After realizing the majority of venture capital firms focus on coastal companies, Kelli Jones saw an opportunity to invest in underrepresented midwestern founders.
“The talent is here; the entrepreneurs are here,” says Jones, referring to the momentum behind businesses in the Midwest and the graduates emerging from the region’s top engineering schools. “I moved back home to Indianapolis because I saw the opportunity to move quicker. There’s really not a lot going on that’s focused on diverse founders in the Midwest.”
On Monday, Jones announced the launch of her Indiana-based VC firm Sixty8 Capital’s first $20 million fund, backed by investors including Allos Ventures, the Indiana Next Level Fund, 50 South Capital, Bank of America, Eli Lilly and Co., First Internet Bank and the Central Indiana Community Foundation. To start, Sixty8 Capital will invest from $250,000 to $500,00 in 30 pre-seed and seed-stage companies led by entrepreneurs who are people of color, women, LGBTQ+ or have disabilities. Its first portfolio company is Black-owned, Indianapolis-based phone screening platform Qualifi. Companies can apply via the firm’s online application.
While this is her first time running a VC firm, Jones believes her past experiences—including launching a marketing company in 2016, working in sales and marketing for venture-backed media companies such as Blavity and managing programs for TechStars—will help her spot the under-the-radar startups destined for success.
In addition to her interest in fintech and edtech companies, Jones also has her eye on startups outside the tech sector in beauty, health, wellness and consumer packaged goods, all of which have seen an uptick in businesses owned by people of color.
“I love products that are solving problems in our community, and that are founded by people that understand the problems in our community,” says Jones.
In recent months, a number of new firms including MaC Venture Capital and the Bay Mills Diversity Fund have launched with similar missions to support underrepresented founders. But Sixty8 is one of the only to prioritize this area of the country.
Jones is also looking for companies that prioritize civil engagement. The firm’s name is largely inspired by 1968, a pivotal year for civil rights advocacy. Jones is hoping to harness that energy as the firm continues to carve out its path and make an impact.
“My personal protest is trying to make sure that more Black people are getting access to the capital they need, that they’re building businesses that are sustainable, and that we really start to see some [progress] in the economic wealth gap for our community,” says Jones.