of course, Kathryn can do it. We've seen her do it
When a woman is not an economically productive member of society
and begins to earn income, she invests on average 90% of that
income in her children's health and education. So just imagine the
ripple effects of that. Imagine the effects of having such a huge
segment of the population that is not economically productive
becoming economically productive. The case speaks for itself.My
name is Teresa Chahine. I am the Sheila and Ron '92 B.A Marcelo
senior lecturer in social entrepreneurship at the Yale School of
Management.If I had to pick one sustainable development goal to
focus on, I would focus on investing in women and to make that even
more tangible and concrete, what I'm talking about is helping women
make money. When a woman makes money, you can't mess with her as
much. She can have more power to make more decisions to change
society.[½ BEAT] When women make money, so many other sustainable
development goals are reached.
The hard part was Genius Guild hasn't been building Genius Guild.
It's interesting. It's been a very different challenge than any of
the other times. Um The challenge has been mostly really making
sure that we stay true to ourselves, um making sure that we really
live with our core values. The very first thing I did when I
started Genius Guild was to work on our core values.
Sharmayne Lueiza Muñoz
one of the things that I really like about genius guild, and that
really surprised me. That's so revolutionary to other companies is
our core values. And one of our core values, that's my favorite and
really has stood out to me. And we put this in practice is the
core value of being human. Like we're allowed to be human. We're
allowed to make mistakes. And Kathryn gives us that environment,
but that she trusts us that if we do make a mistake or where
something happens, that's okay. Like we're a team. And having that
feeling that, you know, if I make a little mistake or I do
something wrong, or I'm not sure the Kathryn’s got my back, the
team's got my back and we're going to get through it together. And
that's really stood out for me. And I've seen that we actually put
our core values into practice.
All of these things have been so helpful for us in really
understanding who we bring on. If you talk to any of the Genius
Guild team members, they will tell you we are very protective of
our team and our space.
We're doing something big and bold and
forward-thinking. And so, we need to make sure we're all together
on that. And I have a team that is that way, and we're protective
of it because we're doing such amazing work. This has been really
one of the greatest things I've ever done in my life.
And I think that idea really comes from this genetic link inside of
me of my grandparents, of my great-grandparents. People fought
very, very hard for me to be here and who fought very hard for me
to have that ability to say that I'm going to win. DJ Khaled,
right, "All I do is win, win, win, no matter what. My mind's on my
Okay. Yes, him and I, we're like here. We're here. And
so I think for some people who don't know the language of winning,
maybe didn't have that foundation that I had. It can seem arrogant
to say that, right. It could seem like, "How dare you, you big
black woman, say that all you do is win."
... because as a big black woman, we're not supposed
to win, right.I'm only supposed to be losing all the time but
that's not the case. And it will never ever be the case.
There is a very big case, significant case for investing in
marginalized populations but I-I-I think of it in three ways.
Certainly, there's the social justice one, right. There's there’s
fairness. And for those people who believe in fairness, that's
but there are probably two other cases where I would
say, "Look, you-you need to think about not just the here and now.
You need to think about 20, 40 and 50 years into the future. You
have to know that the genius is evenly distributed across all
groups. We just have to find those folks. You have to be very
deliberate about it.
My name's Jeffrey Robinson. I am a professor at the Rutgers
Business School. I'm also the academic director of the center for
urban entrepreneurship and economic development.Now, then there's
the social ... I call it the social science justification of all of
this. You want diverse people at the table, people with different
backgrounds, different cultural capital coming to the table with
different perspectives, to create the next innovations,
technologies, next types of businesses that meet the needs of the
people in the United States and around the world. You sell yourself
short when you have one group of people, a bunch of white guys, who
think they know everything about everything and really don't
because they just don't have the same background and experience and
life experience that they bring to the table.So And at the end of
the day, that's not how you build a business. That's how you put
one in the ground. So you want uhm a diverse group of folks
who are doing the innovations, who are creating the
businesses, who are bringing their talents to to the forefront.
That is how we as a country are going to continue to be
Life is about a set of experiences. And I think at the end of the
day, it's about what you leave behind. And, everyone wants to know
that their time on this world mattered., that's the whole point of
living, that your existence somehow made the world that we live in
a better place. And that is how I've lived my life - is
making sure that when I leave, -cause we're all going
to leave at some point- that I can say that my existence made
the world a better place. And to me, to be able to say that
is an indication of a life well lived.