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For those willing to look, those hidden gems actually aren't so hidden. These investors are all about backing founders and building in traditionally overlooked markets. And they have the portfolios to prove it.
TechSquare Ventures is an Atlanta-based early-stage venture capital firm that partners with visionary entrepreneurs and helps them with what they need most – access to markets and customers.
Lightship Capital believes social impact and profit are simultaneously achievable. So they find, fund, and educate remarkable underrepresented innovators and regions typically excluded from meaningful access to mentorship & venture capital. Lightship invests in early-stage companies led by BIPOC, LBGTQ+, women & people with disabilities who operate in the CPG, E-Commerce, Sustainability, Artificial Intelligence, and Healthcare spaces.
HustleFund is a team of former founders turned VC who now invest in startups hilariously early. Their team brings real talk and real advice to founder relationships.
Zane Venture Fund is a diverse team of operators, engineers, and advisories, all having worked with multiple companies and start-ups. Their secret sauce is a structured, yet artful approach for working with companies throughout their entire life cycle to create a holistic market vision coupled with outstanding execution.
Tech Square Ventures
Founding Managing Partner
Zane Venture Fund
Founding General Partner
Co-Founder & General Partner
Founding General Partner
Blake Patton is the founder and Managing Partner of Tech Square Ventures where he leads investments in enterprise software, marketplace, and platform technology companies. Under his leadership, the firm has invested in 51 early-stage companies. He has represented Tech Square Ventures as a director or observer on the boards of Pointivo (Chairman), Cypress.io (Chairman), PreTel Health (Chairman), UserIQ, Haste, Sequr (acquired by Genea) and Salesfusion (acquired by SugarCRM). Blake is also the co-founder and Managing General Partner of Engage, a collaborative corporate venture and innovation program in partnership with 11 leading companies, Georgia Tech, Tech Square Ventures, and Invest Georgia.
Prior to founding Tech Square Ventures, Blake was General Manager of the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) at Georgia Tech – named by Forbes as one of the “Top 12 Incubators Changing the World”. Prior to leading ATDC, he served as President & COO of Interactive Advisory Software and EVP of iXL, an internet services company that he joined through the acquisition of Swan Media and was part of the executive team that grew the company from startup to over $300 million in annualized revenue and an IPO. He started his career as an Associate at SEI Corporation.
Shila Nieves Burney is an awarding winning project manager, investor, mentor and advisor. Shila spent a 20+ year professional career working closely with leading organizations and exceptional talents to create solutions that address disparities through investment in human capital. Her super-power is connecting!
After spending a year sourcing investors for a startup that culminated in a $5M term sheet, mentoring and advising founders of color, Shila was able to see first-hand challenges diverse entrepreneurs face getting access to capital and the resources they needed to grow and scale their companies.
She founded Zane Venture Fund, a seed fund that would invest in underrepresented founders with the goal of closing the funding gap and generating high returns for investors, and Zane Access which provides early-stage companies led by diverse teams access to cross-functional experts, resources, best practices and customized content critical to accelerating growth. Zane Access™ launched the Pre-Capital program, a program designed to support founders in becoming capital ready. And, recently, the Zane Access™ University, which is an educational program for university entrepreneurs to help them build and grow innovation-driven and impactful ventures.
Eric Bahn is a Co-Founder and General Partner at Hustle Fund, an early-stage venture capital firm based in San Francisco. Hustle Fund invests in software startups at the pre-seed and seed stages, backing founders who exhibit great execution and high velocity (we call it ‘hustle’).
Previous to Hustle Fund, Eric was an angel investor and venture partner at 500 Startups. And prior to becoming a professional investor, he spent over a decade as an operator and entrepreneur. Eric draws from his product and growth experience to advise his founders in scaling their own enterprises.
Eric is a native of Detroit, Michigan and first arrived to Silicon Valley to attend Stanford University (BA, MA), which launched his career into software and startups. Eric is happily married with two kids.
Brian Brackeen is a General Partner at Lightship Capital, the $50 million dollar Cincinnati-based VC firm dedicated to backing underrepresented entrepreneurs in the Midwest. As General Partner, Brian oversees fund operations, leads the AI, Design & Engineering teams, and serves on the investment committee.
Brian is a thought leader in the Artificial Intelligence space, having founded and led a globally recognized provider of face recognition technologies. His leadership saw the company positioned alongside tech giants like Microsoft and Face++ as one of the industry’s foremost providers, with operations in the US and Asia. Brian’s early acknowledgment of the dangers associated with algorithmic ethnic bias, stance against the government use of facial recognition, and commitment to eliminating racial bias in its datasets inspired the current movement toward organized regulation and oversight of the technology.
Prior to becoming a tech entrepreneur, Brian served as a Senior Project Manager for Apple Inc. and as Senior Managing Consultant at IBM.
In addition to his work at Lightship, Brian lectures extensively around the world on entrepreneurship, code, the digital economy, AI and machine learning — and participates in mentorship programs for organizations like Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code and The School District of Miami, and is an advisor to the University of Chicago Science Commercialization Center.
Allie Felix is Embarc Collective’s VP Platform. Before boomeranging back to Tampa Bay, Allie led community for enterprise tech venture capital firm Work-Bench and business development for women's angel investing network 37 Angels in New York City. She started her career in marketing and partnerships for Tim Draper’s pre-accelerator program in San Francisco, Draper University. She is a graduate of Smith College and currently serves as a Venture Partner for Republic and Scout for bloom Equity.
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