DURHAM — A new crowdfunding investment firm aimed at supporting minority entrepreneurs and investing in technology startups has launched out of Research Triangle Park’s co-working space The Frontier.
Called Black Wall Street Investments, the firm has two funds: a $25 million micro equity fund and a $5 million “tech disrupt” fund that will focus on mid to late stage tech startups.
“Our primary concern here is that there are a lot of minority entrepreneurs left out of the game,” said the firm’s founder and local attorney Chris Shella, adding that African American-owned businesses throughout the country are “falling by the wayside.”
Shella said the goal is to bring these businesses not just back to success but back to prominence, and that the funds are not only focused on backing African-American owned businesses but all minority groups including women-led firms.
And while the firm draws its name from the Durham, and more specifically the early 20th century Parrish Street business cohort known as Black Wall Street, there is no geographical restriction on where the investment company will place its funds.
“It’s amazing to be involved in what’s going on … we’re excited about what we can do to achieve (success) not just for our community, but for all communities,” Shella said. “It’s what I want to invest in. It’s what society wants, needs and will enjoy.”
Shella has practiced law for nearly 20 years, providing defense in trials including the Duke lacrosse case and the “Vegan Baby Trial,” in which a New York couple was convicted of assault after feeding their child a vegetarian diet.
Now, Shella is in the process of receiving his MBA at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, in which he said he’s learned many new business practices and analytical methods since his undergraduate degree that he thinks can be more widely applied in companies.
The firm also has several other staff members, including a chief operations officer, co-chief investment officer, general counsel and a director of corporate security.
One of the company’s early deals — which would have been to back a seed funding round for Silicon Valley audio technology startup Instamic — fell through, but Shella said Black Wall Street Investments is in negotiations with several other companies.
Shella said he encourages not just tech entrepreneurs but entrepreneurs across all sectors, including people in Durham even if “you just want to start a bar or a restaurant.”
“There are plenty of opportunities for these places to grow,” he said. “(Durham and Black Wall Street) is not just for the guys with the $100 million bank and the tech companies. It’s for everybody.”