Introducing Genius Guild: Investing in Market-based Innovations That End Racism
Racism is the soil in which deep disparities grow in the United States. Everything from the impact of diseases like COVID-19 (the life expectancy of Black Americans was cut by 2.7 years, compared to 0.8 years for white Americans) to disparities in childcare — which were exacerbated by the pandemic — all come from this contaminated soil.
And it poisons us all.
As a Black American woman, the poison of racism removed the right of my family to own their livelihood. In 1921, the Greenwood community in Tulsa, where my great grandparents George and Florence Woods lived, was destroyed by a mob of angry white residents who resented the economic success of the community. The brutal attack destroyed more than 3 square miles of the district — at that time the wealthiest Black community in the United States, known as “Black Wall Street.” My grandparents lost their home at 1212 Pocahontas Rd., their thriving restaurant business, and their community of other Black entrepreneurs.
What if we applied an anti-racist, market version of the soil purification chemical EDTA to remove impurities that disproportionately affect Black enterprises (and communities) from the soil of American capitalism?
And since we all — Black, white, brown — grow from the same soil, removing these impurities improves the soil for everyone. According to a recent report by global banking giant Citi, the US economy lost over $16 trillion dollars (that’s 12 zeros) in revenue since 2000 because of anti-Black racism. This amount was lost by ALL Americans, not just Black Americans.
While frameworks to invest in market-based solutions to end global issues like climate change have existed for decades, there are currently few investment frameworks focused on applying a market based approach to innovations that end racism. I’ve spent the past ten years trying to figure out why there are so few models, first as the founder of a groundbreaking social enterprise and now as the founder and CEO of a new spin on the venture studio model.
What I’ve learned in the process of developing the our model is that, to paraphrase the great Audre Lorde, using the master’s tools to fix the master’s house is extremely hard.
But what if we use the master’s tools, in this case the market-based system in which we all live and operate, to build our own tools and our own houses?
Enter Genius Guild: Investing in Market-based Innovations to End Racism
In late 2020, I founded Genius Guild, a business-creation platform that uses the venture studio model (a business creation lab and a venture capital fund) to invest in market-based innovations that end racism. In terms of capital markets, investing in market-based innovations to end racism means applying an investment lens that actively addresses the ways in which capitalism and capitalist markets have been manipulated to limit, exclude, and defraud Black communities — to defraud people like my great grandparents.
How Genius Guild Builds and Invests
Genius Guild accomplishes the goal of investing in market-based innovations that end racism by co-building with Black founders who are leading scalable companies through GG Labs and then invests in those companies (as well as other companies led by Black founders) through our Greenhouse Fund. Greenhouse focuses on companies that serve Black communities and have the ability to scale globally. We know that products and services that first achieve success by serving Black communities often reach significant scale as they expand outside of our community. Shea Moisture, sold to corporate giant Unilever for a reportedly $1 billion sale, graces the shelves of the Beverly Hills Target. Black people aren’t the only people who enjoy Slutty Vegan’s uber popular vegan burgers.
When Black people win, everybody wins.
Greenhouse invests into three main areas: Restructuring the flow of capital in Black communities, building healthy environments, and fostering connectivity and belonging.
Table: Genius Guild: Rethinking the Business Creation Framework
Creating Value for Community, Investors, and Founders
At heart of what we do at Genius Guild is our 360-value approach to business creation, meaning that we invest time and money in companies that create value: for their community, for us as investors/co-builders, and for themselves. The Genius Guild 360 value combines three existing frameworks: Black Capitalism (building wealth in Black communities through the ownership and development of businesses), Stakeholder Capitalism (creating value for all those who have a touchpoint with the business, from customers to investors to employees to communities), and Restorative Capitalism (generating community wealth with equitable distribution of risk), to offer a new way of building and investing that generates returns that are focused on virtuous cycles rather than linear wealth.
This lens requires Genius Guild, as builders and investors, to come from a deep place of abundance in an industry (venture capital) that has a history of actively applying scarcity models to Black entrepreneurs. The idea of abundance is so central to our investment thesis that we list it as our first core value.
Up next: In the next part of my Genius Guild Series, I share the investment framework I developed to in order to help GG invest with the 360-value lens and to make sure we’re not replicating the same outdated frameworks deployed in reductionist forms of capitalism like our current system of Shareholder Capitalism, where the only purpose of business is to provide maximum value to its shareholders.