Cross Culture looks for investment opportunies in Jamaica

Willing to invest up to US$1 million in seed-stage tech companies

BY KARENA BENNETT
Business reporter
bennettk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

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When Marlon Nichols decided to partner with Atom Factory's Troy Carter on the launch of venture capital company, Cross Culture Ventures, he spared no expense in assisting companies solving problems outside of the typical Silicon Valley bubble.

Using capital from the three year-old company, Nichols has invested into high-potential start-up companies including Gimlet Media, MongoDB, Thrive Market, Fair, Blavity, LISNR, Mayvenn, Wonderschool, among other global companies.

Now, the Jamaican-born entrepreneur wants to bring Cross Culture's resources closer to home and is calling for more entrepreneurs from the Caribbean to become “game–changers” in their industries with the use of technology.

“If it's not a big market but it's a brand new market, that's significantly more interesting to me. When you think about creating a new market and being one of the first company in that market...think about Rideshare versus Uber and Lyft, and how much value those two companies have created.

“Now you have a ton of other companies trying to build a similar mouse trap but they're never going to be as big as those two. They've created a new market and I'm all about finding entrepreneurs that create those new market opportunities,” he said.

Nichols was speaking to a select group of high-potential entrepreneurs at the Branson Centre Summit last week. He highlighted that Caribbean businesses in the healthcare and transportation industries are high on the venture capital's list for potential investment today.

“The question that we always ask ourselves is, where is the world going and how does this company, this solution, fit into it?” What's the challenge that you're going after and how big of a business can this be? Can this be a multi-billion dollar company?

“That part of our core thesis. We believe that culture is the base of human behaviour. So at Cross Culture, we try to understand what people are doing globally today and what they might be doing it in the future,” Nichols said.

Cross Cultures is willing to invest US$50,000 to US$1 million in technology-based operations and is aggressive on being the first institutional investor in the seed-stage companies.

“Seed-stage for us means that you have built a product and you're starting to get some data about how that product is showing up and being perceived in the world. It doesn't necessarily mean you need to be generating revenue today, but you have to be able to at least present key metrics relating to your company to say this is growing month over month here and you're starting to see a trend,” he explained.

CHARTING HIS OWN COURSE

Nichol's foray in venture capitalism began after he got a job at a boutique consulting firm in New York that had the private equity company, Blackstone Group, as one of its clients.

He later joined US-based software start-up, Intel Capital, as the tenth employee before moving to the post of investment director. There, Nichols developed and launched a US$125 million diversity fund targeted at black and brown-skinned individuals and women entrepreneurs.

During his time in business, the venture capitalist recalled signing off on many equity arrangements in global companies with US billion-dollar potential, but he felt that Intel was missing out on stakes in a number of good technology companies because the business models did not identify with Intel's strategic mandate.

His time at the consulting firm also helped him to realise his love for technology and his ambition for being at the executive level.

“What I didn't like was working with one type of technology for a long period of time and I didn't want to necessarily run operations. So that led me to venture capital,” he told the audience.

But after five years at Intel Capital, Nichols wanted to chart his own course and later partnered with Carter to launch Cross Culture Ventures in 2015.

Today, Cross Culture Ventures has invested in 37 start-up companies spanning different industries. Nichols' hardwork has also paid off personally, after he was nominated for the 2018 ADCOLOR in Tech award, a recipient of MVMT50's SXSW 2018 Innovator of the Year award, Digital Diversity's Innovation and Inclusion Change Agent Awards and was named Pitchbook's 25 Black Founders and Venture Capitalists to Watch 2018.

“Most people do expect to generate a return on business, but I think that a lot of investors view diversity funds as that being their mission as opposed to the mission being to make a lot of money.

“So I wanted to make sure that more people like me got investment dollars but I also wanted to make sure that while giving those dollars they weren't looked at differently or they weren't hamstringed in anyway. So part of our mission is, we invest in everybody but we invest in ideas and things that we care about and a lot of those things that we care about are helping the communities that we grow up in, people that look like us,” he said.

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