Benjamin Vann and Fawn Weaver, CEO of Uncle Nearest Spirits. Photo Credit: Impact Ventures

Black people in the entrepreneurial world know all too well the feeling of rejection especially when it comes to accessing capital. And here in the state of Texas, which at one point was the largest producer of cotton in the world, we have seen policy makers historically and currently contribute to the economic injustice seen across the nation. Founder and CEO of Impact Ventures, Benjamin Vann has made it his mission to “atone and reconcile with our past” pin order to change that narrative for our community. Impact Ventures is a 501c3 nonprofit investment fund and start-up accelerator.

Impact Ventures team. Photo Credit: Impact Ventures

Last week (May 3rd-5th) at the Women’s Building in Fair Park, they hosted their annual Inclusive Capital Summit over the course of 3 days to educate both business owners and investors on seeking solutions to lack of capital, access, tech, and inclusion for under-estimated communities. Guests of the summit got to speak directly with local entrepreneurs and executives, hear from an array of esteemed panelists and took away a “toolbox” of resources to use.

Sponsors and JPMorgan Chase Directors Shari Hicks and Terri Thomas with guests

When it comes to funding, the stats for Black entrepreneurs and business owners make the call to action for Impact Ventures quite clear. Here are just a few of the obstacles they are trying to tackle for the community:

  • A U.S. Federal Reserve study found that Black entrepreneurs were denied loans nearly twice as often as white business owners.
  • The average equity investment in minority-owned firms is only 43 percent of that in non-minority firms.
  • Even though 40% of privately held companies are founded by women, only 2.8% of venture capital funding is received by women.
  • Black founders only got 1% of Venture Capital funding in 2022

It’s hard to get into a game and you don’t know what field to play and when to play it. That’s where Impact Ventures comes in.

The Impact Summit had six segments for guests to participate in.

  • The State Of Entrepreneurs for DFW
  • Economic Justice showing how investors can drive equity
  • Diversity & Inclusion… And Trust, tools for building trust with BIPOC founders, Bootstrapping the art of it
  • Accelerate, Then What? discussed pushing founders past the accelerator stage and finally
  • Faith In Play the role that faith leaders and faith groups play in socioeconomic justice.
Benjamin Vann Founder and CEO of Impact Ventures

We got to chat with the founder and CEO of Impact Ventures, Benjamin Vann on why this annual summit is necessary and what his plans for the future are.

We are at a critical time in history where Black and Brown people can no longer be the afterthought in thinking about how we shape and design our future world – and because of that, our economy depends on that prioritization. Events like these bring all responsible parties to the table in our economy, including entrepreneurs, investors, funders, and the people that support them. The critical conversations happening during this event and events like these catalyze the thoughts, desires, and actions needed to level the playing field. Texas has played its part historically in the economic injustice that we see in our economy today by at one point being the largest producer of cotton in the world. That economic output unfortunately did not benefit the generations of those that look like me – we have to atone and reconcile with our past in order to build a better way forward.”

Benjamin Vann, Founder and CEO of Impact Ventures

On a more personal note, if you know of Benjamin Vann it’s no secret that he is unapologetic when it comes to providing access to capital for BIPOC and women leaders. That sentiment stems from his own experiences growing up seeing people in his family and community work so hard for so little. Raised in a religious household, Vann stated he often finds himself “preaching the gospel of economic injustice.” Simply stated, Vann is on a mission to level the playing field. Echoing the sentiment of the iconic Reginald F Lewis, author of Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?, Vann learned the path to the “American Dream” through entrepreneurship but quickly realized most of CEO’s around didn’t look like him. Additionally, Vann not only comes from a strong supportive family, he has one of his own. With his wife, they are raising 2 boys in the DFW and they are his biggest motivators.

Drexell Owusu moderating a panel discussion with Holly Kuzmich and Rob Kaplan

This year’s Inclusive Capital Summit had quite an illustrious list of guest speakers. Dynamic leaders near and far like Byron Sander, CEO of the nonprofit Big Thought, VR Small who is the CEO of Veteran Women’s Enterprise Center, Paul C. Godfrey who is a professor at BYU and author of “More Than Money: The 5 Forms of Capital” and keynote speaker, Fawn Weaver, who is the CEO of Uncle Nearest.

We asked Vann why he asked to have CEO Fawn Weaver headline this year’s Inclusive Capital Summit. For Vann, it was not about the celebrity of Fawn Weaver but the impact of her story.

We were thrilled to get Fawn Weaver as our keynote speaker for the inaugural summit. We wanted to set the tone that it wasn’t about getting a big celebrity name to bring our hundreds and thousands of people, but it was about ensuring that our stories are being told and knowing that someday someone will tell your story. We wanted someone who represented the many black men and women entrepreneurs out there that continue to fail forward into their next best thing. Nearest Green “Uncle Nearest’s” story of hope, redemption, and love reminds us all that we never know how big an impact we could have through one small deed. Now people like Fawn ensure that the torch stays lit and the work continues. We were grateful to have that moment with her.

Benjamin Vann
Keynote speaker, Fawn Weaver, CEO of Uncle Nearest Spirits. Photo Credit: Impact Ventures

We also had a chance to speak with the CEO herself. Like Vann, Fawn Weaver is also quite unapologetic about supporting BIPOC leaders and women. During her chat on stage with Vann, she mentioned a session she hosts, similar to the Impact Summit, (but specifically for people of color in the spirit industry) where she gathers owners and investors (that are prepared to cut a check on the spot) in one room, to give access and opportunity to those in the room. For Weaver, it doesn’t sit well with her to be the only one at the top. Not just because it’s a good thing to do, but she wants to help create a competitive market for people that look like her. Additionally, Fawn Weaver dropped some gems on the crowd on what they need to have in their repertoire before going to a bank and asking for funding. She placed a lot of emphasis on the dedication one must have for their business and advising that entrepreneurship is not for everyone, but we can all do our part to create a better path for the future entrepreneurs of our community.

Michelle Williams, Fintech in Action Executive Director. Photo Credit Impact Ventures

The best part about this type of event is that it not only teaches the business owner/entrepreneur how to find capital, but it also teaches the funders how to expand and diversify their portfolio. Overall, the Inclusive Capital Summit was a huge success with many anticipating what’s next, and how those who couldn’t attend could take advantage of Impact Venture’s resources. The future is bright according to Benjamin Vann, and he intends to keep the conversation going.

We are kicking off Inclusive Capital Conversations as a digital podcast series to keep these important conversations going. These short but rich conversation will dive deeper into some of the topics shared at the summit and provide an opportunity to engage more thought leaders in the discussion leading up to 2024.

Benjamin Vann

In addition to the podcast series, Vann is seriously considering taking this summit on tour in the near future. As a native Dallasite, he seeks to take care of home first!

Jess Washington is the CEO and Director of Finance for the Dallas Weekly. Her job is to oversee company operations, develop strategic relationships both in the community and for marketing service partnerships.