Former President Barack Obama's financial adviser has quietly invested in startups run by founders of color through a new investment firm, Recode has learned.
A new venture capital firm called Pendulum Holdings has been approaching and funding companies in recent months under the leadership of founders of color, according to people familiar with the matter. The company is headed by Robbie Robinson, who helped set up the Obama family's financial affairs after they left the White House. He remains an advisor to the family.
The fund, whose efforts have not been previously reported, is the latest effort to better support Black Founders, who receive only about 1 percent of venture capital funding. according to estimates. Corporate America has vowed to do better in the aftermath of last summer's Black Lives Matter protests, and one way to do that is to start businesses with an explicit focus on supporting these entrepreneurs. Racial diversity in the world of startups is important because these companies create businesses, products and wealth that can perpetuate or help close inequality.
Pendulum also represents another bond, even if loose, between the Silicon Valley startup scene and the Obamas, who have long had a soft spot for technology. Since leaving the White House, the Obama family has struck content deals with companies like Netflix and Spotify and continued to maintain relationships with venture capitalists.
"The conversations I have with Silicon Valley and with venture capital are bringing my interests in science and organization together in a way that I find truly satisfying," Obama said on the verge of leaving the White House in 2016, sparking speculation that he might be interested in a more hands-on role in the startup world.
To be clear, Obama is not currently an investor in the funds launched by Robinson, although the couple does keep in touch on financial matters. The funds require a minimum investment of $ 1 million to access the deals Pendulum has found, according to a federal disclosure filed by the company.
Pendulum declined to comment.
Pendulum, launched in 2019, has kept a fairly low profile. It has not given interviews, operated a website, and has not publicly announced any deals since launch, despite the fact that it is in the process of raising up to $ 250 million for a few investment vehicles, according to the securities filings.
But a draft of an unpublished website that Recode has access to pulls the curtain aside.
"Pendulum is an inclusive and strategic growth investment and advisory platform designed for a new generation of business builders and leaders," reads the unpublished site, which was found through a public Google search before being removed after Recode contacted . "Our ambition is to create a system that reshapes how great companies are built and redefines who gets to build them."
One way the company is trying to redefine who gets to build it is by supporting people of color. The company focuses its investments on the founders of color and supports companies such as Crown and Conquer, a creative advertising agency, and Nickson, a furniture rental start-up.
The company is mainly staffed by people of color. Robinson, who serves on the board of the National Museum of African American History, runs the shop with D’Rita Robinson, his wife and the co-founder and chief of operations. As more black Americans make the decisions about what to fund, it can help ensure that the products and services that startups bring to the world serve a diverse audience.
Robinson has had other prominent customers, but doing the financial spade for a former president is a very unique relationship. Robinson worked for Byron Trott, a powerful Chicago banker who had been Robinson's mentor for many years.
“First of all, to Robbie and D’Rita, thank you very much for helping us get this together,” Obama said in 2015 at a fundraising campaign for the Democratic National Committee held in their home. "We are so grateful to the entire Robinson family."
Two years later, Robinson said goodbye to Trott's firm for a year to help Obama navigate the world of paid speeches and book deals. sometimes working from Obama's Washington office. A press release That year, Mayor Rahm's office partially identified Emanuel Robinson as an & # 39; advisor to President Barack Obama & # 39 ;.
"As the Obamas were finalizing their presidency, they contacted me about possible cooperation with them," Robinson told the Morehouse College alumni magazine in his only public interview about the scheme. "This was an opportunity that I could never have dreamed of, but one that I was still very prepared for."