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For Betty Francisco, new startup fund puts money with disadvantaged entrepreneurs

By Jon Chesto and Shirley Leung, Boston Globe

Betty Francisco remembers all too well how hard it was to find financing for her startup fitness business, Reimagine Play. She had established a professional network in the city, first as an attorney for dot-coms and venture capital firms and later as in-house counsel for Sports Club/LA.

But she also knew that very little of the startup capital in Boston went to Latina entrepreneurs like her.

Her fitness business did not pan out. But Francisco is helping dozens of other entrepreneurs of color avoid similar hardships as the chief executive of the Boston Impact Initiative, a nonprofit fund manager. BII’s first fund placed some $7 million with about 50 businesses. Francisco recently launched the second fund, aiming to raise $20 million to support entrepreneurs of color and community-governed real estate; so far, BII has raised about $3 million. Both of these funds are debt funds in which investors receive promissory notes rather than stock, and BII invests both debt and equity into the startups that benefit. Investments in the new fund can range from $1,000 to $25,000 for people with ordinary means, and from $10,000 to $3 million for accredited investors and philanthropies.

The second fund will broaden BII’s geographic reach to include more of Massachusetts beyond Greater Boston, as well as other New England states.

As cofounder of Amplify Latinx, Francisco knows how important it can be to have a powerful advocacy organization on your side. But advocacy can only go so far. With BII, Francisco said BII has financial resources to help small business owners reach critical mass. Helping them build equity can lead to systemic change, by bringing wealth to communities that often lack it. It’s one reason she left her job at Compass Working Capital to join BII as its chief executive in 2021, taking over for its cofounder, Deborah Frieze.

“As a leader within the Boston community that talks about racial justice and how we can amplify leaders of color, we are very limited if we just have one tool, advocacy,” Francisco said. “This organization gives me a very different footprint that allows me to create a fund that is about moving capital but also about advocating for the field to change.”

The hard lessons of her fitness venture from several years ago remind her what BII’s beneficiaries are up against.

“Massachusetts is so rich in resources, but it doesn’t often reach entrepreneurs of color or women,” she said. “I’m pretty well-networked. I know where to look. And even I had a challenging time.”

By Jon Chesto and Shirley Leung, Boston Globe