Venture Atlas, in partnership with Migrant Ventures, kicked off their New American Dream Fund at Chicago Tech Week this summer.
We were lucky enough to speak with Patrick Locy, CMO of Venture Atlas and the New American Dream Fund to gain a deeper understanding of who the fund serves, its mission, and how it works.
For a deeper understanding of Venture Atlas and the fund itself, check out more about the launch of the American Dream Fund.
Here’s our Q&A with Patrick (pictured below), condensed and edited for clarity.
Q: What are you finding is the reasoning for immigrants' success and then second, what are the causes behind the lack of funding available?
When you look at the why, there are so many pipelines that ultimately bring immigrants into the country and I will hardly attempt to loop them all in one. One of the big pipelines tied to the tech space and immigrants is the higher education pipeline.
Folks will come through as an undergrad or a grad student, and then recognize that through the complicated nature of visas and immigration law, they have very few options. It's either take the education and return somewhere else to continue building out an idea, or quickly find funding. We found that when you start to look into some of the great success stories of immigrant led businesses over the course of the last 10 years, they’ve had these incredible arcs. A lot of these folks came to the states either as students or for some sort of business purpose.
And so why that big disconnect? That's a really great question and certainly one of the biggest things that we're working to address, and a lot of it we've seen across so many different communities. There's a history and a legacy of who does receive funding, especially venture capital funding or private equity funding, and who does not. And unfortunately, anyone that does not look like the traditional network that's been supported through business oftentimes struggles to secure dollars. In this case, from a dollars and cents standpoint, it doesn't make sense to us and we're hoping to help correct the balance of it.
There's certainly some math that supports this idea that there are lots of very talented individuals both in the immigrant community and even more broadly, but for many reasons just unfortunately aren't being met with the level of service and support that the venture industry could provide.
Q: How are you going to identify these overlooked entrepreneurs? Are there networking groups or communities where you can find immigrant founders?
We have a core process for each of our funds that allows us to identify potential fit and then really evaluate it. This could be someone that is connected through a referral. It might be somebody that sends a blind lead through the website and submits a form. Launching at Chicago Tech Week was a wonderful opportunity to meet hundreds of potential founders and entrepreneurs.
We cast a really wide net because a big aspect of serving underserved communities is that in some cases the pipeline does not exist. It's not quite as easy as going to a Stanford or a Harvard Business School where there are a hundred people that have different ideas that could be funded. Those folks already have broad access to the types of funding support services that we might provide.
Once we have that initial contact, our process is to then learn a lot more about both the individual or individuals representing the team, but then certainly the work that they do, the stage that their business is in, have they raised dollars before? If they have, what in that process have they learned from what stage are they raising for?
We want to understand their team, we want to understand their market fit. And another big thing for us is making sure that we are a good partner for them. In this case with the American Dream Fund folks that are going to be able to leverage and grow their business thanks to things like legal support provided through the immigration process.
Q: Could you drill down on the services or assistance you're providing beyond the financial assistance. Are there other obstacles that they face that a typical founder may not face?
One of the biggest takeaways when we started to look closely at launching this fund and trying to figure out what are those unique challenges is that a lot of the individuals that we will partner with do not have built in networks. These are folks that don’t come from a second or third generation family, may not have a college network, may just not even have the, well, I know a guy who knows a guy and a big aspect of us being able to find qualified partners, not just for things like funding and how are we going to continue to grow the business, but even simple things like I need an accountant that I can trust. Do you have a good business lawyer? I've never had to look into this before. What am I not thinking about? Some of it comes back to the you don't know what you don't know.
In many cases, we will find that a lot of the immigrant opportunities are folks that, again, if we talk about the grad school track as a particular example, you are rushed through grad school quickly, find yourself with a degree, a great idea, and a lot of questions. And so one of the services that we provide, again from a strategic partnership standpoint is being able to understand, great, what do you already have figured out? What do we need to understand and how can we fill in some of these gaps? And so in some cases it’s helping provide the operational network that a business might need to be able to scale up and continue to thrive. In other cases it may be very specific legal services or support, and this could look very different depending on the nature of the team.
Q: What are some unique challenges that you foresee in this model other than the main mission of identifying and funding immigrant entrepreneurs?
One of the most immediate challenges anytime you're trying to do something in a way that's a little different is education. Some of those facts and figures we've included in the press release shocked some individuals that have operated in the space for 20, 30 years who had no idea. A lot of folks asked us why we think this is.
Another piece that we are certainly well aware of is that the immigration policies of the United States have become so heavily politicized over the last few years that this can be a very divisive topic depending on the individual. That's another area where we are excited to continue to champion and highlight the many accomplishments of the immigrant community, amplify some of those successes, and open doors for individuals that otherwise might have not had an opportunity to bring an idea to fruition.
These challenges become our great success stories. And we do recognize that in all things, especially when you're talking about serving underserved communities, you have to ask a question of, well, why have they been historically underserved and be prepared to address whatever those challenges may be.
Our team certainly goes into it with our eyes open, aware that although we have aspirations to do terrific things and have significant impact for a number of wonderful individuals and the teams that they lead, it may not be the easiest path forward for many reasons.
Q: Who's the typical founder here?
We've identified three different individuals who we’re likely to partner with.
One is the recent graduate - undergrad, graduate, or postgraduate - who came to the U.S. for educational purposes, developed a business with growth opportunities but is facing visa restrictions.
Another is an immigrant who moved to the U.S. for various reasons, perhaps they went through the complete immigration cycle or are midway through that process. This individual has gained experience and translated a great idea into an early step into entrepreneurship.
The third type is an individual who may have started a business internationally or with an international partner, and has relocated to the U.S., seeking opportunities to scale and grow the business.
We're not talking about very late-stage businesses looking to go from $750 million to $1 billion. We're looking at individuals who might be closer to building from zero to one or trying to overcome the first incremental threshold.
If you’d like to stay up to date with the American Dream Fund, connect with Patrick on LinkedIn.
If you’re an immigrant founder looking to grow your business, join the Purpose Community on Slack to connect with other founders and get resources, or reach out to our team to learn about how we can help you share your story.