Diversifying the Future of Venture Capital

The first cohort of the HBCU Kirchner Fellows are Bryana Pittman, Kwame Jackson and Martin Adu-Boahene who co-wrote this Insights piece to share the value of this fellowship and its potential impact.

Washington

Only a very small percentage of investment professionals in venture capital are people of color. In 2021, The Kirchner Food Fellowship, supported by the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research and the Rockefeller Foundation, launched its inaugural cohort for Historically Black Colleges and University (HBCU) students to support the development of future agricultural financiers and build diversity and inclusion in the industry.

This fellowship will ultimately help us leverage the skills, connections and experiences gained through the program to continue working with underrepresented business owners and assist in increasing investment opportunities.

“Growing up in Ghana, I witnessed the crucial role agriculture plays in a country’s economy. I wanted to get involved in this fellowship to help address some of the challenges minority-owned founders face in the industry,” said Martin Adu-Boahene. “I hope to make an impact by connecting founders of agriculture-oriented businesses with the capital, advisors and support they need to thrive.”

As part of this program, we developed the following mission statement: We will invest in a revenue generating company that improves the nutritional health of predominately Black communities in the United States.

Our investment mandate is heavily focused on Black entrepreneurs and company founders as they receive only one percent of the $147 billion awarded to founders in venture capital. As part of the fellowship program, we want to ensure we are creating an impact by providing equity to underrepresented founders, and the black community as a whole.

“As a health equity student, I study the link between the local food environment and chronic disease prevalence in predominantly black communities,” said Kwame Jackson, “Most efforts to increase healthy food choices in Black communities focus on availability and affordability of healthy food options. While these two components are important parts of improving access, they have little impact on actually changing the eating habits of community members.”

Additionally, people from underserved communities are more likely to experience food insecurity, have less healthy eating habits and greater levels of diet-related diseases. There are founders who are passionate about solving some of these problems in these communities, however they do not have access to capital and resources. This is where the Kirchner Food Fellowship comes in to provide them with the capital and the know-how to help these founders solve some of these problems.

We also need to limit availability, affordability and marketing of unhealthy food options while also increasing education about nutrition, enacting policies and programs that eliminate health inequities and provide affordable access to healthy food.

However, for nutritional equity in the United States to change there needs to legislative action to assist. New legislation that provides farmers and other related businesses and corporations the same government subsidiaries benefits that for example the meat industry has would help. One of the major problems with nutritional equity is the cost. High-cost nutritional items can’t compete with the low cost of government-subsidized items such as poultry, beef, pork, etc.

“This fellowship has made me realize the unique opportunity that I have as a student,” said Bryana Pittman. “I am interning at the Florida House of Representatives and to help enact change, I plan to work under the Representative to push for bills to be passed that provide government subsidiaries to businesses and corporations that enhance nutritional equity for Florida residents.”

The Kirchner Food Fellowship provides us with the opportunity to help shape food environments in our communities— food environments that are both culturally relevant and health-promoting.

The fellowship and Kirchner Impact Foundation’s mission is not focused primarily on providing monetary investment, but on the social impact the founders and company are leaving on the community.

Access to capital continues to be the biggest challenge minority-owned business face in their entrepreneurial journey. We are confident that with the help of initiatives such as the Kirchner Food Fellowship, we can mitigate some of these challenges by supporting innovative companies in the food and agriculture sector.

About the Fellows

Bryana Pittman is a sophomore attending Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University studying Biological Systems Engineering with a minor in Computer Science. She is a Thurgood Marshal scholar and a David A. Scott scholar.

Martin Adu-Boahene is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Systems at Morgan State University. He is passionate about investing, entrepreneurship and technology. He worked as an Investment Banking Summer Analyst at Citi in the summer of 2021. Prior to joining Citi, Martin was an Investment Intern at the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO), supporting early-stage technology and life sciences companies.

Kwame is currently pursuing a Master of Public Health degree in Health Equity at Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana. His studies focus on the association between local food environment and chronic disease prevalence. Kwame recently founded bEHR Health Systems, a medical and lifestyle management platform aimed at improving health outcomes for African Americans. He believes that bEHR can help address the growing health disparities by increasing access to racially equitable healthcare and improving health literacy in the black community. After completing his MPH, Kwame plans to work with entrepreneurs, investors and policymakers to address global food, housing and healthcare insecurity.

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