Venture capital with a conscience has hit the streets of Milwaukee through the opening of the city’s newest VC firm: VC 414.
Founded by venture capitalist and angel investor Jennifer Abele and former BMO Harris executive Raquel Filmanowicz, VC 414 launched at the start of the month with one mission in mind: to help underrepresented founders grow their businesses and create generational wealth.
“We believe that (Raquel) is the first Latina general partner in a venture capital firm in Wisconsin,” Abele said. “In the United States, there are less than 30. This is actually a really big deal that she’s half-owner of this company. It’s pretty groundbreaking.”
Abele and Filmanowicz are tackling their mission with the help of VC 414 partner Scott Williams. After spending years splitting his time between Milwaukee and Silicon Valley, Williams is looking to bring some West Coast business sense to the VC 414 team and the founders they take on.
VC 414 marks the convergence of several years’ worth of personal interest in helping founders often overlooked for VC funding -- including women, founders of color, veterans and members of the LGBTQ+ community -- for the entire team.
“In serving disadvantaged communities and looking at how we can build economic prosperity, we realized to truly make an impact, we needed to go further upstream and give people the tools to build wealth – to build their own economic prosperity,” Abele said.
Abele, who is married to former Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and has spent the bulk of her career in the realms of government and higher education, found a personal interest in entrepreneurship and venture capitalism later in life. She has most recently made several private investments, including backing Milwaukee-based COnovate Inc. and Milwaukee-based Xena Workwear.
Filmanowicz, who spent 11 years at BMO Harris Bank in roles involving corporate philanthropy and commercial banking and venture investment, also found a passion for entrepreneurship later in life.
“Getting a chance to get to know these entrepreneurs and understanding their journey was so rewarding and really touched my heart. I was like, ‘I want to do more. I want to go deeper and help them grow and scale and be successful.’”
Abele and Filmanowicz have known each other for over 20 years. The two quickly realized that their interest in helping underserved communities intersected. The idea to start their own VC firm first came up in late 2021.
Abele asked Williams to join the VC 414 team last spring. Together, the trio has an expansive catalogue of industry knowledge in the fields of technology, higher education, finance and banking. When needed, VC 414 also has a set of advisors to serve as industry experts.
“There’s a couple of things we’re able to do for founders,” Williams said. “One is access to funding. We’re saving half of our funds for follow-up funding and we have connections to other groups for that as well. That’s key for startups. You don’t just raise one round. You have to keep going. Two, is we’re able to help them build their businesses through our experiences and our connections. The really important thing is we’re going to help them get business. We’re going to identify how we can help use our networks and our talent in addition to the funds.”
VC 414 is already accepting applications from underrepresented founders and could make its first investments in quarter two of this year. The company will consider applications from U.S.-based companies, barring businesses that need FDA approval for their product.
Helping underrepresented founders isn’t the only mission for the VC 414 team. When seeking advice in founding the firm, Filmanowicz found a common theme amongst other female business leaders. They all expressed interest in VC but didn’t quite understand it. As VC 414 grows, the team hopes there will be an educational component offered for the community.
“We want to de-mystify venture for people and engage more people in it," Abele said. "That’s how we build the ecosystem in Milwaukee."