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Report: Backstage Capital shifts focus to accelerator, lays off staffers

The Los Angeles-based venture firm, celebrated for its focus on underrepresentation, lost two anchor funders to its $36 million fund. One local member of the national team is being let go.

Backstage Philadelphia's hub at 3675 Market St. (Courtesy photo)

Backstage Capital, the Los Angeles-based venture capital firm focusing on underrepresented founders in tech, lost two key backers for the $36 million fund it launched in May of last year, Axios reported Tuesday.

Reporter Dan Primack said Arlan Hamilton’s firm was unable to raise the fund and transitioned to an accelerator model — which operates in four cities, including Philadelphia — and laid off an undetermined number of staffers. From the report:

Hamilton says that “two separate anchor investors fell through” for the fund, which was to focus on startups founded by black women, and that Backstage also lost out on a $5 million “operations deal” with the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, after CEO Carlos Ghosn was arrested in Japan.

Hamilton, who rose to prominence in tech media in the past year, herself shared the news on Twitter shortly after the story ran, though she took issue with the notion that the fund fell through, instead saying it’s a “work in progress” towards the mission of funding black women $1 million at a time.

“Grew a lot, built a ton, had some L’s, scaled back, would do it all again … and just getting started,” Hamilton tweeted.

Via text message, Managing Director Liz Brown said no layoffs hit the firm’s local team.

However, in January, Opeola Bukola — who had previously been announced as director of the local accelerator — announced she was instead taking a position with the national team as investment associate.

“I personally felt that she wasn’t the best fit so she was moved to a different part of the team earlier on. Hence us having a new director onboarded,” Brown said, in reference to Allen King, who joined the firm in February.

Bukola, who remains based in Philly, confirmed to Technical.ly that she’s now one of the staffers being laid off, and that her move to the national team had been unrelated to the loss of funding.

“I’ll be one of the team members affected by the layoff,” she told Technical.ly. “My last day with Backstage is April 15.”

Inquiries for additional context to Backstage Capital Partner Christie Pitts team were not immediately responded.

Meanwhile, Hamilton is expected to speak this Thursday at Venture Café at the launch of the local accelerator, which features six local companies run by underrepresented founders. Despite the loss of funding and the focus shift, Hamilton, it seems, remains optimistic.

Companies: Backstage Capital
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