Exclusive | Business
Starting a business is no small feat. Having a great idea and product is merely the beginning because, at some point, adequate funding is necessary. For a few, acquiring funds is easy however others are placed at a disadvantage when making attempts to harness what is needed for their business to be successful.
B. Pagels-Minor (they/them), the first openly transgender person to own and operate a venture capital firm, is changing the game for not only new businesses but for the LGBTQ+ community. Minor chats with Gaye Magazine exclusively about their historical feat of owning DVRGNT Ventures.
Venture capital (VC) is generally used to support startups and other businesses with the potential for substantial and rapid growth. VC firms raise money from limited partners (LPs) to invest in promising startups or even larger venture funds.
A true Southerner, B. Pagels Minor spent much of their adolescent years in Mississippi and Tennessee. Open land, four-wheelers, and small-knit communities are very different from Minor's present-day scenery as a Los Angeles native.
"I miss that environment where folks really go into town and people knew who you were, they knew who your family members were, and they'd always have a kind word to say to you," Minor tells us.
Upon graduating high school, B. left Memphis to attend Duke University, soon to face financial obstacles that would later inspire the work B. does today.
"I came from a historically very poor family. They didn't have money to help me get an apartment in New York or some other East Coast city so I could do internships. It's ultimately one of the reasons I decided to transfer to Northwestern because it was in Chicago, and it meant that I could get an apartment, and I'd be able to pay my rent all year round".
In an effort to dodge student loans, B. found themselves in a master's program. Unbeknownst to them, this opened the door to their career in the technical field.
"I happened to meet someone who worked in tech and what he was talking about was interesting enough that I ended up interviewing there and that was my very first tech job," they said.
"You're not the one who's writing the check; It was that simple".
In 2019, B. would be recruited at Netflix as a Senior Data Projects Manager but was separated from the streaming giant two years later, after Netflix claimed they were responsible for the leaking of internal documents. B. leaned back into their first business love, consulting, ultimately finding a greater purpose and responsibility in supporting upcoming businesses.
"I've always done this consulting stuff on the side because, you know, it always is one of those things where you're like, I can't work for you because you don't pay me enough, but I think you're a cool company", B. said sincerely.
"I really started to focus on seed companies and really helping them get to great funding and through that process, I just kept increasingly becoming frustrated." They continued, "I was like, but this company is like legitimately quite excellent, and I don't understand why they're not getting funding. Like, why is this happening? And the reality was that they didn't have the right profile because they were from cities like Memphis or Omaha, Nebraska, or Colorado --- outside of the traditional investment paradigm". That's how my firm came about".
"Everything is a risk, technically."
Venture capitalism has the ability to impose substantial risk on an investor, for there isn't a surefire way of knowing a company's success outlook. B. Pagels Minor has their own system of determining whether or not they want to invest in a new product or company. They broke it down into three identifiers.
"I think the first thing you have to think about is, the founder. Like this is the person in front of me. Do I think they have the potential to be successful? Yes. Do I think this particular company is going to be the one that's successful? Hopefully. But the reality is, is that sometimes people will have one, two or three companies that fail before they have that fourth one that actually hits it out of the ballpark," Minor expressed.
B. also noted the importance of longevity in these circumstances, to ultimately weigh their investment in the future. Though Minor's goal is to improve a particular company, their return on investment is just as critical.
"The second thing is that there are different types of access that certain types of investments might get you," they said. "That little bit of a risk because you want to get into the game so that you can increase your deal flow because again, majority of companies are gonna fail".
B. continued, "The third thing is just really, really simple, which is like, sometimes you're just like, well, damn, like there is a risk here, but it's just so freaking cool, right," they exclaimed.
"If we can pull off just even a small percentage of what we wanna accomplish here, this would be a game changer. You could change the world, right?"
B. justified these long-term ventures in comparison to the world's most recent and life-changing epidemic, COVID-19.
"I think about the COVID-19 virus, the mRNA technology or whatever they use for that. That woman had been working on that for 20 years, actually maybe even longer than that," they said. She had been working on this and everyone was just like, this is a dumb idea, but at the same time, they were like, there's just enough here that it could be worth something."
"It's that long for that to prove its value. Now, arguably, it's the whole reason Pfizer and so many other companies have had gangbusters years in terms of investments because they're employing this technology. And so again, you have to look at this larger picture of all things being equal because VC [venture capitalism] takes a long time to materialize, right? So just one fund, it could take anywhere from 10 to 15 years for you to reap any reward from it."
