Venture Capitalist Samara Hernandez, 35, has invested in non-diverse teams and when confronted about why she doesn’t only invest in Latinx businesses she explains that working in a white male-dominated space means she can be a better advocate for women and minorities. She recalls a time she helped get a woman in her network hired for a board position and then discovered despite her experience she was the lowest-paid employee. She confronted the board as to why she was paid less than junior members and they said it was because she hadn’t asked for more. Hernandez insisted they give her a raise or the person would eventually quit and they followed her advice and that, she says, was a chingona move. These kinds of experiences of being a chingona is what inspired this Chicago-based jefa to found Chingona Ventures which had it’s first official close of the fund in April of last year.
Since then she’s invested in 11 businesses with a goal of about 25-30 for her portfolio and while she doesn’t exclusively look for women-owned or minority-owned businesses, she would like to connect with entrepreneurs without access to wealth or mentors.
Today is #LatinaEqualPayDay, where Latinas catch up to what white, non-Hispanic men made in 2018. I’m proud to support the changing face of tech. Together w/ @allraise and @LatinxVCs, I’m on a mission to amplify voices and support their equal pay. #AllRaiseAllLatinas pic.twitter.com/3kopYZD9Fd
— Samara M Hernandez (@SamaraMHernandz) November 20, 2019
“I’m looking for businesses that won’t normally get access so I hope that ultimately I’m able to provide capital to these businesses that already have some sort of proven product in the market or some sort of validation where I can help them grow and scale to that next level,” Hernandez tells HipLatina. “I like to work with CEOs and companies very early on and mentor them to help them get to that next stage in their business.”
Hernandez is a Mexican-American immigrant who became a citizen at 15 and recalls growing up with parents who had minimum wage jobs instilling in her the importance of getting a good job with good health insurance. Suffice so when she decided to leave her comfortable job as a venture capitalist at MATH Ventures Partners, they were concerned about her future. But it’s the mentality that high risk can yield high rewards that is guiding her as a founding partner for CV as she seeks entrepreneurs and businesses to fund.
For #LatinaEqualPayDay I am in LA with 4 out of the 18 Latina GPs in the U.S. building relationships with funders and co-investors to make sure we move the needle on getting more pay equality in tech. pic.twitter.com/eAa0xqDT41
— Samara M Hernandez (@SamaraMHernandz) November 21, 2019
According to Hernandez, she is one of only 18 Latina general partners managing a whole fund in the U.S., and she’s hoping to work with businesses in ad tech, financial tech, food tech, female tech and wellness products. One of the companies she’s funded is Reel, with Daniela Corrente CEO and co-founder at the helm. The company helps customers avoid debt by helping them save money for a particular item which is then delivered once it’s fully paid for.
“It’s always refreshing to work with people with different backgrounds and points of view. I’m Latina and 40 percent of our users are Latinas too, so it was important to me to have a diverse CAP [a company’s equity ownership capital] table, a CAP table that represents the reality of our customer,” Corrente tells HipLatina. “She doesn’t only care about the business, but also about the people. She invests time in getting to know the founders and team because she understands is a long term relationship that is getting built.”
She’s also funded Zero Shop, the first plastic-free grocery delivery service based in the Bay area as well as Encantos, a corporation that combines brands in entertainment and technology for educational purposes for kids 14 and younger. President and Chief Creative Officer of Encantos Susie Jaramillo tells HipLatina, “[Hernandez] was the first investor that looked like her that we had ever talked to – and it was such a pleasure to share what we were doing with a Latina investor who was really living similarly to us – in essence, a Latina Mom, raising bilingual kids. She understood us instantly. We know that as Latinas we have to do twice as well, and to that end, we want to make sure we are a showcase company in Samara’s portfolio.”
— Chingona Ventures (@ChingonaVC) January 27, 2020
While she hopes to work with more minorities and women, Hernandez admits that her own mentors have been mostly white men. “I wanna say that it’s obviously not easy but I’ve been fortunate to find mentors, particularly white men, that have helped me in this process.” Working among main white men means she sometimes struggles with impostor syndrome but says that fronting Chingona Ventures means she can’t fall into that mindset.
