Zane Venture Fund taps historic financial leader and one of the first Black women brokers, Martina Edwards, as firm’s newest Venture Partner

Martina Edwards, newest Venture Partner at Zane Venture Fund

Zane Venture Fund is thrilled to announce that long-time Board Advisor and current Chief of Strategic Partnerships at ACE (Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs), Martina Edwards, will be joining our team as a Venture Partner.

She will join the investment team bringing years of experience in bringing capital to underserved communities.

Since today is the start of Women’s History Month and the end of Black History Month, we’re shining a light on the story of Martina Edwards, the first Black woman broker for Merrill Lynch to work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Martina’s career includes serving in VP and Director positions across the public and private equity and nonprofit sectors. Currently, she is Chief of Strategic Partnerships for ACE (Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs). Martina describes her time working on the floor of the NYSE as “working in the belly of the beast” and a pivotal starting point for the rest of her career.

We spent an hour interviewing Martina via Zoom, covering everything from her time on the floor of the NYSE, to what she teaches her sons about the stock market. Fun stories below.

Let’s start with her journey to Wall Street.

Martina never saw herself as a finance person. In fact, she was a nursing major at Tuskegee University before switching to finance.

Who did you admire growing up? Who were your role models?

A range of people have influenced me leaving tiny imprints. I was born in Alabama and spent the first nine years of my life in a very rural town that has less than 600 people by population to this date.

Although she retired as a Deputy Sheriff when I was younger, my mom, while college-educated, substitute taught at the local elementary school and was a beautician working out of our living room.

So growing up I was surrounded by lively women, sitting in our two-bedroom mobile home waiting to get their hair done on weekends. I remember growing up watching The Cosby Show, and Claire Huxtable epitomized the ideal mom. She was a lawyer, and I thought maybe I wanted to be a lawyer.

Fast forward. When I got to Tuskegee, a dean of the School of Business, Dr. Benjamin Newhouse, who was very influential, pushed me to apply to the SEO (Sponsors for Education Opportunity) program, which got me my internship to start working on Wall Street.

When I got to Wall Street, I had many influences: Regina Feeney, who worked on the trading floor at Merrill Lynch; Amy Ellis-Simon, who now works for Morgan Stanley; and I also had a chance when I interned to listen to the incomparable Carla Harris, who was amazing, and I still listen to her to this day — she has a podcast called Access and Opportunity. She talks about this very thing — the flow of capital, investing in diverse founders, and talking to those people who have been successful in raising dollars and what they’re doing now to give back.

However, my foundation is my mom — I give a lot of credit to her toughness and resourcefulness for shaping me into who I am today.

Shoutout to Martina’s mom for raising such a pioneering woman! We shouldn’t forget to thank our mothers during Women’s History Month.

Media Representation

Martina made history as social media was emerging, so there has been less visibility for her story. At the time she was working at Merrill Lynch where they wrote an article that was emailed internally to the company’s employees. This was followed by a short article, published by the Montgomery Advertiser, entitled “Broker takes break for Thanksgiving” by John Davis. If you asked someone today what they think of when they hear “Wall Street,” they’d probably think “Wolf of Wall Street.”

Printed article titled “Broker takes a break for Thanksgiving” by John Davis
24 Nov 2004 article. A framed copy hangs in Martina’s office.
Images from Nov. 8, 2004 article “Martina Marshall Becomes ML’s First African-American Female Floor Broker on New York Stock Exchange” by Lisa Still, published internally at Merrill Lynch.

Many people have also heard of Lauren Simmons, who became a media sensation after becoming the youngest female broker on the floor of the NYSE, and only the second Black woman, after Martina, to work on the floor.

When we think of finance movies, we think of the Wolf of Wall Street, full of white men. Now a biopic is being made about Lauren Simmons and her journey. Thoughts?

When I first heard about Lauren, I was getting messages through social media, people were emailing me, texting me, and a lot of it was, “This story sounds like your story.” And I just remember saying to my husband, this is amazing. I sent her a message over LinkedIn and I said something to the degree of, “From broker 879 to broker 811 (Lauren’s NYSE badge number) I wanted to reach out to let you know I understand the magnitude of this accomplishment and to express how proud I am of you.”

Especially being two young African American women who were both from the South and left our southern roots to make it on the Big Board. There’s this excitement, there’s this pride. There’s also the fact that it shined a light on the dearth of diversity.

I think the movie is a great thing; I hope that what it will do is create another space for people to highlight the important role of women in the financial services sector, particularly the New York Stock Exchange.

Social media was just on the rise when I became a broker, so there’s a different way to lift up stories now and raise our voices. So I applaud Lauren, I’m super proud of her.

When Lauren and I spoke, I talked about the importance of that visual for young women to be able to see people that look like them. I think that a movie will not only just help to highlight her story, but also amplify the stories of other women in finance that have come before her.

