As an independent software developer, Marie Rocha had plenty of women entrepreneurs as her clients. She'd help their businesses grow, but at some point, many of them would hit a wall. When she'd follow up and ask what happened, the women would often say they couldn't get the funding they needed.
"Then I met a guy who raised $2 million for a toilet that lights up," says Rocha. She'd started doing some angel investing, but the $2 million for the light-up toilet pushed her over the edge. "That guy had a network that believed in him, he was very well connected, and people wanted to align with him," she says. Meanwhile, "Women had really great ideas and weren't getting money."
In 2018, Rocha and Patricia Barakett, an entrepreneur in the construction industry, raised $5 million to launch Darien, Conn.-based Realist Ventures, which invests in under-represented founders. Rocha, who is black, takes a wide view of under-represented, for now interpreting it to mean women, people of color, and LGBTQ founders. Realist doesn't turn down meetings with white men, though. Instead, they use themeeting as an opportunity to force a conversation. They met recently with an all-white, all-male team raising money for a direct-to-consumer company, and persuaded them that their chances of success would be much higher if they got a woman in a significant role on their management team. The startup added a woman in a leadership role, and Realist invested.
Realist is willing to invest at a very early stage, sometimes for as little as $25,000. But the fund is big enough that it can make subsequent investments if a company hits its milestones. Most of Realist's checks range from $50,000 to $500,000, with a preference for technology and biotech companies. "We look for companies that are solving problems that can, in the end, benefit either the planet, healthcare, or sustainability," says Rocha. "Those are things we are always thinking about."
So far Realist's investments include Shipsi, a last-leg delivery company; Relovv, a sustainability company, and Bandwagon, which uses blockchain for ticketing.