In Philly last night, at the tail end of a news-heavy week for her minority-focused firm, Los Angeles-based Backstage Capital founder Arlan Hamilton laid out the narrative: Following some layoffs and an internal restructuring, the firm will continue to back companies in its four-city accelerator program, support its 100-plus portfolio companies and is still — countering what Axios reporter Dan Primack initially reported — actively raising a $36 million fund to invest in Black women one million at a time.
But before all of that, as a preface to her talk at the launch of Backstage’s Philly accelerator, Hamilton asked a gentleman in the back of the room at Venture Café to take a curtain call.
“Josh Kopelman, will you stand up, please?”
Hamilton, following a round of applause for Kopelman, announced the famed First Round Capital investor as one of the main LPs (limited partners) in Backstage Accelerator.
“He is local to Philadelphia,” said Hamilton. “He has quietly over the past year and a half helped Backstage in ways no one ever knew, basically because he doesn’t need them to be known.”
In two short emails to Technical.ly, Kopelman confirmed he was an investor in the multi-city accelerator program, on a personal level rather than as head of First Round, but he did not mention a specific amount. The accelerator program selected 25 companies in four cities, investing up to $100,000 in each of them in exchange for 5 percent equity. The startups are all founded by underrepresented founders in tech — Backstage prefers the term “underestimated” — in a move meant to counter the deep inequities of the venture capital space.
News of Kopelman’s involvement comes after reports that the $36 million fund Hamilton began raising last year had had two main backers pull out. In the aftermath, Hamilton announced she’d be stepping down as CEO of Backstage Studio, with Christie Pitts, formerly head of Backstage Accelerator, taking over the role.
Hamilton, who was joined onstage by Pitts and Philadelphia magazine editor Fabiola Cineas, said she would be retaining the title of Backstage Capital managing partner.
“As any company, we’ve had lot of ups and downs,” Hamilton said. “Fundraising, as you know, has been up and down. We had a lot of people commit and then back out, … a lot of people we thought were committing and then backing out. If every other month you hear ‘here comes a million and then it goes away’ … that’s stressful.”
Pitts shouted out the quality Philly cohort of companies, which features names like millennial-focused apartment listing and renter information site Whose Your Landlord and on-demand beauty startup Tressenoire.
“I will always be proud of what we’ve done so far,” Pitts said. “Just being in the room with our Philadelphia cohort … man, it is something.”
8/I will focus on 3 main things:
– Raising capital & amplifying our founders to help gather the resources they deserve
– Mentoring our exec team/nurturing the spirit of Backstage internally
– Practicing self care so that I can be the best version of myself and evolve each day
— Arlan 👊🏾 (@ArlanWasHere) March 20, 2019
During this time, Hamilton said, the small leadership team was doing the work of multiple people at once. Balancing her heavy media presence with the fund’s day-to-day operations proved taxing.
“While I’m trying to think about what I’m going to say on PBS, I don’t want to go out and in the back of my mind say, ‘Did we pay that invoice for the carpenter?’ I don’t need to be doing that,” Hamilton said.
Despite the $36 million setback, the investor is unflappable in her belief that backing underrepresented founders is a worthy investment thesis.
“Backstage needed to exists,” the founder said. “The need is there. People are gaining so much more than what our checks can measure up to, and that’s what I was looking for.”
As for Kopelman — who joined a panel alongside Hamilton at last year’s Introduced conference — when we asked what made him want to partner with the Los Angeles-based fund, he sent back a one-word reply.