This 27-year-old Founder Launched a VC Firm in Africa to Make Private-Investing More Accessible
By Jenna Milliner-Waddell
Marvin Coleby isn’t trying to create investment opportunities, but instead, he’s working to make it more accessible through blockchain technology.
“We believe opportunity already exists and it’s just being held back from people unintentionally and our goal is to give people access to those opportunities,” Coleby says of his venture capital firm Raise Impact.
The company, established in Africa, developed a platform making it easier for people to invest in private companies through their phone. Coleby is using a decentralized, public ledger of all cryptocurrency transactions to unlock this new wave of investing. Beyond the security, it creates digital assets that Raise users will be able to buy, sell, or hold on their own terms, from their phone, whenever they want, wherever they want.
“If I invested your company before blockchain-based applications for $100 and got two shares back, I cannot do anything with those two shares until you succeed or fail,” Coleby explains. “Whereas with a blockchain based digital asset, if your share is a digital share, basically I can buy from you in New York over my phone, $100 for two shares, and then sell one share to, someone in Australia, over my phone almost instantly.”
With Raise, you can line your pockets and still feel good about it. The investing platform provides a secure space for investors to contribute to impact based companies working toward meeting the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
Coleby, who received his law degree from McGill University’s Faculty of Law, debuted Raise this year and won second place in Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition’s hackathon in the financial inclusion category. Coleby says Raise gained more traction leading to two speaking engagements at both the Blockchain Africa Conference in South Africa, and the Africa Blockchain Conference in Uganda. At the latter, he announced that Raise is working with the Kenyan government to pilot the technology.
Investing in a private company in the United States comes with significant barriers to entry, chiefly meeting the requirements of an accredited investor. According to the Securities and Exchange Commision (SEC), a company or private fund can not offer or sell securities — a share for example — unless the transaction has been registered with the SEC, and exceptions are only offered to accredited investors.
To qualify as an accredited investor, you need to have earned more than $200,000 in each of the prior two years, and expect to make the same in the current one or have a net worth of over $1 million. With the median income in the United States being just over $57,000, according to 2016 U.S. Census data, an accredited investor distinction isn’t available to the masses. Coleby wants to close the funding gap.
“We’re trying to create basically a stock market for private companies,” said the 27-year-old venture lawyer from the Bahamas. “We’re creating a technology that makes it possible for anybody, whether they are an accredited investor or not, to invest in private companies and grow your wealth.”
The flexibility of handling your own assets is what Coleby says makes a platform like Raise a significantly less risky way to invest. He points out that outside of the U.S., the African, Caribbean, Latin American and Asian markets are much riskier to invest and gain capital in.
“The idea of having an asset that is immovable in emerging market countries, especially on the African continent, has prevented a lot of capital from going to early-stage entrepreneurs,” Coleby says.
The digital infrastructure turns something that was once restricted to a select few into what’s essentially a large-scale crowdfunding campaign.
“It makes it easier for diaspora people to invest in their own country, which was one of the first positions for Raise,” Coleby says of his companies mission. “How do you get a Bahamian like Marvin living in Toronto to invest in companies, in the Bahamas from his computer or phone? Because right now that’s currently not possible. Even if it was, I would still be getting an asset that I can’t do anything with. With the Raise platform, I can invest from Toronto into my country and get an asset that I can sell to anybody at any time.”
While there is no official timeline for the launch of Raise, Coleby is growing his team and continues to be excited about the potential blockchain has to offer.
“The potential is limitless,” he says. “Imagine the kind of indigenous African capital that can be moved, and imagine how much funds diaspora people’s can use to invest in their countries or trade digital assets within the African continent. The growth is literally unlimited. And it’s only just starting now.”