Cross Culture Scholarship:
Our Cross Culture Ventures scholarship was reserved for an investor from an underrepresented background. McKeever's operational experience and his work in the Baltimore area with TEDCO really caught our eye. Learn about McKeever's story and career path in venture in our Q&A.
Program: VC Unlocked: Silicon Valley, August 2019 Cohort
Current role: Co-Manager, Pre-Seed Builder Fund, TEDCO
Why venture capital? What drew you to investing in startups?
I was the founder of a startup that went through the process of raising money. As I learned more about investing and how investors pick companies, I had this thought that I think a lot of founders find themselves having, “I can do this.” Along the way there were things I thought I could change or improve in the world of venture capital. Then I was presented with the opportunity to work at The Maryland Technology Development Corporation or TEDCO. I figured, if by some miracle, I got the job as a black man with no college degree but a whole lot of hustle, then I would try to be the investor I wish I had.
As I’ve started to see a career path unfold before me in venture capital I have realised that I could make more money starting another company but I couldn’t make as much impact helping founders from diverse backgrounds and all walks of life. Venture capital is allowing me to affect meaningful change in this world.
Tell us a bit more about your role with TEDCO
TEDCO is an amazing Maryland state organization that gets about 21 million dollars each year to grow the Maryland entrepreneurial ecosystem. TEDCO does this through entrepreneurial resources, coaching, conferences, grants and investments. At TEDCO, I co-manage the Builder Fund which is a fund that makes pre-seed investments in Maryland founders that define themselves as socially or economically disadvantaged in the world of venture capital.
The Builder Fund not only invests in those founders that are most often overlooked and underestimated but we also surround them with support. All Builder Fund companies get 12 weeks of executive coaching to help their CEOs grow as leaders. TEDCO also pays for a C-suite of executives (CEO, COO, CMO, CFO, CIO, ect) that the companies have access to for 24 weeks as contractors to do work in their business and not be just mentors. This was important for the Builder Fund because the founders we support are very often solo founders who need help executing on the 100 different things they could be doing on a given day but with limited to no resources to get them all done.
Did you have experience before you joined? What were some of the challenges you faced when trying to break into venture?
I didn’t have any experience in investing before I joined TEDCO but I had a very strong network locally. I had built up a brand as someone who was very helpful to other founders and the local ecosystem at large, and I took the time to learn how venture capital works. These things allowed me to be prepared when the opportunity presented itself but that was only the start. Even though I’ve been investing for almost 3 years now that’s not much of a track record and I do such early investments it takes even longer to show successful outcomes. I mention this to point out the fact that I still don’t have the standard things to put on a resume to easily continue a career in venture capital. It is a job that a lot of people want but few truly understand. Not to mention I want to be known as a good investor period but I get labeled as an impact investor or diverse investor by virtue of being black.
Yes, I do excel in these specialties but I am a generalist tech investor at my core who happens to have a different source for deal flow than other investors. I also aspire to have my own fund eventually but I don’t have the kind of capital to put up a percentage of the fund amount and I don’t have the friends and family I could raise that money from. My entire career and path has been unconventional and when I raise a fund it will probably be unconventional too.
You’re closely involved with the tech ecosystem in Baltimore, and have taken part in programs like Accelerate Baltimore. What’s something more people outside the region should know about the ecosystem?
Baltimore and Maryland at large have a growing vibrant startup ecosystem. Like many cities across the country, we have amazing anchor institutions and universities pumping out talent and technologies like Johns Hopkins University, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Morgan State University, University of Maryland and others. That’s not even talking about the 74 federal labs in Maryland with many of them having tech transfer programs, which also speaks to why Maryland is a hub for cyber security which is growing every year.
Just this last year the cyber security company Tenable IPO’d at an almost 3 billion dollar valuation. That‘s before you talk about Under Armor being in Baltimore or Advertising.com, an AOL company which is one of the largest advertising platforms in the country. Add things like this to the cheaper cost of living compared to our neighbors in the north (New York) and the small town feeling you get the recipe for amazing growth.
What’s your super power as an early-stage investor?
My super power as an early-stage investor is truly caring about the founders I work with including the ones I can’t fund or who aren’t ready for funding. Because of that I don’t look at companies and founders as opportunities to make money but opportunities to make an impact on someone's life, community and the world at large.
What advice do you have for aspiring VCs?
If you are aspiring to be a VC, don’t do it for the money. Do it for the people and the intellectual exercise of working with different companies in different industries. Take your time to really learn the business of venture capital and then question everything. Just like how the companies we are investing in are disrupting industries everyday we all have the power to disrupt venture capital. Learn how to build up your network of startups (at many different stages), advisors, subject/industry experts, and investors of many different stages. These connections will be important for you and the companies you support. It takes a lot for a company to get to an exit or IPO and your network should be able to help your company on their paths.
Remember you most likely won't have enough money, knowledge, or time to help your companies as much as you want but you should be able to leverage your network to make things happen. Your network is key.
What are you hoping to take away from the VC Unlocked program?
I’m hoping to have my thoughts and viewpoints of investing and my thesis challenged by many other smart VCs. I’m also looking forward to getting better at venture finance. More than anything I’m looking forward to learning from so many other amazing VCs and peers who care about startups and their founders as much as I do.