Endeavor Manager Raechele Gray shares her experience and major takeaways after participating in the VC Unlocked program.
Last October, I had the distinct honor and privilege of attending the highly-coveted VC Unlocked: Silicon Valley program, a 3-week executive education course powered by 500 Startups and Stanford University for emerging leaders seeking to shape the future of the venture capital industry. Following a detailed application process, I was selected, along with 50 other candidates, for the seventh cohort hailing from 18 different countries around the world.
As part of the program, we participated in in-depth investor training from elite instructors on the fundamental principles of venture capital, startup investing, and the mechanics of fund development and portfolio construction for emerging fund managers.
Given my unconventional path to venture capital (and to entrepreneurship broadly), at first, I was admittedly uncertain that I would qualify for such a prestigious program. I initially learned of the program years ago by way of my fantastic colleague and rockstar General Partner of Zane Ventures, Shila Nieves Burney. After hearing about her fantastic experience receiving best-in-class instruction from Stanford faculty – all carefully tailored by the 500 team – and then learning about the ranks of noteworthy alumni, my imposter syndrome immediately kicked in and made me feel ill-suited and unfit.
However, I strongly felt the need to seek out proper training to improve upon the work we do at Endeavor in supporting entrepreneurs through the fundraising journey with our Access to Capital offerings. I also felt passionate about becoming part of the solution towards supporting our local ecosystem by bridging the fundraising knowledge gap and providing access to smart capital insights for entrepreneurs in overlooked regions like ours.
Looking back on my VC Unlocked experience, I have begun to reflect on all that I’ve learned, recollect what I’ve gained, and treasure some of the awe-inspiring experiences from the program. Without a doubt, it afforded me the chance to deepen my skills and professionally develop proficient knowledge around venture capital. I was able to connect with exceptional cohort members from around the world to learn from each other, share common challenges, and over the course of the program become lifelong peers in VC! That said, it wasn’t until week two during my office hours with Stanford University faculty and managing partner of Flywheel Ventures, Trevor Loy, that I received the most profound insight around tackling the access to capital challenge within our region!
In our work at Endeavor, we select the best high-impact entrepreneurs who are leading high-growth companies at the scale up stage, and actively provide the support they need to accelerate their growth towards significant scale. Because we believe scale up companies are the fundamental drivers of economic growth and net new job creation, we also know that access to capital is a critical catalyst towards accelerating the growth of these companies.
A key component of the VC Unlocked program is developing an individual thesis for a venture capital fund. During my thesis overview with Trevor, we delved into a fantastic conversation around common funding challenges that typically emerge within overlooked, non-coastal United States markets. The first challenge, of course, being the proverbial demand for more private capital, particularly within the early stage realm (Seed to Series A investment stages) where local funding communities often lack the propensity to fulfill that market gap.
Another challenge became incredibly clear after Trevor posed the following question during our call:
“Is there a way to professionalize or train up an entire local funding community on startup financing?”
Although my final fund thesis centered around a different approach and model, the question and concept stuck with me through the remainder of the program, and even inspired our team at Endeavor to think strategically around how we might solve this problem within our region while remaining true to our core of being founder centric, network focused, and community enriching.
We witness countless experiences of founders struggling to navigate their fundraising journey. For some, it’s not knowing what type of capital is a best fit for their timing and stage of growth. For others, it’s simply not having network access to vetted advisory and insights that help them make better decisions around their capital strategy. In fact, throughout the course, I often asked myself why this information was so insular to the VC community alone. If we could democratize access to this insular knowledge, we could help founders recognize what types of smart capital are the best fit, and guide them towards making better decisions and thus saving critical resources needed to scale and grow.
It certainly goes without saying that my time participating in VC Unlocked was truly remarkable. Words fail to describe how much I have gained from my experience attending this year’s virtual program! Working with Trevor Loy, Bedy Yang, Christine Tsai, Paulina Szyrmer, Vanessa Samaniego, and the entire VC Unlocked, 500 Startups, and Stanford University team was such a positive learning experience, as well as a catalyst for personal growth. Those three weeks were both intense and life-changing. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have attended, and look forward to putting what I have learned into practice!
To my outstanding classmates: thank you for the love, support, the graceful peer feedback and memorable times over the course of the program! I look forward to keeping in touch and online stalking you all to witness how you change the future of venture, and cannot wait for the in-person reunion to celebrate the wins!
Learn more about how Endeavor operates and supports regional entrepreneurs in this piece originally published by Endeavor Atlanta, The Endeavor SaaS Model: Selection As A Service.