Walking into Harvard Business School as friends, roommates, and colleagues in 2017, Henri Pierre-Jacques (MBA 2019) and Jarrid Tingle (MBA 2019) already knew each other well. What they didn’t know yet was how their angel syndicate, Harlem Capital, would grow, evolve, and change the face of entrepreneurship over the next two years and beyond.

The Early Days of Harlem Capital

The Harlem Capital story begins well before that first day on campus. In 2015, Pierre-Jacques and Tingle first joined forces at ICV Partners, a middle-market minority owned private equity firm founded by Willie Woods (MBA 1993), after each launching their careers in investment banking. “Joining ICV was a great experience and eye opening for us because we were used to being in majority environments,” said Tingle. “Also, at a smaller firm you were involved with everything, from investments, to legal, to tax, to portfolio management which created a great preamble before Harlem Capital.”

While working at ICV, Tingle and Pierre-Jacques were also part of the Management Leadership for Tomorrow career program, an organization founded by John Rice (MBA 1992). Through this program, designed to ensure underrepresented minorities are able to get on and stay on the path to senior leadership, Tingle and Pierre-Jacques connected with friends who shared their passion for investing. Their group of six, including co-founder and current Harlem Capital Venture Partner, Brandon Bryant, sat together in Tingle’s living room in Harlem, New York and started an angel syndicate in which they invested their own personal capital into startups, small business, and real estate. “After two years, we pivoted the syndicate to be venture only and focused purely on diversity because most of our companies were diverse,” explained Pierre-Jacques.

Taking the Next Step with HBS

As their careers at ICV grew alongside their work at Harlem Capital, Pierre-Jacques and Tingle both had decisions to make about where to go from here. For Pierre-Jacques, that next step was clear and had been for years. “I took my GMAT my senior year of college knowing, based on conversations with mentors and looking at my role models in business, that I wanted to go to business school,” he said. HBS was also always his top choice. “I chose ICV (as my next company after working in investment banking) because I wanted to work for a black-owned firm for the first time in my life, and partially because four out of the five partners went to HBS.”

For Tingle, the path to HBS was different. After graduating from Wharton undergrad, launching his career in investment banking, and then joining ICV Partners alongside Pierre-Jacques, he wasn’t sold on the idea of business school. “A lot of my smart peers were deciding to get MBAs so I kept an open mind. Then, through the Management Leaders of Tomorrow program, and speaking with HBS alumni, I got excited about it and decided to apply to HBS in the second round,” he said. Pierre-Jacques was also close by lending encouragement to his colleague, and some friendly pressure to get his application in.

From HBS, Tingle was looking to gain skills and experience he could take back with him to investing, either going back to private equity or seeing how far he and Pierre-Jacques could take Harlem Capital. At the onset, he was heavily leaning towards the private equity option. However, for Pierre-Jacques it quickly became obvious in his early days at HBS that there was a gap in venture capital that the fund he and Tingle had created would fill.

“As I recruited for venture capital, I found that there weren’t any VC funds of scale that had partners of color; the VC funds that did have partners of color were smaller,” he said. “And from a diversity perspective, most funds were gender focused versus racially focused.” With an introduction from Jeff Bussgang to Jodi Gernon at the HBS Rock Center for Entrepreneurship, Pierre-Jacques sought and received funding from the Rock Fellowship Program to scale Harlem Capital. After convincing Tingle to forego a summer internship, the two worked together to fundraise over the summer and then into their second year of business school.

The Entrepreneurial Leap

Joining up with Pierre-Jacques to take Harlem Capital to the next level was not an easy choice for Tingle. “It was nerve racking, I really liked what we were doing at Harlem Capital, but I didn’t necessarily see it as anywhere close to being a safe endeavor. I came from a low-income background, I didn’t have a safety net, and I had to pay for HBS through loans, so I didn’t know how to make it work. On paper it didn’t make any sense.”

Recruiting for private equity to join a major firm seemed like the best choice, and a path he was successfully proceeding down in 2017-2018. However, continued discussions with Pierre-Jacques and coaching sessions with Jonathan Shepherd, HBS Career Coach, led Tingle to decide Harlem Capital was ultimately worth the risk. “I was sold on the team; I was sold on the mission. And your internship between your first and second year is really a time to take risks,” Tingle advised. “Being at HBS and having relevant experience beforehand means that you can do an operating role or work for a startup and still be very competitive in the full-time recruiting process. Also, the support of the Rock Center made a huge difference.”

With both Pierre-Jacques and Tingle on board, they made great use of their summer and built the Harlem Capital platform, taking that work into their second year at HBS. The risk paid off and by graduation in 2019, they were both able to make Managing Partner at Harlem Capital their full-time role, running and growing the firm and taking it to new heights.

Scaling Harlem Capital

Fast forward the Harlem Capital story and in fall 2019 they closed their first fund at $40 million with TPG as their anchor investor. The fund has investments in 23 companies around the US in 12 different industries. In addition, the team hired two new associates and created a robust internship program.

“In terms of where we want to take Harlem Capital, we want to raise a billion dollars in capital by 2030 and we want to be an institution that is around long-term,” said Pierre-Jacques. “Diversity as an asset class is pretty new and given our brand and our supporters if we are able to execute and make money there are endless ways for us to go which is exciting.”

Ultimately, for both Pierre-Jacques and Tingle, it is about much more than making money; it’s about impacting a culture by investing in innovative companies led by women and diverse entrepreneurs. Pierre-Jacques said, “We have a unique opportunity to change the face of entrepreneurship and create the minority renaissance for venture capital. We have had a lot of people reach out to us who don’t have experience in finance and who haven’t had exposure to investment banking. The opportunity to engage with people in these communities will take us further than most VC firms can go. You can’t put a monetary value on cultural impact”

The was originally published on the HBS Alumni Careers Blog.