Monique Woodard Unveils Cake Ventures, New $17 Million Fund Focused On ‘Demographic Change’

The black founder-turned-investor will write seed and pre-seed checks, backed by investors including Bank of America and billionaire Melinda French Gates.

In March 2021, Monique Woodard closed part of the first fund of her new venture capital firm, Cake Ventures, and got to work. Many companies point to technological change as the North Star of their portfolios; a smaller but growing number focus on underrepresented founders who may be overlooked by some of Silicon Valley’s traditional check writers.

Woodard, a two-decade veteran of startups and venture capital, was more interested in new companies driving demographic change in a handful of very specific areas three complementary “layers” of a pie: our aging, health-conscious population longevity; the increased earning power of women in society; and the shift to “majority-minority,” as Woodard put it, a “new majority” of early technology adopters from Asian, Black, and Latino backgrounds.

Startups that fit such a thesis, according to Woodard, would cater to customer bases that reflected those layers. Take Rares, a social investment site enabling fractional ownership of collectives like sneakers, which embraces Black, Latina and Asian cultural influences; or Most Days, an app for establishing healthy routines in areas like sleep and depression, which is primarily used by women.

“It’s the lens through which I view businesses,” Woodard said. Forbes— and a thesis, she claimed, that didn’t quite fit into an existing business. “Even companies that don’t ‘look’ like demographic change companies on the surface have a layer of them under the hood.”

Now, after holding Cake Ventures’ final closing in November, San Francisco-based Woodard is announcing its first fund. A $17 million vehicle, the fund will focus on pre-seed and seed investments, targeting an approximate check of $500,000. Woodard is a founding partner and managing director of the firm, but plans to hire a venture capital partner and junior investment staff later this year.

Cake will seek to make approximately 25 investments in total from its fund; Woodard has made 12 so far. The portfolio already includes companies like Rares and Most Days, but also training startup Bright, household bill tracker Gerald, disability and neuro-divergence support company Joshin, among others. While that status isn’t a prerequisite for investing, about 40% of his investments to date are led by female founders, Woodard said, and 40% by founders who identify as black — a consequence. natural, Woodard added, to “change who sits on the investor side of the table.

The new fund is backed by limited partners including Bank of America, Cendana Ventures, Foundry Group, Gates’ Pivotal Ventures, Plexo Capital and Screendoor. (Woodard said more than 25% of committed LP dollars came from female investors.) At Pivotal, the investment arm of billionaire philanthropist Melinda French Gates, chief investment officer Erin Harkless Moore said Woodard impressed in as a TechStars Accelerator Advisor and Mentor. focused on longevity that Pivotal co-sponsored.

“So many other funds now focus on ‘diversity’, or diverse founders, or diverse demographics,” Harkless Moore said. “Where Monique stands out is that she delves into the depth of her research and examines the type of products, services and technologies that these consumers need.” Woodard wrote a report on aging titled “Grey New World” in 2020, noted Harkless Moore, which demonstrated his thinking about the ramifications of an aging population. This led to an investment in Guaranteed, which seeks to use technology to revamp end-of-life care.

Despite such support, Woodard said raising Cake Ventures’ first fund was a difficult process, despite a career that included building and selling an ad network, launching a mobile shopping startup and stints. as a Venture Partner at 500 Startups, a Venture Scout at Lightspeed Venture Partners, and an ongoing advisory role with SoftBank’s Emerge startup accelerator Vision Fund.

Woodard originally planned to raise $20 million; she ultimately opted to close the fund and move forward with less. “I’ve said before that fundraising is doing venture capital in hard mode. And fundraising as a woman is like crawling through glass, and fundraising as a black woman is like crawling through glass with no clothes on, then they pour fire ants all over you “, she said. “So it was always going to be difficult.”

For startups that are also finding the current funding environment challenging, Woodard said she hasn’t seen a significant slowdown in the number of entrepreneurs launching new ventures in the early stages. The valuations at which investors value these startups have continued to decline, however, she said.

And while many eyes in the company are currently on artificial intelligence and generative AI applications (as they may have done for crypto and Web3 before), Woodard said she was playing a different game. “A lot of these technologies are important and great technologies,” she said. “But I think what people forget, frankly, is the people.” The user base, she added, for these products is changing. Ignore this and you might end up building for an empty room.