This Poet Turned Financier Is Raising Millions of Dollars to Fund Black and Latino Investors and Entrepreneurs

Sarah Favot

Favot is an award-winning journalist and adjunct instructor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She previously was an investigative and data reporter at national education news site The 74 and local news site LA School Report. She's also worked at the Los Angeles Daily News. She was a Livingston Award finalist in 2011 and holds a Master's degree in journalism from Boston University and BA from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada.

Taj Eldridge, Include Ventures

The 46-year-old poet-turned-financer Taj Eldridge is raising $250 million to support Black and brown entrepreneurs and investors.

The fund will be split in two buckets, $125 million will go toward direct investments in clean tech, healthcare tech, media and fintech, as well as follow-on investments for companies that its affiliated fund managers make investments in. The rest of the funds will support fund managers raising at least $5 million that are majority-owned by Black or Brown individuals with an environmental social governance focus.

"What we like to say is we like to see funds that impact how you work, how you live and how you thrive," Eldridge told Minnie Ingersoll on the LA Venture podcast.

Eldridge, senior director of investments for the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, said the idea for the new fund began in 2019 before last summer's racial reckoning when he had a conversation with a "high net-worth individual" about reducing the racial wealth gap.

For Eldridge, the answer was ownership.

"If a person of color has ownership in the company, if they're vested in the company, if they're hiring in C-suite, that creates wealth, that creates ownership," he said.

Founders of color have long had a harder time raising funds. That's because traditional funds have been dominated by white men. Last week, the National Venture Capital Association released a report by Deloitte that found of the 378 top venture firms with a total of $256.4 billion in assets under management, 3% of investment partners are Black and 4% are Latino.

Eldridge said he is still raising money, but has a target for $250 million. His support has come from individuals in the sports and entertainment industries in Los Angeles and outside of the state.

Eldridge partnered with Keith Spears and Bahiyah Robinson — founder and CEO of VC Include, which is an accelerator for fund managers that provides training and platform services — to build up a fund.

Since VC Include already has relationships with emerging fund managers, it made sense to start something like Include Ventures to provide funding for them.

Include Ventures is an offshoot that will be run by Eldridge out of South Los Angeles.

"The opportunity gap is incredibly massive when you think about the changing demographics in the United States, and where we're headed," said Carmen Palafox, a partner at MiLA Capital and board member of LatinxVC and of the National Venture Capital Association.

Underrepresented founders and funds have seen more dollars come in, she said. But so has everyone else.

"I think what's important to keep in mind is that the bigger, more traditional funds are raising billions and billions of dollars so 2020 was a record breaking year for funds raising VC money and the asset class is thriving," Palafox said. "That's what leads to this continuous lack of progress because the bigger funds are raising more money. And even though we have these new funds, it's just allowing us to keep up with the existing ones."

Eldridge will remain with LACI, a Los Angeles city-sponsored incubator for clean technologies, where he focuses on bringing in new investors. He sees major changes ahead in that space.

"Clean tech is going to be normalized," he said. "We're going to have a situation where it's not going to be in a separate space, similar to how I don't believe impact is going to be in a separate space."

From Poetry to Spreadsheets

Eldridge didn't always want to be in finance. He studied poetry and literature in college, hoping to become a rapper. While that didn't happen, he learned the value of storytelling and connecting with people.

He said some of his investors come from the music industry.

Eldridge is also involved in philanthropic endeavors, sitting on the board of Homeboy Industries, an L.A.-based gang rehabilitation and re-entry program.

One piece of advice he has for the next generation is to be authentic. Eldridge said when he was at his first banking job, he used an American-sounding name rather than his real name, which is Arabic.

"Your self, your full self, is what's going to be valuable for you and for whatever company you're at," he said.

Eldridge said he seeks inspiration from immigrants who come to this country with $1 in their pocket and who work hard every day to create a living for themselves.

"People who've raised themselves up, that inspires me," he said.

A Stage 5 kidney disease diagnosis in 2018 has given him perspective about what's important in life.

"That was a calling card for me to focus on sustainability and to focus on really, really just trying to support founders that are trying to make a difference," he said.

"Alpha means nothing if I'm not here," Eldridge said, reflecting on his diagnosis and treatments that last four hours a day, three days a week. He often thinks about a saying in the Black community, "find a way or make one."

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