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Applied Real Intelligence (“A.R.I.”) Announces First-of-Its-Kind Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Investment Council to Create More Equitable Access to Capital for Company Founders

Initiative Marks Key Milestone in Reducing the Funding Gap for Startups Led by Women, Minorities, and Other Underrepresented Founders

Applied Real Intelligence (“A.R.I.”), a venture debt investment firm that provides innovative financing solutions to successful venture capital-backed companies, announced the first members of A.R.I.’s Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Investment Council (“DEI Investment Council”), a first-of-its-kind initiative that marks a key milestone in reducing the funding gap for startups led by underrepresented founders, including women and minorities.

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“A.R.I.’s mission is to democratize access to capital for all types of early-stage founders, including women, people of color, and all other underrepresented groups. This mission is deeply personal to me because I was raised by a single mom who faced significant discrimination as a radio announcer in the 1980s and 1990s which severely impaired her career opportunities.

The economic struggles we faced led me to develop deep empathy for those who have talent and determination but lack access – a familiar situation for many entrepreneurs. I am fueled by this burning desire to create access so the best ideas can be heard, and the most talented founders can be funded. A.R.I.’s team and our DEI Investment Council share the same passion, and we believe our trailblazing efforts will meaningfully contribute to more equitable and efficient investment outcomes,” said Zack Ellison, A.R.I.’s Founder and Chief Investment Officer of A.R.I.’s Venture Debt Opportunities Fund.

Vast wealth is currently being created in technology-enabled companies and sectors. However, less than 5% of venture capital funding goes to women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups, which make up approximately 70% of the U.S. population. Groups that do not have access to exponential growth opportunities may never be able to catch-up economically and will continue to be disadvantaged. Moreover, significant economic growth and the associated investment returns are not being realized under the current structure.

“A.R.I.’s DEI Investment Council will lead the way in democratizing the availability of capital for underrepresented founders. We believe that prioritizing diversity will lead to better economic outcomes, including broad job creation and higher wages, in many underserved communities in the U.S.,” said Mr. Ellison.

A.R.I.’s DEI Investment Council is comprised of diverse and experienced industry leaders and founders who are focused on improving access to capital for underrepresented founders, primarily through three pillars:

  1. Education: Providing strategic and tactical fundraising advice and best practices in capital raising to founders through a series of papers, webinars, social media outreach, and in-person events. The fundraising advice and best practices will be developed by listening to and learning directly from industry practitioners, including women and minority founders, who have successfully contributed to funding start-ups in various capacities.
  2. Connectivity & Partnerships: Facilitating introductions and building connectivity between underrepresented founders and resources that will help create access to capital including: angel investing networks, venture capital firms, family offices, corporations, industry organizations, colleges and universities, incubators and accelerators, business leaders, startup founders, service providers, government organizations, and more.
  3. Commitment of Capital: A.R.I. is actively seeking to commit capital to underrepresented founders and will encourage our partners and members of the DEI Investment Council to prioritize capital introductions and/or direct capital commitments.

Michael Akinyele – Founder and President, IndyGeneUS Health – BA, Howard University; MBA, Stanford

“Equitable access to capital at fair terms is essential to the success of any organization, particularly early-stage companies. I am delighted to partner with the team at Applied Real Intelligence and my colleagues on A.R.I.’s DEI Investment Council in our pioneering efforts to enhance access to capital for all underserved founders,” said Michael Akinyele.

Mr. Michael Akinyele, MBA, SES, is the former, founding Chief Innovation Officer of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the largest federal civilian agency with a $270 billion budget and 400,000 employees. He was appointed to the Senior Executive Service (SES) in 2019, and was responsible for leading, transforming and scaling enterprise innovation at the Department. Prior to his work at the VA, he served as the Director of Venture Development – Health Care at a private foundation with $2 billion in assets and $125 million in annual disbursements.

Currently, Mr. Akinyele leads The Maximizer Group, a startup venture studio and independent advisory firm primarily advising startup companies, investors, and corporations. He is also the Founder and President of IndyGeneUS Health, whose mission is to improve the health outcomes and quality of life of underserved populations by providing affordable access to solutions and support.

Previously, he led management consulting teams focused on developing and implementing solutions to strategic and operational challenges facing multinational corporations. In the U.S. health care industry, he has advised health systems, physician groups, academic medical centers, health plans, pharmaceutical companies, pharmacy benefit managers, and a Medicaid agency. He is a member of the board of the Lymphoma Research Foundation (LRF), the largest foundation focused on funding research aimed at finding a cure and serving those touched by the disease.

