Tariq Trotter may be best known as Black Thought, the frontman for The Roots and “The Tonight Show” house band, but he is adding another title to his moniker: general partner of a venture capital firm.
Trotter recently joined Rochester, New York-based Impellent Ventures, a firm specializing in supporting Rust Belt startups. Rust Belt startups are businesses established in the the once-booming Northeastern and Midwestern regions that have been in steady decline since 1980. Impellent Ventures connects startups with capital and mentorship opportunities throughout the East Coast tech hub. In addition, the fund, spearheaded by Philip Beauregard and David Brown, is focused on equity.
“I’ve been keeping an eye on the industry and looking for new ways to invest and diversify my portfolio,” said the 50-year-old emcee in an official statement. “I also get to see a lot of investment opportunities before anyone else does because of what my brand means to founders.”
As a partner with Impellent Ventures, Trotter wants to help the organization make wise investments while also providing access to musicians and marginalized groups interested in venture capitalism.
A Growing Interest In Venture Capitalism
In 2016, Trotter was invited to speak at a Harvard Innovation Labs event by Beauregard, a Boston techpreneur. After networking with Rich Miner, co-founder of Android and Google Venture, Trotter began making angel investments in tech startups. As time went on, Trotter’s interest in venture capitalism grew and he knew it was time to transition into a role that would allow him to make decisions that would support startups.
“I didn’t want to do anything that felt contrived,” Trotter told Axios. “It had to come in an organic way.”
Black Celebrities and Venture Capitalism
The venture capital industry is ripe for opportunities, yet filled with inequities. According to the nonprofit organization, BLCK VC, one percent of venture capital founders and three percent of investors are Black. At the same time, white VC founders receive more than 80 percent of funding while Black founders receive less than one percent. Many black celebrities have taken advantage of their public profile to enter the venture capital industry and provide funding opportunities for Black startups.
Tennis player Serena Williams launched Serena Ventures to provide early-stage, diverse entrepreneurs with funding opportunities. Since its inception, SV has made 60 percent diverse investments.
Actress Keisha Knight Pulliam locked arms with Arian Simone to establish the Fearless Fund. The partners are investing $5 million in Black women-owned ventures to support them in building scalable businesses.
With Impellent Ventures, Trotter is ready to take on the same mission.
“My brand is kind of like a bridge, and then people also look to my lyrical content for historical and political commentary, which helps inform them,” Trotter told Axios. “When people see me out on the street, they don’t feel I’m the sort of celebrity that [is] far removed from them, on another planet with nothing in common … There’s a blue collar rock star thing about The Roots that’s approachable and understandable, and I think any company or brand aligned with that will appear more so as well.”