Alumnus Works to Redefine the Venture Capital Industry

Jasiel Martin-Odoo headshot

Jasiel Martin-Odoom ’16CPS has a mission: to bring equity to the venture capital space. The graduate of The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies is a key player in the movement to make business financing more democratic.

“That was always my North Star,” the 29-year-old former Ozanam Scholar said. “As early as my time at St. John’s, and later as I worked in different spaces, I could identify what I cared about—and that was supplying underrepresented business founders with access to capital.”

Venture capital firms provide financing to start-up companies and small businesses that are viewed as having potential for high rates of growth, often fueled by innovation. Funding comes from wealthy investors or investment banks in exchange for a share of the company. The television show Shark Tank has brought venture capital into popular culture on a small scale.

In 2021, more than $320 billion of venture capital was invested, according to industry data. Of that, only $4.2 billion was invested in Black-owned firms, and only $6.9 billion in firms owned wholly by women. 

Mr. Martin-Odoom, a native of Ghana, has made addressing those inequities his life’s work. A Senior Investment Associate at the Colorado-based firm Unreasonable Group, he specializes in identifying and funding companies historically overlooked by the venture capital establishment.

Based in London, Mr. Martin-Odoom is a leading figure in the firm’s invitation-only, socially conscious investment group known as Unreasonable Collective, which has raised more than $8 million for emerging companies in the United States, Great Britain, and the Asia-Pacific region. To be chosen for Collective funding, ventures must profitably solve social and environmental challenges such as climate change, food supplies, education, and more

“In the venture capital industry, capital in startups has historically flowed toward White men,” Mr. Martin-Odoom said. “But in many cases these underrepresented companies are solving real-world problems.”

Experience has taught him that many underrepresented companies are worthwhile investments. Because they have been traditionally overlooked for funding, many Black- and female-founded companies are better able to adapt as the business environment changes. That agility is something investors ought to appreciate, he said.

“These underrepresented companies are used to not having funding,” Mr. Martin-Odoom said. “So they’re quicker on their feet. I am so excited about the kinds of founders I get to work with.”        

A Criminal Justice major at St. John’s, his life did a pivot during a semester at the University’s Rome, Italy campus with his fellow Ozanam scholars. While browsing, he noticed the book How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas by innovation scholar David Bornstein. It got him thinking.

After completing his undergraduate degree, he went to New York University, where in 2018 he earned a Master of Public Administration degree with a concentration in social impact, innovation, and investment. During an internship at a North Carolina-based nonprofit, he saw how entrepreneurship could redefine financing in the nonprofit space.

“Up to that point, the only way in which nonprofits could think about leveraging money to affect social change was through charity,” Mr. Martin-Odoom explained. “Since then, we’ve seen how entrepreneurship—people creating things—can help other people.”

This was always his goal—to use his investment expertise to advance projects with real social impact. His advice to entrepreneurs seeking financial backing is simple. 

“First, build the best business possible,” he said. “Then tell the story around what you are doing. That’s what I tell my founders.”