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Joy Chen – Founder & CEO, JOYOUS – BA, Duke; MA/MBA, UCLA

“The time is now for women and people of color to finally gain access to the capital they need to grow their businesses. I am so glad to help make this happen as part of A.R.I.’s DEI Investment Council,” said Joy Chen.

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Joy Chen is the Founder & CEO of JOYOUS, an inclusive executive search & leadership consulting firm. She and her team combine best-of-class executive search and DEI expertise with AI and analytics to help companies recruit, retain, and develop the leaders they need to drive inclusion and innovation.

Prior to forming JOYOUS, Joy was a Principal with the global executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, where she led engagements for Fortune 500 companies across North America, Asia, and Europe, and trained the firm’s new Asia partners in executive search best practices.

Joy previously served as a Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles, where she led economic and workforce development for America’s 2nd largest city. In this capacity, she spearheaded a coalition of diverse business, labor, education, and media leaders to create access to new skills and jobs for millions of Californians.

Frequently recognized as an industry thought leader, Joy has been profiled across media including CNN, CBS News, ABC News, Vogue China, Esquire China, and Caixin. The Wall Street Journal calls her a “Lean-in Guru” and the Los Angeles Times refers to her simply as “The Networker.”

Joy also is a popular speaker and writer. In China, she authored two best-sellers, Do Not Marry Before Age 30 (30岁前别结婚) and How to Get Lucky in Your Career (30 岁趁势而为), which launched her as a celebrity career guru, with brand partners including Olay, SK-II and Mercedes.

Gina Sanchez – Founder & CEO, Chantico Global – BA, Harvard; MA, Stanford

“The lack of equitable access to capital for diverse founders remains a key impediment to positive societal change. I am thrilled to join A.R.I.’s DEI Investment Council as we break new ground to support the mission of democratizing access to capital for women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups who have traditionally been underserved by the venture capital ecosystem. A.R.I.’s focus on making venture debt financing accessible to diverse founders will create value for investors while also catalyzing significant socioeconomic change for a ‘win-win’ outcome,” said Gina Sanchez.

As the Chief Executive Officer of Chantico Global, an institutional asset allocation consultant, Ms. Sanchez advises many of the world’s largest pension funds and endowments. In 2013, Chantico Global was spun out of Roubini Global Economics, where Ms. Sanchez was the Director of Equity and Asset Allocation.

Previously, Ms. Sanchez served as Managing Director of Public Investments at the California Endowment, a $3 billion Los Angeles-based foundation, and as Director of Public Investments at the Ford Foundation, a $10 billion New York-based foundation. In both roles, she was responsible for making asset allocation and manager selection recommendations for all external public managers, including both total return and absolute return strategies.

Prior to these roles, Ms. Sanchez spent over a decade in asset management and banking. She was a Portfolio Manager and investment strategist for eight years at American Century Investment Management in Mountain View, California, where she managed over $6.5 billion in assets. She began her career at JPMorgan in New York as a Research Analyst covering Emerging Markets.

Ms. Sanchez is a frequent on-air contributor for CNBC and speaks at many leading global investment conferences, including those hosted by the Milken Institute, California’s State Association of County Retirement Systems (SACRS), Illinois’ Public Pension Fund Association (IPPFA), Terrapinn, Marcus Evans Group, and Markets Group.

Sunny Singh – President, Tech Coast Angels – BS, Indian Institute of Technology; Ph.D., UCLA

“Startups have experienced a surge in capital raised over the last several years. However, funding has been concentrated in entrepreneurs from only a few narrow segments of society, which has not included women and minorities. A.R.I.’s DEI Investment Council will create access to capital for underserved people, industry sectors, and regions in an equitable and inclusive manner – which is exactly what is most needed in the startup ecosystem. There are a massive amount of untapped high-quality investment opportunities being overlooked by other investment firms and A.R.I.’s de novo efforts will help to reduce the funding gap in the market,” said Sunny Singh.

Dr. Digvijay “Sunny” Singh has a broad technology, investing, and business operations background. He started his career with deep engineering projects at Lockheed Martin where he worked on F-16 fighter jets. He earned a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering / Computer Science at UCLA, where he became part of the founding team of an artificial intelligence-based medical device startup which received institutional venture funding and went on to be commercialized with full FDA approval. Sunny subsequently launched his own IT and cybersecurity business which successfully exited in 2020.

Sunny began Angel investing in early-stage startups in 2015 and was invited to join Tech Coast Angels (TCA) in Los Angeles in 2017. He climbed the ranks at TCA over the years and is currently the youngest President in TCA history. Sunny was also the founding and managing member for the first TCA Los Angeles investment fund in 2019. Sunny has reviewed over 2,000 venture capital deals, has a personal investment portfolio of a few dozen startups, and continues to be a highly active investor in Southern California.

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