Candice Matthews knows the hurdles facing entrepreneurs of color: She is one herself. Launching her first tech startup right out of college, Matthews raised just over $400,000 in venture funding, one of just 88 Black women at the time. Those odds felt like a challenge. She wanted to strip away the hurdles thrown in front of her because of “who I am and what I look like.” Her first accelerator, launched in 2017, graduated three companies, which raised $2.2 million within 60 days of graduating. A mission was born.
As the CEO of the Lightship Foundation and general partner of Lightship Capital, Matthews cheerleads “remarkable founders from diverse backgrounds,” she says. The two have run accelerators and bootcamps, plus raised capital and shepherded projects with P&G brands Pantene, Crest, and Oral B for startups that include Healthy Roots Dolls, a toy that allows Black girls to “better love and understand their hair,” she says. Matthews sees her work as imperative, noting that white males manage more than 98 percent of assets under management in the U.S.
“Until we can get capital into the hands of everyone, we won’t be able to solve the problems of everyone in the U.S.,” she says.
Matthews cites her childhood as instilling the grit that helps fuel her entrepreneurial spirit. She tells other founders to keep the reason they started their journey close to their hearts and always “follow your True North,” she says.
Hear more about Matthews and her drive to build more venture capital opportunities for people of color, women, and all diverse communities.
I’m passionate about helping other people make their dreams come true. And helping them solve real life challenges. A few years ago, I started my first tech company. So I’ve been an entrepreneur since I left college. I’m not a sit still kind of person, and so entrepreneurship was my path. But back in 2014, I had the idea for a small tech company, I raised some venture capital, I ran out of venture capital. And it was through that process, and just doing a lot of reading that I understood that sometimes the hurdles that are faced are because of who I am and what I look like. I come from a really humble upbringing. And not only were there a lot of children, but my parents just didn’t have a whole lot. And so you have to figure out how to do it. And while being Black is not a monolith, my spouse comes from a long line of doctors and all sorts of things I didn’t. And those challenges made me who I am. I was one of the first 88 Black woman in the country to raise any venture. And at that point, I’d raised just over $400,000. And I thought, well, I’ve never hit a brick wall before in my life. I’d been very successful to that point. And why would this happen because of being a black woman? And so I thought, ‘How do I fix this for my region?’
So I got together with my two co-founders, and we decided to launch an accelerator. So that first pilot year back in 2017, we brought through three companies, and within 60 days of them graduating, they raised $2.2 million in funding. And we we had product market fit. Folks like to invest their time and energy and capital into people they know, like and trust. And we still have issues here in the tech ecosystem, nationally, globally, with folks bridging that divide. So I think the stat that just came out within the last two weeks, was that 1.2% of all venture went to a Black-led company, which doesn’t make sense based on the percentage of the population. So how do we correct those things. There’s a there’s another stat that says that just over 98% of assets managed in the U.S. are managed by white males. That means that just over 1%, is managed by white women and everyone else. So until we can get capital in the hands of everyone, we won’t be able to solve the challenges of of everyone in the U.S.
Lightship is a foundation that supports remarkable founders from diverse backgrounds. We provide that education throughout the heartland of the United States, and really love our work. So we offer accelerators, boot camps, a pitch competition, as well as meetup groups around the country. Lightship capital is a fund that funds remarkable founders, also in the heartland in five key categories. So CPG, e-commerce, sustainability, artificial intelligence, and healthcare. So things we do really well here in the center of the country. We do a lot of outreach with Latino Latina founders. We do a lot of outreach with Black founders. We do a lot of work with LGBTQ founders. And we’re currently trying to bridge the divide with indigenous founders. And so we just do a lot of outreach. I think what happens right now in venture is there’s a lot of inbound work. And not everyone is trying to do the work of outbound to reach communities that that aren’t reaching them.
We host a boot camp called Lightship boot camp. It’s a few days in a house, we breakfast, lunch and dinner together, and we work through how to grow your business. So back in 2019, a young man came to us with an idea to put a dental chair in a mobile van. At the time, he put it in a van, and he went door-to-door business to business school to school with this van, nights and weekends. The first year, he made a few $100,000. So he comes to us for a boot camp and says, ‘I think I’ve got a business here.’ So we spent a few days with him, made some small tweaks. He built a second van, in that second year. We followed his journey. And then he came back to us again and said, I think I can do something bigger. And so we sat down with the chairman of our board Maurice Coffey, who works at Procter and said, ‘Hey, we think that we’ve got a crazy idea. Let’s work on finding corporations and public entities to get together to provide oral care to all.’ And so we’ve done that now in multiple cities around the country. We started a pilot with P&G Crest and Oral B last year. We started the process. And over the last few months, April, May, June of 2022, we went into three cities and tested this project. It’s called Closing America’s Smile Gap with Crest and Oral B. That three city pilot is now moving on to a 15-city activation.
Another company is called Healthy Roots Dolls. It’s a little doll with curly hair, multicultural, textured hair, that allows little Black girls to better love and understand their curls. Two years ago, they did a very large marketing campaign with Pantene Gold, and My Black is Beautiful. And so we’ve had multiple companies that we’ve worked with, but those are kind of highlights that kind of fit here at P&G.
So a few years ago, when I was learning to invest, because it’s a process of picking good companies that could potentially grow and be billion-dollar businesses, I went out to a biotech conference in San Francisco. They give you this book, and you sift through the book and you can figure out which ones do you think are going to be winners and losers. So I sifted through the book, and I looked for the demographics of people that we invest in. So I looked for women’s names throughout. And I went into a room with a young lady who started a company. It’s a progesterone ovulation test. And it’s a room full of men, and me. I’m the only woman in the room, and I was the only Black woman at the conference. And she gets up and she tells the story of how she had had multiple miscarriages and friends around her head too. And she has a doctorate of pharmacology, Dr. Amy Beckley, and she told the story how she’d cobbled together some off the shelf components to build the world’s first viable urine diagnostic test attached to your progesterone levels. We ended up becoming her first investor. It was my first FemTech investment. Since then, they are in multiple real retailers. They are also sold direct to consumer. They just finished a Series A with Quest Diagnostics, which isn’t a small feat. And they’re growing quite rapidly, not only in that space for fertility, but also moving into menopause.
For me, I think the advice is always you know, follow your True North. Make certain that you know what you’re building, while you’re building it. And while lots of opinions may may come around you make certain that you’re following the reason that you got into it, I always let people know that from 10 pm to 2 am, you can be working on that thing before you quit your job. It’s always important to know that you have a customer there, out in the world. And so spend those hours that you could be on a streaming platform or on social media, spend that time instead on trying to build something in a very small and incremental way. And I would also say just don’t give up. This is the hardest work in the world starting something and getting people to buy in on it. But it’s all about not quitting. There’s so many times I could have and it’s just about not giving up. So you know, following your True North spending some time before you actually quit that thing. And then finally just not giving.