While Cisco Investments has a history of investing in companies and venture funds led by diverse leaders, we know there will always be more we can do to drive diversity in the entrepreneurial ecosystems. That’s why in late 2020, we launched the Aspire Fund, a dedicated fund focused on financing and scaling diverse-led startups and venture funds.
Since then, our team has met with many founders and investors, looking for opportunities to not only invest but create meaningful partnerships and impact. In many of these conversations, we have found that founders and investors share our strong desire to accelerate the footsteps towards an inclusive future in innovation and entrepreneurship
As Lauren Kolodny, Founding Partner at Acrew Capital puts it: “Venture capital is living in a bygone era. Our industry uses its capital to fund disruption but ironically has done little work to disrupt itself. As an industry, we are culturally stuck in the past.”
That’s why this Bay Area-based venture capital firm plans to change venture investing by not only funding the future but also building the future their members want to live — beginning with the launch of their two latest funds: the $380MM early-stage Long Term View (LTV) Fund and the $300MM growth-stage Diversify Capital Fund (DCF).
Since its founding in 2019, Acrew has amassed an impressive thesis-centric portfolio in four areas: FinTech, data, community-driven consumer, and security. While Acrew’s impressive portfolio rivals other venture firms three or four times its size, it’s Acrew’s deep commitment to diversity that struck a chord with us.
All of us at Cisco Investments are excited to announce our continued investment in the firm, utilizing our Aspire Fund to invest in Acrew’s latest LTV and DCF funds.
Building Diversity in Tech: From Early-Stage Startups to Late-Stage Dedicated Funds
When I think about Acrew, there are really three unique aspects that set this VC apart.
First, it’s the founding team who started it all: Theresia Gouw, Lauren Kolodny, Mark Kraynak, Vishal Lugani, and Asad Khaliq. Early on, these five founders dedicated themselves to building a VC firm of diverse perspectives, and according to Kolodny: “Today, Acrew is 87% women or people of color and 67% women or under-represented minorities. Over half of our team are immigrants or first-generation immigrants. Our founding team represents three generations.” We believe in the power of "diversity begets diversity.” We have seen this many times over: diverse investors attract diverse founders.
Then, there’s the community they’ve built. Over a few short years, the team has built a “Crew of Leaders” consisting of 500+ diverse advisers, connectors, and influencers across 250 different companies. “These are people who are interested in the startup world -- who want advisor roles or to become independent board members. That's where Acrew comes in by offering content and education to get them to a place where they're ready to take on those positions.”
Next, there’s the way they leverage both their diverse team and community to support their portfolio companies. “Because we have a network that looks different from other venture funds, our founders know they can come to us find diverse board members to add to their teams or executive candidates to bring around the table. Our message to founders is: ‘with one check from us, you can add meaningful diversity to your cap table.’”
When it comes to diversity, Kolodny says that the work Acrew has done so far has largely been driven organically, but that “in anticipation of raising these next set of funds, we decided that we wanted to institutionalize our approach.”
With the Diversify Capital Fund, “nearly 70% of the capital comes from diverse LPs – either from the 250+ diverse individual investors, or from diverse-led institutions. We also donated $7 million of GP cash to nonprofit organizations that are diversity-oriented, enabling them to invest in the fund and, often for the first time, have an LP seat at the table.”
Acrew + Cisco: Looking Ahead to a More Diverse Future
For Acrew, partnering with Cisco allows the VC firm to expand on their commitment to diversity in tech with a shared value- and mission-aligned team.
For Cisco Investments, diversity has never been more top of mind than with the recent launch of its Aspire Fund late last year; and, with Acrew’s DCF clearly in focus, Cisco Investment continues to put its Aspire mission into action. “We’ve been really thrilled to partner with Cisco Investments since the early days,” says Kolodny. “We’ve had this shared commitment to diversity in tech since the beginning. Also, there is significant alignment thematically between what we cover and many things that are clearly within the scope of Cisco’s business. Certainly, the security practice, the data infrastructure practice and and our investments in productivity on our side have received great benefit from collaborating with Cisco Investments around new thesis areas, evaluation of deals, and giving advice and feedback to go-to-market enterprise strategies.”
Cisco Investments and Acrew’s common approach of thesis-led investing is part of a movement towards more specialist-oriented venture capital. Venture Capital is moving from “a generalist’s game to specialist investment,” Kolodny says. “This is where we can provide differentiation. Founders want experts in these areas.”
With these new funds, our team is excited to see how Acrew will continue to disrupt venture capital as we work together toward building a more diverse-led future.