“I don’t want to tell myself, oh I’m a Latina so I can’t raise a fund or this won’t want to work with me. I’m not only a Latina, I’m a woman, a mother, I was pregnant while I was fundraising, so that adds a whole other level of trying to be a super mom, super founder of a company,” she says. “It’s like wow, I’m able to do this and hopefully I can open the door for other people and that it’s high quality and high growth businesses that just needs the extra capital to get to that next level.”
According to the 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, for every 10 women-owned businesses launched since 2007, eight were started by women of color. Additionally, between 2007-2016, there was a 137 percent increase in Latina-owned businesses, the report found. Over the past 10 years, the number of Latino business owners grew 34 percent, according to a study from Stanford University, though they also found these businesses had average revenues of $1.2 million a year compared to $2.3 million for non-Latino companies.
“Many don’t get past a million dollars in revenue and maybe some of these are small mom and pop shops, maybe they can’t get access to this capital, maybe it’s a generational thing,” Hernandez explains. She says the tech community can help Latinx entrepreneurs and brings up the example of Jackie Garza who tweeted about her dad’s panaderia, La Casa Bakery, which was on the verge of closing after declining sales but her tweet quickly went viral and ultimately saved his business. This key use of technology along with capital is something she says many Latino entrepreneurs would benefit from and would allow them to go over the one-million mark.
But it’s not just advancing the use of technology for Latinx entrepreneurs that she considers integral, it’s also about shifting the perspective regarding wealth among Latinx. “The ultimate mission is to be able to have us as Latinos to think about wealth in different ways. I think growing up, especially in my household, it was all about saving,” she explains. This idea of saving versus investing, especially among Latinx, is so commonplace when many, like Hernandez, grew up with no cushion. and so the idea of the stock market and high risk business investments is completely foreign, she says. By approaching the idea of wealth differently, she says she’s able to create wealth in a different way and hopefully help develop long-lasting success for Latinx entrepreneurs.
The kind of entrepreneur she’s looking for, therefore, has to not only meet her criteria business-wise, but also has to have a mission she’s aligned with. “I like founders that are hustlers, that have something to prove or have a chip on their shoulder and that will help them through the entrepreneurial cycle. I like to not just understand what they’re doing but why they’re doing it, what’s the bigger picture of what they’re trying to do.” When women and minorities get less than 3 percent of all venture capital funding, she’s working to ensure her portfolio remains diverse while still ensuring she’s funding businesses that have a potential to make money. Even if the company is still in the earliest stages, if it’s a service she believes will meet the needs of consumers she’s likely to provide funding ranging from $100–250k.
Not only is she seeking hustlers, she shares that she also has to fund raise and network and that sometimes it can feel overwhelming, especially when traveling means she doesn’t see her son for nearly a week. She recalls a conversation she had with a friend who is also a Latina founder and new mom and what she said to her completely helped ground her. “She says one of the things I always tell people is you just have to find that one person, that one person that’s willing to take a chance on you, that one person that’s willing to fight for you, be your sponsor. She was talking in the context of getting your first client or getting your first investor, and she’s absolutely right.”
She then put her energy into working with people that she already knew and who had previously fought for her and understood her mission. She cleared her calendar of several meetings and rejected certain companies that wanted her on board. She began trying to find a balance between work and spending time with her husband and son, catching up with friends, and reminding herself of her goals. Just like she can become the person to help take a business to the next level, she also reminded herself of the importance of cultivating relationships in her own network and advises Latina/o entrepreneurs to do the same. “There’s one person, out of a hundred people that say no to you. There’s gonna be one person that’s gonna take a chance on you when you don’t have the experience, when you don’t have money, when you don’t have the traction… find that person, build that relationship, and value that relationship cause that’ll help you take it to the next level.”
As a Latina in a predominantly white space advocating for women, she says it’s important to remember you can only get what you want if you ask for it and it’s important to advocate for yourself and then in turn advocate for others, like she did for the woman on the board. “Women don’t always negotiate or speak up for themselves, they don’t think about it or they’re scared. Sometimes they do and they’re turned down because that’s the way our society works today so for me it’s being able to fight for that – it’s an example of a chingona. I hope to do a lot more of that.”