Founder, Valor Ventures
Lisa Calhoun’s resume is a formidable one: She started Write2Market, a tech public relations firm that has received many accolades and is one of the top 10 public relations agencies in the country catering to start-ups. She’s also a past president of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization Atlanta chapter, is an advisor to Women Who Code and an Atlanta Techstar mentor. She’s also the author of How You Rule The World: A Female Founder’s Survival Guide, and the publisher of online magazine Female Entrepreneurs.
But her greatest professional accomplishment to date is one that positively affects not only the city of Atlanta, but also the startup world in general: She’s the first woman to found and run a venture capital firm in Georgia, Valor Ventures. “I feel completely honored and excited [about the milestone],” says Calhoun.
Georgia is Number 1 in the nation for yielding women entrepreneurs, and Number 2 for black entrepreneurs, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census, but Calhoun points out that the Southeast still “has too little venture capitalism. For the amount of talent we have, incredible entrepreneurs that aren’t coming to full bloom because they lack access to venture capital. The Southeast currently gets an incredibly small percentage of venture capitalism,” she says.
For Calhoun, whose business is based in Old Fourth Ward but who spends a lot of time holding office hours at the Gathering Spot in West Midtown, a huge part of growing the talent in the Southeast means a focus on minority and women-owned businesses. “Here in Atlanta, we’re able to source natively from the minority community,” Calhoun explains. “Valor is collaborative and community-driven. We’ve been welcomed by a lot of players in the community and recognized for the deals we bring to the table.” For example, Brooklyn-based aerial film production company Aerobo is interested in opening a southeastern headquarters in Atlanta, and Valor is assisting with the search.
“Access to capital for minority startups is an issue,” she continues, “and it’s not an issue of discrimination: it’s a communication problem. I am a communications entrepreneur.
This is a problem I decided to solve.” Calhoun’s focus this fall will be on yet another venture she’s helming. Called Startup Runway, it aims to connect women- and minority-owned startups with no previous funding with seed investors. For its first round, only 20 percent of the applicants were invited to join the program. “Our investors want to source from this pool of entrepreneurship,” she says. “The founders of startups like Borrowing Magnolia (wedding industry), Wyzerr (productivity) and Empowrd (politics) come from the black, women, Latino and LGBT communities, which are traditionally under-represented.”
Calhoun isn’t just about starting things, either. She makes sure to pick businesses and people she and others can invest in long term. For example, Write2Market’s software developer client, Andela, just got $25 million in funding from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. As for the future of investing in Atlanta, Calhoun has this to say: “This is all very new for Midtown—it’s exciting.”
Find out more about Lisa Calhoun, Valor Ventures and Startup Runway at valor.vc.
STORY: Lauren Finney