With his newest venture, Luke Cooper is learning from the mistakes of history to create a fund through which Black inventors can be celebrated (and paid) in their time.
The Baltimore entrepreneur is starting a venture capital fund with a goal to support underserved Black founders — but also address the legacy of divestment from Black communities in the city. To that end, his Latimer Ventures will be based directly in West Baltimore.
The fund will invest in startups working within the insurance, cybersecurity, fintech, frontier enterprise and healthcare-related technology industries. Cooper said he is seeking to be the change he wanted to see as a founder when he was building on-demand device support startup Fixt, before it was acquired by Fortune 500 insurer Assurant in 2020.
“As one of the only VC-backed Black founders here, it made me unique but it also made it super difficult,” Cooper told Technical.ly. “Even after a prior exit, I struggled to raise money and it wasn’t always clear why. It’s frustrating to constantly get grilled 3x as much as the next person.”
It’s a sentiment that’s not uncommon for Black founders. Winston Frazer, founder of Baltimore 3D printing design and manufacturing company Danae, told Technical.ly last year that he was similarly grilled about the validity of his business by investors until the city’s own Conscious Venture Partners invested in his company and he got the co-sign of a major investor. It’s stories like those of Frazer and Cooper that illustrate the plight of Black founders that leaves 1.2% of the record-setting venture capital raised nationwide in the first half of 2021 going to Black-founded startups.
"A fund increases the opportunity to maximize wealth creation for more people."
In the end, Cooper was able to raise a $6.5 million Series A with Fixt. Today, he’s looking to raise $250 million for Latimer Ventures and is expecting its first close by the end of Q2. The hope is to join the ranks of Charles Hudson, founder of Precursor Ventures, the VC firm made up of diverse fund managers that led in Fixt’s first $2 million seed round, or of Lo Toney, the Black founder of Plexo Capital, a VC firm spun out of Google Ventures that closed $42.5 million in 2019.
There are many ways to make change — entrepreneurship, accelerators, an educational program to create a pipeline to careers in tech. But venture capital was where Cooper saw the ability to make the greatest impact.
“I could start another tech company for sure,” he said. “I am an absolute product geek and love all aspects of building new things and matching them to the right market and go-to-market strategy. However, I wanted to maximize the surface area of my impact and a fund investing across different stages and investment types is the best way to do that.
“A fund also increases the opportunity to maximize wealth creation for more people.”
As great of an opportunity the fund is for Black entrepreneurs, Cooper wants it to do the same for the residents of West Baltimore by locating the eventual physical location of the fund there. He recognizes that on the surface, the fund is another tech ecosystem builder — but he also imagines a world where it symbolizes something more to the community. He hopes the company’s namesake does right by the legacy of Lewis Latimer, the Black inventor responsible for the lightbulb as we know it today.
“I envision a Tech Trap House embedded in the neighborhood feeding the entrepreneurial spirit of UMB students and squeegee boys alike,” Cooper said. “After all, that’s what Edison’s lab was for Latimer.”
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.