Women of Color in FinTech: We Exist

8 min readDec 16, 2022


Originally published November 15, 2021

After I finished my interview with Jason Shuman, Partner at Primary Venture Partners, I found myself going over the conversation, how it went, and whether my questions were thoughtful enough, when it dawned on me! Our VC Unleashed FinTech Breakdown Series consisted solely of men; great allies but still all men.

When I searched “top fintech founders and investors”, again the results were primarily men. I did find a few women during my search but rarely were these women of color (WoC).

So in this piece, I’ll be spotlighting some of my favorite fintech WoC investors and founders because we do exist. I want to possess a reference that I can send to investors that will make them aware of the talented and capable WoC in fintech. My hope is that this article will help connect founders to capital and resources.

Context on the Current Dynamics and Reality to Access Capital for Women:

According to the Center for Financial Inclusion’s “Including Women in Inclusive Fintech” women-led fintech companies encounter unique challenges to raising capital (for all the reasons we know: bias, access, dearth of women investors). However, when women-led companies secure funding “[they] generate higher revenues than those without women in leadership positions.” This supports the research from BCG that women-led companies generate 10% higher revenue than their male peers.

The research shows that women-led fintech companies generate a higher revenue than men-led fintech companies.


● 2.1% of venture capital dollars were invested in women-founded companies according to Pitchbook (2020).

● 0.9% of women founders in the fintech space raised venture capital dollars according to Crunchbase (2020).

I wasn’t able to find stats for WoC fintech founders, but if the above trend holds the information would show similar or worse numbers.

It’s time for our voices to be heard and our stories to be told. It’s time to highlight and amplify the amazing, incredible, and PROFIT generating WoC founders and amazing FinTech investors. I’ll dig into WoC investing in FinTech and use the FinTech Market map I created a couple of weeks ago as my framework to highlight founders within those verticals.

The Rainmakers AKA Investors

For this article, I had the pleasure of speaking with Katie Palencsar, Managing Director and Global Head of the Female Innovators Lab. Katie is a founder turned investor. It was refreshing to speak with a fellow first-generation college student who has lived experience of the power of access to education and opportunity. Katie is deeply committed to providing a platform for diverse talent to break in and succeed in tech.

The Female Innovators Lab (FIL) was born out of Anthemis and Barclays. It is well known that your pipeline is a product of your network, your team, and your partnerships. As an extremely diverse team, Anthemis was seeing a huge deal flow consisting of women-led fintech companies, and they identified an opportunity to support these businesses. The fund validated that there is not a pipeline problem but instead a systemic issue.

During my conversation with Katie, we spoke about the origins of the FIL in partnership with Anthemis and Barclays, a first of its kind venture studio and venture capital fund investing in women-led fintech companies. Since its inception in 2019, they have been able to grow their fund to $30M in two years. Their investment strategy is deeply rooted in their belief that capital AND resources are the keys for their portfolio companies to succeed. They have an extremely customized approach to support their companies with a product, tech, talent, and most importantly help their portfolio companies reach the next stage of fundraising by leveraging their relationships with investors and the reputation that comes along with Antemis’s decade-long track record.

When I asked Katie how FIL was thinking about changing the venture ecosystem, she told me they are making a huge bet on a virtuous cycle. She sees this cycle consisting of real capital, a talented portfolio support team for founders, and the importance of diverse founders — you can’t be, what you can’t see, network effects, and market validation.

For now, the FIL is one of the few funds that is laser-focused on women in fintech. However, you are seeing generalist funds with an investment thesis around investing in women-led companies prioritizing more fintech deals. Below, I’ll highlight a couple of my favorite women of color investors investing in fintech and of course to kick us off we will start with Katie!

Katie Palencsar, Managing Director and Global Head of the Female Innovators Lab

Stage: Idea to early stage

Check Size: $400K to a $1M but depends on funding needs

Important Investments: swaypay, Nivelo, First Boulevard, DwellWell

Location: New York, NY

Contact: @damekatiep

Jillian Williams, Principal, Cowboy Ventures (also Anthemis alumna)

Stage: Seed

Check Size: $500k — $3M

Important Investments: Pipe, Rally Rd, Maxwell [1]

Location: New York, NY

Contact: @Jillwillnyc and @Cowboyvc

Mercedes Bent, Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners

Stage: Early-Stage

Important Investments: Flink, Stori, Hawku

Location: San Francisco, CA

Contact: @mercebent

Samara Mejia Hernandez, Founding Partner, Chingona Ventures

Stage: Pre-Seed

Check Size: $250k-$750k

Important Investments: paer-pay

Location: Chicago, IL

Contact: @SamaraMHernandz

Miriam Rivera, Managing Director, Ulu Ventures

Stage: Seed

Important Investments: Ellevest, Cerebro Capital, SoFi

Location: San Francisco, CA

Contact: @miriamulu1

For more WoC investors, I’m also sharing this list that highlights Black Women in VC by Sydney Thomas, Principal at Precursor Ventures!