Sometimes we wait until Black History Month or Women’s History Month to tell a story. For African American individuals or if you immigrated to this country, you don’t always have a paper trail. You often don’t have something or someone that memorializes your story. I think about the movie Hidden Figures. A lot of those women were older in age when they finally got the recognition. And so I think it’s great to highlight these stories earlier on, and I hope that the production team will stop and think, “Is there someone who came before?”

I really believe in paying homage. I know I’m the first for Merrill Lynch. I know that for the 5 years I worked there, there was no other black female broker that worked on the floor. But there might have been others in the 200+ years of the NYSE’s existence, prior to my arrival. How can we investigate and figure that out? So I think about that as well.

Side note while we’re on the topic of Lauren and media representation: Lauren will host “Going Public” this spring, a TV series that will follow 5 companies over 10 weeks, encouraging viewers to invest before they IPO. Love to see that progress is being made!

Developing the Ecosystem

What are the most promising things being done to develop the pipeline and bring about the next Martina Edwards and Lauren Simmons?

Pipeline is definitely important, but we have to think about the entire continuum when it comes to access and opportunity. And that is a part of what I do in my day-to-day job. I work for Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs, a community development finance institution that focuses on small businesses while helping to create jobs and financial stability for families and communities. “We give folks a chance when others can’t or won’t.”

Generally there are several initiatives and entrepreneurship accelerators that are priming the diversity pipeline and funding businesses poised to scale. From the large end there is Ariel Investment’s Project Black, Harlem Capital [led by an SEO alum I coached when he was seeking a private equity internship in NYC], The Fearless Fund, Goldman Sachs just announced it is investing $25 million into a subset of HBCUs to try to develop the pipeline, and finally your tried and true outlets like SEO, InRoads, Management Leaders for Tomorrow and TOIGO — at the early to MBA stage entering investment banking and/or the private equity space.

For Venture, Zane [Venture Fund] is such a thoughtful and needed fund. It’s not just bridging the gap for diverse teams from seed to series A, there’s also their pre-capital educational program (Zane Access) that’s really focused on what you need to do to become capital-ready.

Each of these and countless others, as well as corporate leadership, play a critical role in ensuring we see more promising diverse talent excel in the finance industry.

What would you say to someone who’s trying to be the next Martina or Lauren and make it on Wall Street?

I would blow wind in their sails. Ultimately, I think my advice is, people have to have P.H.D., passion, heart, and determination. Get great mentors. Be a part of the ecosystem. Like right now, the access that young people have at their fingertips, being able to Google things is so great. You can see the person that you want to be — through LinkedIn and other things, you can actually see their career path.

I’ve looked at people that I admire in the marketplace to see, what do they currently do now? What did they do before? And that gave me a road map, as in maybe this is a path that I could take.

And she’s a mom!

Martina manages a household of boys. She and her husband have two sons, so we asked her what she teaches them about Women’s History Month and the world of money.

What do you teach your sons about feminism and Women’s History Month?

They play soccer and flag football. Sometimes I hear them say stuff like, “girls can’t play football” and I’m like “Whoa, whoa, whoa, not true, yes they can.” So it’s important for me to insert myself as a woman into spaces where they are.

My husband has always been the coach and I’ve stepped in when he hasn’t been available to coach soccer. I remember them saying to me, “girls can’t coach soccer.” And so it was funny, on the day that I had to fill in for my husband, the team we played was coached by another mom. So it was smack dab in their faces.

And I think that’s all a part of breaking down these unintentional biases. They don’t see women on TV playing football or basketball, so I intentionally took them to a WNBA Atlanta Dream game and I also make them watch it from time to time on TV, so they can appreciate that women and men equally can contribute.

What do you teach them about money?

I do talk to them about money. When I was growing up, if people were talking about money it was “kids leave the room, this is an adult conversation” and so I let my kids understand money.

I explain to them investing in stocks and talk to them about something that they understand, like Disney, Disney+, and Disney World. What does it mean to not just be a consumer but to actually own something? They can relate to Disney because they see it all the time. I say, “Well even if we’re not at Disney guess what? Other people go and that helps us make money.”

My oldest son is always asking me, “Can we sell something? Can we get a lemonade stand?” Or he wants to call someone to see if he can earn some money. So he’ll ask if he can vacuum out a car. And my friends are like “I’ll give him $20 if he’ll do mine.”

…But as the mom, I have to drive him around to all these places.

Martina Edwards is the definition of a woman making history. She’s transforming the entrepreneurship ecosystem to allow for more access and opportunity for all, propelling founders forward at an accelerated pace.

She’s gone from the belly of the Wall Street beast to grabbing the bull by the horns and taking it for a ride. And at Zane, we’re grateful that she brings her experience and power to our team.

Martina now as Chief of Strategic Partnerships for ACE

To read more about Martina’s work and life story, check out these articles:

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