Gifts Enable Fisk University to Become VC Investor

By David G. Barry


Thanks to a pair of innovative philanthropic gifts, Fisk University has become for the first time an investor in venture capital – a move its president describes as a “crucial” step to the survival of it and other Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs).

In moves that might provide a footprint for others to follow, the Nashville, Tennessee, school received stakes in Acrew Capital’s Diversify Capital Fund (DCF) and in Base10’s Advancement Initiative.

Acrew Capital, a San Francisco firm, and co-founder
Theresia Gouw, are providing Fisk with $1 million in cash and a $1 million interest in DCF, a growth equity fund which closed last year at $300 million and which Acrew said is the largest-ever venture fund with a diversity, equity and inclusion focus. Nearly 70% of the fund’s capital comes from diverse individuals or diverse-led institutional LPs. Acrew to date has donated $7 million in cash to DEI organizations, including Fisk.

Gouw tells Private Markets that she got to know Fisk through school Trustee Ed Zimmerman, a friend and partner at law firm Lowenstein Sandler LLP. She and Zimmerman 
co-founded First Close Partners, which invests in venture capital funds owned and operated by underrepresented venture investors.

Gouw said she found it "remarkable" that during Fisk's "rich" 156-year history that it had never been asked to invest in a venture fund. 

She said Acrew's Diversity Capital Fund is "focused on diversifying the cap tables of market leading growth stage companies."
Venture, she added, "has been the largest creator of jobs and wealth in the U.S. economy, while historically serving a limited set of investors. We simply cannot accept unintentional exclusion any longer. Democratizing who has access to equity in the next great venture capital-backed company, subsequently addresses systematic inequities of wealth creation by welcoming underrepresented institutions onto the LP base."

Also in a statement, Fisk President Vann Newkirk said, “the support of Theresia and Acrew Capital has transformed Fisk into an institutional investor in venture capital and thus, a participant in the type of type of transformational wealth creation that remains crucial to the future of many HBCUs.”

As a result of Gouw and Acrew’s donations, Zimmerman and his wife, Betsy Zimmerman, also have donated $100,000 to Fisk, along with an undisclosed interest in Base10’s Advancement Initiative, another diversity-focused venture fund. Base10 – the first Black-led venture firm to top $1 billion in assets– is committing 50% of the fund’s carried interest to HBCUs. According to the firm, the 107 HBCU endowments combined were equal to just 7% of Stanford University’s endowment when it was at roughly $30 billion. Stanford’s endowment stood at $38 billion as of August 31.