Louisville founder joins Renew Venture Capital as general partner
March 16, 2022
A Louisville startup founder and ecosystem builder has joined a newly-established venture capital firm that looks to invest in social impact companies and historically underrepresented entrepreneurs.
Natalia Bishop, founder of Story and Level Up, entrepreneur in residence at Amplify and director of innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Louisville, has joined Renew Venture Capital as general partner. The new firm is raising a $50 million fund, which will be used to write early-stage checks to scalable startups committed to social impact, as well as women, LGBTQ+, Black, LatinX and other diverse founders that have been excluded in venture capital.
Aside from Bishop, Renew VC has six other general partners spread across North America, Mark Hubbard (Atlanta), Melanie Akwule (Washington DC), Paul Armstrong (Cincinnati), Neha Bahl (Toronto), Cynthia Phillips (Phoenix and Los Angeles) and Rebecca Turk (Atlanta and Los Angeles).
In an interview Wednesday, Bishop said it was her experience trying to raise funding for Level Up that pushed her to start to think about becoming an investor. In 2020 alone, the lifestyle-turned-edtech company had won a Vogt Award, completed Endeavor's Scale Up accelerator and won the 5 Across Final Pitch competition.
"We had great traction and great revenue, but I still couldn't close my pre-seed round," she said. "This wasn't a huge round and it should have been doable with that level of traction. So I started thinking, 'Is this the hill I want to die on? Is this what I want to do?' And for me, Level Up was always about the exit. I mean, I wanted to do the impact, but it was always about taking whatever exit I had and investing it right back into the founders who look like me."
Bishop, a Colombian immigrant, starting seeing other investors that were redefining what venture capital looked like, such as Mac Conwell, managing partner of RareBreed Ventures, and Arlan Hamilton, founder of Backstage Capital. She realized she didn't have to wait years or exit a company for millions to make a meaningful impact and start investing.
Then last year, Bishop went through 500 Global's VC Unlocked program, which helps educate emerging investors. She had already honed in on her own investment thesis when she was introduced to Hubbard, the founding partner of Renew.
"We just hit it off," Bishop said. "Mark was asking questions like, 'What does it look like to be a founder of color? What is it like as female founder? What are the hurdles?' so he could build a firm that was inclusive and empathetic."
“I have spent decades deeply immersed in the impact space on both sides of the table," Hubbard said in the news release. "Our founders possess especially limited options for the investment partners of their dreams. VCs tend to be 'all product knowledge and little heart,' and impact investors are often the inverse.
"We have exceptional experience and expertise in digital product design and tech company expansion, and we remain as committed to real impact as any founder. We are not interested in trade-offs."
When the firm began putting together its team of general partners, it sought out Bishop. She was a little hesitant at first because it was a big commitment, but after getting to know the team, she was all in.
"Impact at scale for underrepresented communities is where I want to be," she said.
Bishop said Renew will be writing checks between $150,000 up to $1.5 million, depending on the round and the need. It's not targeting specific verticals or industries given the team's depth of experience, and it'll look at companies based anywhere in North America.
But for Bishop, Louisville is home and she wants to use this platform to enact positive change in the local community, too.
"My plan is to write as many checks within the region as humanly possible and that's my focus," she said. "Then also if we can leverage some of our local or statewide resources to attract more companies that may be on the coasts to relocate here using matching funds, I'm all about that."
Renew VC is looking for accredited investors that share in its theses. Bishop said she'd love to see Louisville investors be able to get some of the returns that will come from its portfolio companies. If you'd like to learn more, reach out to Bishop at email@example.com.