Antoine Woods Jr. is working round-the-clock to bring his vision to life.
The 34-year-old is at the helm of Vertical404, a newly launched Atlanta-based VC firm and accelerator focused on minority-led tech startups.
Woods, a 3x founder, is actively raising the $10 million fund. The plan is to announce the initial close over the coming months. This investment will “provide the resources to inspire, empower, and position founders of color,” says Woods.
The inaugural accelerator is scheduled to kick off over summer. The focus is on SaaS firms and online marketplaces, serving lifestyle, finance, education, and health sectors. Participating startups must also have at least one full-time Black or Latinx chief exec or co-founder. Companies receive $100K in exchange for a 5% equity stake.
Earlier this week we caught up with Woods to hear more about his ambitious roadmap.
What’s your current role?
I am the founder and CEO of Vertical404, an Atlanta-based venture capital firm and accelerator for Black & Latinx tech founders. As with any early-stage startup, as the founder, I am wearing multiple hats but we are building a great team. Now that we have officially launched, my focus has centered around the strategic direction and growth of the firm’s programming and professional network.
What’s on offer at Vertical404?
At our core, Vertical404 is here to accelerate the success of Black & Latinx entrepreneurs and technologists. Although we are a venture capital firm, our mission far exceeds solely offering financial support — but to provide resources that inspire, empower, and position people of color with the ability to lead sustainable high growth tech companies.
Tell us a little more about your inaugural accelerator and how it will benefit selected teams?
I cannot express how excited I am for our inaugural cohort this summer. We are scheduled to conduct two 12-week cohorts this year and will accept a total of five companies per cohort.
I know this number is small in comparison to what other institutions are currently doing, but we feel it is important to keep our initial batches small and intimate so we have the ability to really get into the weeds with our founders and ensure their companies are positioned to scale both internally and externally.
Each company accepted into the program will receive a financial investment of $100K for 5% equity, designated workspace in the heart of Atlanta, and hands-on one-on-one support from our great team and industry-specific mentors.
What types of startups are best suited to join your accelerator program?
We have an interest in SaaS companies and Online Marketplaces – serving the lifestyle, finance, education, and health sectors. Participating companies must also have one full-time Black or Latinx Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer.
What’s the budget and resources needed to make this happen?
Our inaugural fund will be in excess of $10M. We are actively raising the fund and intend to announce our initial close in the coming months.
What’s your long-term vision or end goal for Vertical404?
Our long-term vision is to change the face of tech by discovering and backing the world’s most talented Black and Latinx technologists, helping them to create successful companies at scale and imploring them to pay it forward within their local communities.
I believe the latter is the most important piece in all of this because we cannot begin to create generational wealth within our communities without first creating generational knowledge – and our goal is to play an active role in making this a reality.
What’s it been like pulling this all together?
Although Vertical404 is designed to invest in startups, we are a startup ourselves. Convincing LP’s to invest in a fund led by a first-time fund manager for the purpose of investing in other unproven founders has provided its own set of obstacles. However, I understand that attempting to create something new or to drive change is difficult in any capacity and will undoubtedly present challenges. This has been the longest time I have ever prepared for a launch, but I know the impact that we can make and that has made the journey very rewarding.
What inspired you to launch Vertical404?
There are so many things that contributed to my desire to launch Vertical404, but in its simplest form I believe that the disparity seen between the success of tech companies led by non-minorities versus those led by people of color is one based not on the quality of the ideas, but the lack of capital and operational experience available within our communities.
I vividly remember the feeling of receiving a $100K from an angel investor for one of my earliest startups and then proceeding to quickly deplete runway because we did not have the operational experience required to successfully position that startup to scale. We simply focused on and placed money in the wrong areas, which is common for young and inexperienced entrepreneurs. Granted I was 21 at the time, but how different would things have panned out if that investment check also came with hands-on guidance and mentorship — I’m confident it would have been a drastically different outcome. Now at 34, I’m focused on using my experiences to help others who look like me experience and sustain entrepreneurial success.
What differentiates Vertical404 from other accelerators?
It’s obvious that startup accelerators have played a critical role in the creation of thousands of startups over the past decade, but how many of these programs emphasize the inclusion of founders of color.
So the most glaring difference is that we are focused solely on Black & Latinx tech founders. Our accelerator is structured to help companies with market positioning, customer acquisition, growth strategy, and fundraising.
We expect companies coming into the program to already have an understanding of product-market fit and participate in our accelerator with the intention to grow significantly.
In addition to offering access to industry-specific mentorship, we are building an in-house distribution team to help our accelerator companies optimize their existing customer acquisition and growth processes during the 12-week program and beyond.
Aside from Vertical404 what startup/tech projects have you worked on?
I am a 3x founder, programmer, brand strategist, and now venture capitalist, so I’ve had the privilege to work on a lot of great projects across a variety of industries.
What tech/tools are important to you?
I’m a techie so I’ve tried a lot of tools over the years, but I now use a simple stack to navigate my day. I use Spark and Slack for communicating, Calendly and Zoom for meetings, 2Do for managing my to-do-list, Google Docs for organizing my thoughts, Pocket for reading articles I’ve previously saved and Spotify, A Tribe Called Quest usually provides the soundtrack to my day.
What are your best techie or creative skills?
I began my career as a programmer and wrote software before transitioning into brand strategy. Prior to founding Vertical404, I operated a branding consultancy that specialized in brand positioning and growth strategy implementation.
Over the years I’ve worked with tech startups as an entrepreneur, developer, operator, and consultant — and I feel the skills gained through these experiences have positioned me to be a great investor and resource to our portfolio companies.
How do you keep up with industry trends in tech?
This is something I’m working on, but I tend to over-consume content at times. I subscribe to several daily newsletters and Google alerts, podcasts, medium articles, and so on.
My social media platform of choice is Twitter because I can curate specific lists that allow me to bypass the noise and view exactly what I need at that time, which I love! I feel it’s important for me to be aware of the latest happenings in tech and venture capital and this consortium of platforms allows me to do so.
For more details about the accelerator and how to apply to our upcoming Vertical4040 inaugural cohort before the deadline click here