Monique Woodard personifies a healthy diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem.
As a Founding Partner of Black Founders, a network of African American entrepreneurs, an entrepreneur herself and a former Fellow in the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, Monique’s experience spans all areas of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Her continued efforts around diversity and inclusion tied into a robust work experience have marked her as a trailblazer in the technology and innovation sectors, a designation that landed her a role as 500 Startups newest Partner, and its first African American partner.
At 500 Startups Monique will continue to use her rich experiences in tech to help talented entrepreneurs reach their full potential by providing both funding and guidance.
Monique credits her depth of industry knowledge to her experience as a Civic Innovation Fellow, where she worked on innovation projects for the entire city of San Francisco. Creating products for people of all different lifestyles, income and education levels gave Monique a broader perspective on innovation and the populations she was serving.
“It makes you more thoughtful about the product you are building. You think about how to best serve the economic strata and you become a more empathetic product builder,” said Monique in a conversation with NVCA.
The experiences Monique had as a Civic Innovation Fellow, coupled with her experience starting and leading Black Founders, developed in her a strong desire to help underrepresented entrepreneurs get funded.
“At Black Founders, I saw a lot of great entrepreneurs struggle with fundraising, especially at the early stages,” she recalled. “I knew my next mission was to have an impact on funding these entrepreneurs.”
With the goal of eventually shifting to the investment side of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, Monique began considering rolling out a syndicate or a full fund for underrepresented entrepreneurs. Around this same time, Black Founders and 500 Startups were discussing a potential collaboration. These initial meetings led to further conversations about Monique’s position as a Venture Partner at 500 Startups.
“500 Startups is a very active investor and has a thesis around writing a lot of early checks. This matched my own desire to write a lot of checks—because that’s how you get better at investing—and being able to provide funding for seed stage companies,” Monique noted.
Another aspect that matched was 500 Startup’s commitment to diversity, especially within the organization.
“500 Startups does a good job of making sure that diversity is a part of the culture of our company.” Monique said with pride. “We do a good job of selecting founders who are women, black, Latino, and from outside of Silicon Valley. There are lots of women on the investing team including our Founding Partner, Christine Tsai. By choosing to hire the investors that we do and fund the companies we do, [500 Startups] make an important statement on diversity.”
This new role allows Monique to further champion diversity in tech by setting the example for anyone who feels like an outsider in the start-up world.
“I see this as an opportunity to be an example for people interested in venture capital who didn’t previously see others like themselves in the industry. Being able to be a representative of that [diversity] is important for bringing on new diverse team members.”
Amidst all this recognition for her work in diversity, Monique does not overlook the importance of her own portfolio and performance in investing.
“It is great that people can look at me and be inspired, but at the end of the day, I’m only as good as my investments,” added Monique.
Monique will continue to be a leader to watch as she grows the ecosystem through venture investments and continues her diversity initiative, disrupting the status quo of disruptive technology.