In this month’s community spotlight, BLCK VC’s COO Naima Warsame sat down with Kwesi Quaye, partner at Fairview Capital. The two shared a great conversation on Kwesi’s journey into Venture Capital, trends he’s observing in the market, and his advice for aspiring VCs.
Naima Warsame: What is your origin story? What was your pathway into venture capital?
Kwesi Quaye: During college, I developed a strong desire to be involved in the capital markets, particularly on Wall Street. However, my career began during the 2008 financial crisis, a time when foreclosures, bank failures, and plummeting asset prices wreaked havoc on communities. That dream did not happen but fortunately, I was able to leverage my accounting and finance majors to begin my career as an accountant at a big four public accounting firm.
My career path gradually evolved as the economy recovered. I had the privilege of working with great mentors who believed in me and supported my career transitions. I told those close to me about my ambitions to transition to finance and I never wavered. I eventually transitioned into mergers and acquisitions consulting at another big four firms. It was during this time that I became introduced to the world of buying and selling privately held companies, which sharpened my analytical skills. Soon after, which I really have no explanation for, other than that I got lucky, I gained an opportunity to join an investment team at a Midwest public pension fund. That role introduced me to investment management across all asset classes and served as a catalyst for my venture capital journey.
An MBA was top of mind growing up. That was affirmed particularly when I transitioned to investment management and reinforced by advice from my family, colleagues, friends, and industry players. I attended Kellogg for my MBA and am forever appreciative of the coursework, faculty, and peers.
I learned about Fairview, and after business school, proactively sought to join the Firm because of its unique team, platform, and history. Fairview Capital, an African-American and women-owned venture capital and private equity fund-of-funds founded nearly 30 years ago by JoAnn Price and Laurence Morse, is one of the largest minority-owned venture capital and private equity fund-of-funds in the country. I joined Fairview as an Associate. Over the years, I received great mentorship and feedback and continue to do so. At Fairview, I’m fortunate to be part of a deeply experienced, diverse, and collaborative team guided by shared values and a commitment to excellence. As a Partner, I can confidently say that I’m very fulfilled in my current role. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else; this is not just a job — it’s my passion.
NW: What would you say are the biggest challenges you’ve encountered while navigating the venture capital industry, and how did you overcome them?
KQ: Venture capital is very fragmented. The managers, the companies, all of it. It is not always apparent how to break into venture. Some come through traditional routes, some non-traditional like me. I had an accounting background, not the most transferable, and I didn’t have legacy networks to leverage. I really had to find the right people and network my way in. The challenge was having a non-traditional background and network, but that developed over time.
NW: What upcoming trends do you expect to see in the venture capital industry, and how do you plan to adapt and take advantage of them?
KQ: Recession fears alongside tightening monetary policy and changing asset allocations amongst institutional investors have limited the supply of capital. This shift in the market has impacted all sectors and stages of the venture ecosystem with deals, exits, and fundraising all below the highwater marks set in the past few years. Some startups may not receive funding as they once did, but in these types of environments, the best companies with durable business models often align themselves with the best managers. Market dislocations often result in compelling opportunities and we see this as a period of sustained innovation. This environment allows sophisticated institutional investors to access the best managers investing in the best companies.
Everyone’s talking about artificial intelligence and the potential automation revolution. While this will undoubtedly impact certain businesses disproportionately, it also presents opportunities for those who embrace the right technologies, adapt to the changing landscape, and hire the right talent. It’s a two-fold shift, a different macroeconomic environment, and the transformational potential of technology. Life sciences continues to embrace technology and we’re excited about the opportunities ahead. Other attractive areas for investment include machine learning, robotics, the future of work, and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) models.
NW: What impact do you hope to make in the venture capital world in the long run, and what actions are you taking to achieve that vision?
KQ: I can’t help but bring it back to Fairview. Our founders, Larry Morse, and JoAnn Price, were very forward-thinking. Nearly 30 years ago, they set up a firm focused on what we do now, investing in diverse managers. It’s important to note this has been a core business of Fairview since its founding. It’s not something we suddenly started to do following the events of 2020, and it’s not a non-core product extension. It’s a true mindset at Fairview, backed by our team, clients, experience, and networks. There’s still a stigma that backing diverse managers is in some way concessionary, which couldn’t be further from the truth. We continue to allocate to the diverse manager space and the strong results have been accretive to our clients’ portfolios. Bottom line, there’s still more work to be done. I must say though, the ecosystem is increasingly collaborative and willing to share best practices, which bodes well for growing the universe of diverse managers and entrepreneurs.
NW: Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring venture investors and fund managers?
KQ: Treat people with decency and respect, be a team player, be prepared, be receptive to feedback, and make efforts to build relationships, particularly with those more experienced than yourself.