Black History Month — An Interview with Brian Brackeen

General Partner of Lightship Capital and Endeavor Midwest Board Member are just a couple of the titles Brian Brackeen holds. Endeavor interviewed Brian to learn more about his commitment to fostering entrepreneurship among underrepresented founders, turning bias into profit, Black Tech Week and more!

Endeavor: To start, can you tell us more about yourself?

Brian: I’m Brian Brackeen, and my first and foremost job is on the board of Endeavor Midwest. It’s the thing I’m most proud of, of course. But I’m also the General Partner of Lightship Capital with two funds, a $50 million venture fund focused on women and minority founders, with offices in Cincinnati, Tulsa, and Miami. We have a fund-to-fund where we invest in Black fund managers; Anchor Investments launched $25 million, so I’m excited about that work. We also have a foundation, Lightship Foundation, which owns Black Tech Week. So anybody [reading], we’d love to see you. Come on out! This year’s gonna be bigger and better than ever. It’s going to be amazing! We also work with founders, including bootcamps and accelerators in the cities I just mentioned.

For those who may not know, you’re an Endeavor Entrepreneur. So, as an Endeavor Entrepreneur, and of course, you mentioned before serving as an Endeavor Board Member, how have you seen your impact take root throughout the network of Endeavor?  

My favorite thing about Endeavor is that everyone is really successful and really busy, and they still make the time because impact is what’s most important. You’re in a room, whether it be an International Selection Panel or a board meeting, of people who care and are willing to do anything to see their communities grow and their neighbors thrive. What happens is you start doing other things, like in Louisville, we’re helping the mayor with some of their entrepreneurship. In Cincinnati, we’re helping that mayor with some of the entrepreneurship efforts. In Miami, Endeavor was recently given a $500,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase & Co. for its work. It’s just really cool to be a part of these different communities. The nice thing about being on the board is going to the other board meetings, so you can sit in and see what’s going on. 


What was the ethos around starting Lightship? What was the gap that you felt like you were filling or needed to fill as it pertains to investments in Black-founded companies?  

Lightship has a mantra, which is ‘we turn bias into profit.’ We find amazing folks who are overlooked, underappreciated, underinvested, and exceptional and remarkable, and we make those investments into those people. So, for the direct fund, we invest in women and minorities. But also, we look at the second market failure, which is geography. You take underinvested individuals, and you take underinvested geographies, and that’s a really good opportunity. The data shows that for every dollar you put into a startup and you actually exit, you get $3.89 back in the Northeast, but you get $5.17 back in the Midwest. So, theoretically, every dollar should be invested in the Midwest, and yet, it’s not. That gap and bias are how we make our money.  


You spearheaded one of the largest Black tech conventions, and you were able to launch it and sustain it here in Cincinnati, Ohio. What does that mean for the future of Black tech, and specifically Black tech here in the Midwest?

We just signed and announced a three-year deal to stay in Cincinnati. It really turned the whole city around for us to do even more. Everything from the airport all the way down to all the hotels downtown. What we’re trying to do is have an elevated experience. Too often, founders of all backgrounds are getting pizza on a Tuesday at a coworking space, and that’s supposed to be enough. Entrepreneurship is really hard, and it’s really great to be celebrated. So, we decided to make Black Tech Week an elevated experience, with elevated food, hotels, and talks, and when you do that, it just brings in the best people. The other thing that we do, which I think is unique, is that other conferences dictate what the talk’s on to you. We have an open speaker process. We let the community say, “This is what I want to talk about,” and what you find is the community then wants to hear that. It’s coming from the community; it’s going back to the community. So we’re really proud of the fact that that’s happening.  


Lightship Capital was recently featured on the NASDAQ. As a Black founder and venture player, what does this mean for founders who have continuously had issues with access to capital and other resources?

It’s nice to go into Times Square and see yourself, not in a sports or fashion ad, but on the NASDAQ. That was really cool. Ultimately, I would rather not be on this side of the NASDAQ building, but I’d rather the founders I invested in IPOing and ringing the bell in the New York Stock Exchange into the NASDAQ. That’s my real goal.  


In your work, do you feel like you created a pathway or made a pathway for those founders to be on the NASDAQ, ringing the bell and having their faces up there?  

I do. I think there is a gap between the capital we can invest and what it takes to get there. Again, our new fund, the Anchor Fund, is about getting people from Series B to IPO. That’s a really important missing factor in this ecosystem.


What would you say to the idea that there’s now an abundance of caution in the ecosystem preventing investors from taking chances on first-time Black founders?

The more bias they want to have, the more money Brian’s going to make.


Lastly, what insight could you offer other Black founders and CEOs looking to scale? 

First, if you want more real, follow me on Twitter or X @BrianBrackeen. Second, there are lots and lots of people and lots of money who are pulling for you, pulling for Black founders, trying to get money in their pockets, and trying to find ways to make it work.

We’re going to get there, I think, in the next three to five years. Because the backlash only causes the good people to go harder, and now you’re going to see even more money committed. And it’ll be easier to identify the fakes, the people who did George Floyd just for marketing, and the real people, and that identification will help founders move faster as well.