Iyke Iwotor (he/him) is a Venture Analyst with Level Up Ventures, “a mission-driven investment vehicle created to close the wealth gap through investment in high-growth startups led by Black and Latino founders.” He’s an up-and-coming leader in the investment community determined to address the issues that keep VC dollars from backing aspiring entrepreneurs.
As a co-founder himself, Iyke knows the value of the startup journey and uses his expertise in VC and entrepreneurship to help others build their businesses.
As part of our New Year, New Members campaign, we welcomed Iyke into the StartOut community and spoke to him about his experience, what brought him to StartOut, and what he’s looking forward to in 2023.
Iyke, how did you start getting involved in venture capital?
Well, it wasn’t always something I thought I’d be doing with my career path. I graduated from the University of Georgia in 2021 with a BBA in economics. While I was in my junior year of school, a group of friends and I started our own online boutique apparel store called Elevate Thrifts. We did pretty well, scaling nationally after launching, and the experience gave me a sense of the entrepreneurial lifestyle. It’s so touching to take something you’re passionate about and turn it into something others can enjoy.
During my last semester at UGA, I applied for a data analyst internship with Hearstlab, a Hearst backed sister investment vehicle providing capital and services to early-stage, Womxn-led startups in North America.
I didn’t know what venture capital was at the time; I just knew the people at the company were focused on funding underrepresented founders, and that was a mission that aligned with my personal interests.
That 8-month internship helped me learn an abundance about the startup world, and I eventually moved into a full-time role with Level Up Ventures as a Venture Analyst. In my current role, I focus on investing in underrepresented founders, particularly Black and Latinx.
How does your personal experience as a Black founder help you in the work you do with Level Up?
Growing up, my family always said I was good with money, so I have some innate entrepreneurial instincts. I saved up for my first car by selling some old clothes in my closet.
As a Black African-American male, I recognize that not many people from my neighbourhood can attend a school like UGA. As a primarily white institution (PWI), I often felt inadequate or like I didn’t belong on campus. This led to serious feelings of imposter syndrome early on in my undergrad until I finally decided I had just as much of a right to be there. When that lightbulb switched and I made that adjustment, I began approaching everything from that mindset. Today I’ve been transitioning those same feelings to founders building something great!
I know what it’s like to feel undeserved because you look a certain way, come from a certain place, or didn’t grow up a certain way, you shouldn’t have certain opportunities. But it’s just not true.
What’s been a memorable or rewarding experience since joining Level Up?
One of my favorite moments has been working with Daniela Blanco, the CEO of Sunthetics – a chemical software company. She’s a brilliant Latina founder whom I met early in her journey. She was still beginning to bring in revenue, but we had a gut feeling that she and her company had what it takes to succeed with a great, focused idea and a strong, well-minded leader.
Seeing Daniela go from where she started to where she is now – getting featured on the front page of the USPTO – makes me feel so validated by the work we do every day.
Less than 3% of VC funding goes to Black and Latinx founders. Our goal is to increase that percentage as much as possible and as quickly as possible.
What brought you to join StartOut?
Obviously, through my work, I see how underserved womxn, Black, and Latinx-led founders are, so I naturally wondered what the LGBTQ+ community looked like. After some research, I realized how shockingly underfunded LGBTQ+ founders were, even when compared to Black and Latinx communities, as less than 1% of funds were allocated to the community.
StartOut is a leading face of this movement, so I knew I had to get involved. I reached out to Sarah Burgaud and asked how I could be of aid. She immediately introduced me to a couple of founders and plugged me into the StartOut investor community. It’s been a great conversation, and I’m happy to be going into 2023 with this connection.
I’d also love to give a special kudos to the VC firms that support LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs – Gaingels, Backstage Capital, Colorful Capital; they’re putting in the work every single day.
This year, I look forward to continuing our shared mission to diversify the startup world. The more people we get involved with, the better off we’ll be in the long run.