Black investors today hold just 3% of partner-level positions at venture capital firms. That has to change, says Sherrard Harrington, chairman of the Black-owned venture capital firm and business incubator EonXI that he and current NBA star Spencer Dinwiddie founded in 2019. EonXI ‘s own mission includes assisting diverse influencers, athletes, and entrepreneurs in building tech-based financial empires.
EonXI, according to chief operating officer Aaron Wilson, focuses on staking fledgling startups in blockchain, gaming, and the metaverse. “When you get to Web 3, you get to why our company exists. Eon represents a billion ideas,” Wilson beams. “X is the problem, and I stands for innovation and inclusiveness via interoperability, the underlying philosophy behind Web 3 and the basis for blockchain and the distributed ledger.”
In just four years, Harrington and Wilson have built two distinct entities, EonXI Ventures, the investor team, and EonXI Labs, an incubator that spins out and develops new concepts. The partners got a huge boost in 2020 through investing in Dapper Labs, creators of NBA Top Shot, a marketplace for trading virtual basketball highlights that helped drive this year’s non-fungible token (NFT) boom.
By April 2021, Dapper Labs had raised new funding at a $7.5 billion valuation, and EonXI had gained the visibility and reputation needed to launch more new ventures. EonXI Labs today has a team of software engineers who are also traditional full-stack engineers and operators working on ideas for integrating achievers in minority communities into the investment marketplace.
Harrington, noting Facebook’s name change to Meta, says that EonXI plans to launch its own metaverse project in the near future. This virtual reality space, in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users, he asserts, is the new avenue for empowering developers, building communities, and incentivizing individuals from all walks of like to create new infrastructures and build new businesses.
The metaverse, Wilson added, is the opportunity for EonXI to provide others with the chance to get involved with emerging tech and not be on the sidelines. It enables the disenfranchised to get in on the ground floor, as opposed to riding the tail end, of something that is changing the way we think, communicate, and interact with others.
Harrington, who grew up in northeast Washington, D.C., did not have a computer until his football skills won him a scholarship to the University of Colorado. When faced with a career-ending injury, he turned to the investment universe as his pathway to prosperity. But Harrington also insisted on a broader purpose: Making it easier for people living in communities like his childhood home to generate wealth to break the chain of poverty and despair.
Wilson and his partner Kelvin “PJ Kev” Mensah, says Harrington, were well known across Colorado for an “amazing” track record as top recruiters working with premiere startup organizations and top-tier influencers. Harrington teasingly boasted that, “I put on my recruiter hat and poached those guys to bring them into the infrastructure and build out a robust team. I was fortunate to bring them on board.”
Wilson and Mensah are coauthors of the widely praised “How To Get Funding for Your Startup,” a book which Enspire reviewer Re’Dreyona Walker says bridges the information gap for entrepreneurs, small business owners, and professionals from all socioeconomic classes. The book provides access to resources and information that successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists have used to grow their businesses quickly.
Wilson says, “Bridging the resource gap is imperative if we want to create more opportunities for diverse entrepreneurs. Paying lip service will no longer be tolerated. We must all be held accountable.” He jumped at the opportunity to create an entity focused on providing opportunities for entrepreneurs whose ethnicity heretofore excluded them from access to capital.
Even during the pandemic lockdowns of 2020, Dinwiddie, Harrington, Wilson, and the EonXI team were working to raise $25 million from outside investors, negotiate new deals, and make new hires. Early on they had recognized that the decentralized Web 3 provided an easier pathway for people from diverse and underrepresented communities to breach previously high barriers to entry into technology and computer science disciplines.
Building on their successful partnership with Dapper Labs, EonXI recently partnered with neuroscience data company State Space to create a fully academically integrated e-sports league and thus bring emerging tech into inner cities. The league will introduce Steam and stem-oriented coursework and create career paths that correlate with the e-sports sector.
Wilson says EonXI has “an A+ product and an A+ team” that is already having an impact. The company is busy building a “robust ecosystem” of more than a thousand diverse developers from all walks of life over the next five years. This involves identifying people who share the EonXI vision of making a change in inner-city communities using what they call “trickle-down” capital formation and growth.
Wilson argues that access to capital is the barrier that must be bridged to lessen and eventually eliminate the resource gap between inner city and middle- and upper-class communities. Access to capital is what provides access to technology, and yet even today most American minorities have literally no access to capital-intensive resources or to money in general.
“We are looking to address certain social issues by redefining diversity and what it means, Wilson added. For EonXI, diversity means “hiring developers from all walks of life who work together in a collaborative setting to procreate and build concepts that eliminate the divisiveness that plagues American society today.”
EonXI intends to build next-generation limited and general partners in venture capital and Web 3-based enterprises by recruiting and training prospects who will in turn build wealth in the underserved communities from which they came. This top-down approach begins with limited partners who build networks that include equity firms with family offices that in turn hire fund managers and start up their own enterprises.
“We looked at it as, ‘hey, we knocked on doors, and they didn’t want to let us in the club,'” Wilson told Forbes. “So, when they don’t let you in the club, what do you do? Create your own.”
“A lot of people,” says Wilson, “have been paying lip service [to economic empowerment for minorities] but have not made the effort or put their money where their mouth is. Many are just content with complaining, but we are taking a stand and doing something about it.”
“We are changing the world, and we are looking for individuals who would like to join us in doing so– whether you are an investor, a large enterprise, or a strategic partner. We want to create the next wave of investors and founders and entrepreneurs – and we are looking for individuals who would like to be a part of that.”
Duggan Flanakin is a policy analyst and journalist based in Austin, Texas.