Consumer Finance

Maya Nijhawan, Co-Founder & Head of Marketing, Finch

Finch [1] is an industry-first everyday account that is an accessible and easy way to leverage auto-saving and flexible checking with the goal of closing the generational wealth gap. Before founding Finch, Maya worked at consumer and tech companies leveraging her strong chops in finance, accounting, and marketing. Maya saw a market opportunity to serve the Millennial community who are holding most of their assets in cash instead of putting them to work.

Stage: Seed

Funding Status: $1.8M

Location: Boston, MA

Asya Bradley, Founder, First Boulevard & Investor

First Boulevard is a fintech startup that aims to address the generational wealth gap for Black Americans. Asya is the Founder of First Boulevard focused on banking and building wealth for the Black Community. First Boulevard has almost 300,000 people on its waitlist. They are also backed by the Female Innovators Lab.

Stage: Series A

Funding Status: $20M

Location: Marin County, CA

Beatriz Acevedo, CEO & Co-Founder, SUMA Wealth

SUMA Wealth is a financial inclusion platform with a focus on closing the wealth gap in the Latino community by creating culturally relevant content, virtual experiences, and financial tools that reimagine financial wellness through education and entertainment. Beatriz Acevedo is an experienced executive and founder of Mitú, a Latino-focused entertainment company.

Stage: Pre-Seed

Funding Status: $3.3M

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Karen Rios, Co-Founder, Lifesaver

Lifesaver is a developer of a universal banking platform designed for managing, discovering, and opening accounts across banks and credit unions. Karen’s impetus to start Lifesaver came out of her mission to reimagine financial access and her experience spending over a decade working for a hedge fund prepared her with unique insights on how to accomplish it.

Stage: Pre-Seed

Funding Status: $200K

Location: New York, NY

Alternative Lending

Renee King, Founder, fundBlackFounders

fundBlackfounders is a crowdfunding and capital ecosystem for emerging Black Entrepreneurs. Renee’s impetus for starting fundBlackfounders was her understanding of the massive discrepancy that exists for Black Founders raising institutional capital. Before fundBlackfounders, Renee founded TechUrElders, a tech-enabled service offering technology tools and tips to help you care for your elders.

Stage: Privately Held

Funding Status: No Capital Raised

Location: New York, NY

Wealth Tech

Chengchen Li, Founder & CEO, Penguin Benefits

Penguin Benefits is an insurtech company that helps families understand insurance and benefits and maintain financial stability during the important life event of having a baby. Chengchen’s catalyst to launch Penguin Benefits came from her personal experience as she welcomed her first child and had to walk through the complicated insurance process before starting her MBA at Stanford MSx.

Stage: Privately Held

Funding Status: Undisclosed

Location: San Jose, CA

Eve Halimi, Co-founder, and Co-CEO of Alinea

Alinea is a Gen Z-focused investing company that provides users access to stacks of different stocks. Eve started Alinea with the goal of getting more women and people of color into investing and making the space more accessible.

Stage: Seed

Funding Status: $2.23M

Location: New York, NY

Digital Assets

Carmelle Cadet, Founder & CEO, EMTECH

EMTECH is a fintech company that is working with central banks to serve the underbanked, developing, and emerging markets by leveraging blockchain, digital currency, data analytics, and AI to mitigate risk, drive financial inclusion, and offer faster regulatory innovation through robust ecosystem integration. After a fruitful career at IBM, she went on to found EMTECH with the belief that digital assets would be the way to help unserved communities.

Stage: Seed

Funding Status: Undisclosed

Location: New York, NY


Eli Polanco — Founder & CEO — Nivelo

Nivelo is a developer of adaptive threat detection technology intended to manage credit and debit payment risk in real-time. Eli has deep industry expertise in payments products and believes that the global pandemic only further demonstrated the importance of Nivelo’s solution of keeping the digital system safe.

Stage: Seed

Funding Status: Raised $2.5M

Location: New York, NYLeave a comment

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NYC-based, Columbia MBA, Founder, Latina obsessed with entrepreneurship and all things VC