Operating DVRGNT Ventures
While B. uses these criteria when analyzing potential investments, the pool is narrowed even further when it comes to locating the ventures. As aforementioned, B. Pagels Minor is no stranger to operating in underdeveloped and disadvantaged communities. Once they acquire the resources and knowledge of brand development for themselves, they decided to plant the seed where they felt needed it the most-- at home.
"My firm, DVRGNT Ventures, we only invest in middle America, which we define as the South, the Midwest, and the Midwest combined," they argued.
"The biggest value to me is accomplishing this mission of increasing the amount of VC investment that goes to those states, right? Because less than 20% goes into those states," Minor told us.
"When I think about the lack of economic opportunity that I saw when I was coming up", you know, it really, it really, felt wrong."
B. also faces similar obstacles of their own on the venture capital journey. One critical gap is accessibility to funding for the companies they work with and how long the fundraising takes. Racial and gender disparities are evident .
"I tell my team we'll take anywhere from 18 months to three years, for instance, to do the full fundraise, and that's fine," Minor said. "In fact, though, and to be truthful, for many Black VC folks, and also women, it generally would take about two years anyway."
Minor continued, "When people said they could raise in like six or eight months, those were usually cisgender white men, so like, you know, it's always been harder for, you know, diverse people to fundraise in VC."
As a solo GP [General Partner] B. oversees all funding and its delegation within DVRGNT Ventures.
Another obstacle B. faces when seeking funds is acceptance on the surface. Some investors are reluctant to dig deeper into Minor's venture, simply because of how Minor identifies.
"I hired a service to do outreach to LPs for me and LPs are limited partners and those are the people who actually invest in your fund," they said.
"One of the messages in my signature on this thing that they sent out, it said, B. Pagels Minor, affirming pronouns are they, them, theirs, and someone responded back saying, 'get that political BS out of my inbox, I don't need that'".
"I have to assume there are other people who felt this, but that was the first time anyone had been very explicit about their bias to me," they said. "I'm explicit in my deck that I'm trans and part of my strategy in life is to be very upfront and out about who I am. Not because it's my job to come out to everyone, but it is my job to create clear boundaries with people, and my boundary is if you can't accept me for who I am and all of who I am, then I don't wanna do business with you anyway."
Though Minor is residing in Los Angeles, B. makes efforts to travel to their target states as often as possible. When they can't, they deploy strategic partnerships. Similar to middlemen, these partnerships act as a catalyst that not only provides some funding, but other types of business guidance and support.
"We have strategic partnerships with Gener8tor, which is kind of the largest mid-market accelerator," they told us. "We have partnerships with some of the tech starts locations in cities and states that we invest in. We also have strategic partnerships with Bronze Valley and some other ones. Strategic partnerships are how we do the accelerators."
B. Pagels Minor at home.
Before B. dove into venture capitalism full-time, their life had already taken a major shift; they welcomed their first child. For B., this journey also welcomed some biological changes.
As part of their transition, B. was consistently undergoing testosterone treatments. This came to an abrupt halt, for pregnancy required the exact opposite.
"I got on testosterone in 2019, and then we started the process to have a kid in late 2020," they shared.
"Then early 2021 is when we actually did the transfer for the embryos and all that other type of stuff, sofor me, I've been on testosterone for over a year, and then you have to stop testosterone completely. For us, we had to do IVF (In vitro fertilization) and I immediately went on all the hormones stuff. I went from a higher-than-normal female testosterone level to basically normal so that I could have a normal cycle...I felt crazy."
B. noted this experience as one of the most emotional phases of their life and was extremely thankful once the "normal" pregnancy hormones took over. In spite, Minor expressed little to no hesitation in the continuance of their testosterone treatments.
"It was so interesting because then after I had the baby, you have to wait a certain amount of time before you can go back to testosterone," they told us.
"I was like okay, how much longer because I'm ready to get back on testosterone now. And so just for the audience's sake, I'm on low-dose testosterone," Minor added.
"So I'm not transitioning to be a man, but I do have like some facial hair and stuff like that, which I love, like I always wanted to have a beard and mustache. Even when I was a little kid, I was like, I wanted a beard and mustache, no boobs. That's the two things I wanted most. And so those are things that I have accomplished now."
During the interview, I caught a sneak peek of B.'s extensive shoe collection, a hobby that slowly grew into an obsession. They showed us their pair of Nike's SB Dunks Ugly Christmas Sweater sneakers, as Christmas is their favorite holiday. Owning nearly 300 pairs of shoes, they call it their personal drug.