Shalanda Armstrong is a managing partner who wants to push for firms to be more intentional about investing early on in companies led by diverse founders rather than waiting for them to embark on an IPO.
During her time as an undergrad in computer science, the Hampton University alumna leaned into her longtime curiosity about learning who funds startups. Then, she went on to shift her inquisitiveness into action.
“Coming out of business school, my goal was to get into venture capital — not really realizing at the time that it was such a small industry and it was very hard to get in, so to speak,” Armstrong told AFROTECH.
Although it was quite a climb, she made her breakthrough into the exclusive space. According to Armstrong, she has had the experience of being an angel investor in more than 25 startups including Arion Long’s Femly and Ashton Keys’ Athlytic. During Michigan Tech Week in October 2023, Keys joined her on a panel titled, “Making the Play: Perspectives on the SportsTech Ecosystem.”
The common factor among all of the companies Armstrong invested in was that the founders all had “an unmeasurable amount of grit, tenacity, and creativity” and were committed to solving issues that have been mainly untapped.
After checking off all the goals she set out to achieve in her tech career, such as landing technology consulting leadership roles at top companies, the Salesforce director pivoted to what she was passionate about, becoming a capital allocator. The initial aspiration transformed into co-founding her own VC firm, 100KM Ventures. The Washington, D.C.-based firm invests in early-stage companies with diverse management teams that focus on femtech, sportstech, and the future of work.
“I wanted to get back to working with early-stage companies,” Armstrong explained. “I wanted to raise a fund and also build out a venture capital firm in Washington, D.C. I think there’s something about Washington, D.C. that gets overlooked in tech where there is proximity to policy that can influence a lot of things. And there’s this disconnect that has existed for so long between Silicon Valley and the government.”
She continued, “I wanted to help to mend that relationship and reimagine what that relationship could look like. And so that is when I was like, alright, it’s time to do it. Now, I’ll be very honest. It’s definitely not easy to launch a fund or start up a firm as a woman of color, but it is also the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done in my career. That is the reason why I keep going.”
Armstrong’s passion for focusing on femtech is driven by her belief that it’s “unacceptable” that there has only been minor advancement in the understanding of women’s health. One of the issues that she wants further explored is how technology can directly address the alarming maternal death rate of women of color. Also, for the future of work, 100KM Ventures focuses on remote work, HR tech, the creator economy, and name, image, and likeness (NIL).
In February 2023, CNBC reported that less than 2% of total VC dollars go to Black entrepreneurs. In addition, Black investors make up only 3% of the VC industry, per Fast Company. Staggering numbers such as these back why Armstrong emphasized the critical need for Black woman investors like herself to help fund Black woman entrepreneurs and provide resources from their network.
“That is the only way that we’re going to continue to progress in the space,” she said. “When you think about the venture capital dollars that go to diverse founders, then you break that up into Black founders, it’s like 1%, but then Black female founders it’s like 0.02%. For that number to really move, we must continue to invest in each other, and we understand the nuance of what it is to get up every day and present ourselves to the world as Black women.”
She added, “And sometimes those who do not have to sit in those shoes, they don’t understand that. So that’s why I think it’s important not only to provide capital but resources around networking or customer introductions — anything that we can do to help move [their companies] forward.”
As for 100KM Ventures, Armstrong shared with AFROTECH that the firm is on the verge of announcing its first close. What’s more, it will have three companies moving into its portfolio.
In terms of expansion, 100KM Ventures aims to continue building out its presence in Washington, D.C., and beyond including in Detroit, MI — Armstrong’s hometown — Baltimore, MD; Raleigh, NC; Nashville, TN; and more. The overall mission is to help provide great talent with access to opportunities as well as support those in cities that aren’t on the mainstream radar as the next emerging tech hubs.