One year ago, I launched Zane Venture Fund, with the wind beneath my wings and a lead investor in place — 2020 was going to be my year. I had a roadshow planned, an investor meeting in New York City, multiple events pending, and then . . . COVID-19 hit.
Like many other organizations, businesses & communities — 2020 became absolutely nothing like what I had planned for. However, at Zane, we immediately pivoted to become a thriving virtual community. We didn’t miss a beat. We were actively engaging the entrepreneur community.
On the other end of the spectrum, we lost our commitment from the lead investor. Though this was unexpected (much like the majority of our year) I doubled-down and turned the focus to our thesis, continuing to support diverse entrepreneurs.
Zane Venture Fund decided to invest in two very different companies. Inirv, a company that turns any stove into a smart one. Zane spent a year with Inirv and we were able to get their company their first term sheet. ParrotMob, a referral from an entrepreneur (searching for diverse fund managers), a company focused on payment through text, streamlining purchase processes, and driving mobile sales. I was very happy about both investments, and have already assigned our Advisors to support them through the evolution of their companies.
Outside of the virtual community, I was able to form amazing relationships with allies. One of whom was Brad Feld, an American entrepreneur, author, blogger, and venture capitalist, and founding partner of the Foundry Group in Boulder, Colorado. Brad has been an integral ally sponsoring some of our Cohort. Through the Cohort, Zane graduated 15 companies on capital readiness — 45% of which have received capital already, several of the companies also winning contests.
Through our virtual events in 2020, we served 500+ entrepreneurs, across four separate events. I personally spoke on many different platforms to express the mission of Zane, not only Zane Venture Fund but Zane Access as well: our University Entrepreneurial Program that brings together diverse students across the country — a huge win for us this last year. I am so proud to celebrate the event hosted at Brown University, with 100+ students and staff joining virtually.
Though this year has brought many wins for Zane, it has also brought waves of loss and grieving amongst our nation in regards to the deaths of many individuals due to the color of their skin. Through the Black Lives Matter movement and wave of justice for George Floyd (and others), I began to see allies and partnerships like never before.
The backstory of Zane Venture Fund: I was asked to source investors for an entrepreneur, a deal which later fell through — leading to the birth of Zane. Through my problem-solving attributes and incumbent response, I was able to leverage my unknown and under-dog status to begin to share the vision and make a name for Zane.
Through my passion and drive, my commitment to Zane, and my perseverance through a tumultuous year — Zane Venture Fund was able to truly thrive. It was this drive and perseverance, not only from me, but from integral members of the team at Zane that has led us to have a co-investment community across the country, a database of over 1,500 entrepreneurs, 600 investments to source from, and an incredible Advisory board with diverse backgrounds, life experiences, and skill sets.
Zane’s Lessons Learned in 2020:
- Pivoting — a lesson we share with our entrepreneur community, 2020 taught us to pivot like never before; through a worldwide pandemic, companies going into crisis mode — we as VC had to use our nimble spirit to pivot to working and thriving virtually.
- Team Building + Cohesiveness — after transitioning out a few individuals earlier this year, I had to pause and reflect on what I truly wanted the Zane team to look like; as a Direct Manager, I wanted to ensure going into 2021 that I had the right team around me — this looked like choosing the right Advisors, Venture Partners, new team members and having a cohesive group.
In the last few months of 2020, I began to gain new allies such as Kat Cole, the COO of Focus Brands, and Tope Awotona, CEO + Founder of Calendly. Our investment community continues to grow, along with our potential for Co-Investors who want to work with Zane by investing in diverse founders and teams.
Looking to 2021, we continue to build on our 360 VC approach by doubling-down on data; becoming a huge driver on how we source and make investments. We are continuing to raise our $25M — sourcing great deals primarily in the southeast, but also across the US. We have LP’s who are interested in our work and have signed on as investors for Zane.
For the entrepreneur community: come to Zane with your ideas, even if you’re not ready for Venture — we are here for you. Our mission at Zane is to not leave any Founder behind. I want to connect with you!
For the LP community: I am looking for people who are interested in investing in diverse fund managers — do you believe that diversity is good for business? That diversity is a super power? Connect with me today.
To the amazing diverse entrepreneur community who has welcomed me and Zane in and believed that we are here to support them. To our co-investment partners, Limited Partners, and our incredible team at Zane to propel the mission of Zane Venture Fund forward. We would not be here today without you.
Wishing you all a happy, healthy & safe new year!
Shila N. Burney
Founding Partner at Zane Venture Fund