Megan Ruan knows firsthand how representation can impact funding for entrepreneurs. She recalled her being the only woman of color working at a family office earlier in her career and running a portfolio of venture investments.
“I saw the decisionmaking and how it differed between the people who were check-writers at these different funds and the types of companies and founders that they invested in, and what a difference it made to have one, two or more underrepresented voices in the room,” Ruan told CNBC.
Now, Ruan is a general partner at Gold House Ventures, a $30 million fund investing in Asian and Pacific Islander founders. Gold House, the nonprofit collective advancing representation and socioeconomic equity for APIs, announced the launch of the fund Tuesday morning.
Gold House Ventures aims to boost API leadership in the corporate world by backing Asian entrepreneurs. Asian American professionals are the least likely demographic in the US to be promoted into management, according to a Harvard Business Review analysis. Employees of Asian descent comprised about 13% of the professional workforce, but just 6% of executives, the Ascend Foundation found.
“Gold House Ventures is saying, how do we build an index of all the top Asian private companies?” Ruan said.
The fund’s investors include venture capital firms Lightspeed, NEA, Bain Capital and General Catalyst, along with philanthropies like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Its individual investors include DoorDash CEO Tony Xu, Block CFO Amrita Ahuja and YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, along with celebrities like Anderson .Paak, Padma Lakshmi and Daniel Dae Kim.
‘Market-first social impact’
Gold House Ventures grew out of the nonprofit’s existing work promoting API entrepreneurship. In 2019, Gold House launched an accelerator program for API-led companies. From the accelerator program, the organization created a founder network and a network of angel investors.
“We’ve always wanted to be an Asian Y Combinator, and now we are much closer because … we’re also making a financial commitment to these companies,” said Eric Feng, a general partner at Gold House Ventures and previously a general partner at VC fund Kleiner Perkins.
The fund identifies portfolio companies through Gold House’s accelerators and its investor network’s deal flow.
Gold House Ventures describes its work as “market-first social impact.” The fund is a for-profit initiative for its limited partners, but all general partner fees and returns will be donated back to the nonprofit.
“None of this is because it’s a donation … that we’re just going to subsidize,” Feng added. “These are great businesses that are just overlooked.”
Diversity within the Asian diaspora
In the start-up space, Asians made up about 25% of venture capital-backed founders, according to a 2020 report by Diversity VC and RateMyInvestor. That compares with APIs comprising about 6% of the US population, according to Census Bureau data.
However, aggregated numbers obscure the challenges Asian women, South Asian and Southeast Asian entrepreneurs face when fundraising, Ruan said. Female-founded companies in the US overall received only 2.1% of venture capital dollars invested in 2021, according to PitchBook.
“A lot of people think that we’re a monolith as a community,” said Bing Chen, a general partner at Gold House Ventures and president and co-founder of Gold House. “On the judges’ side as well as in the founders, we make sure that we accurately reflect the diasporic representation.”
Half of Gold House Ventures’ portfolio has a female founder and a third of the portfolio is non-East Asian, according to the general partners.
“Diversity of the gender and ethnicity of our founders is important, but also diversity of ideas in terms of Asians starting companies that serve our population or community,” Feng said.
Sanzo, an Asian-inspired sparking water company, is one portfolio company Feng highlighted. The company’s founder Sandro Roco is Filipino American, and its products use Asian flavors. Sanzo in February announced the $10 million Series A funding round.
Gold House Ventures so far has also invested in online Asian grocer Umamicart, investment app Pluang and cryptocurrency exchange Binance, according to Crunchbase.
To Ruan, investing in API-led companies as an API-led fund highlights the importance of minority-focused funds.
For Gold House Ventures’ investments, “we are the partner that makes the most sense to support the company because we truly understand the population they’re trying to serve, the problem they’re trying to solve and also the founder’s unique experience as an API entrepreneur,” Ruan said.