How to Raise Venture Capital as a Black Woman: Founder of Culina Health

  • Vanessa Rissetto launched Culina Health in February 2020 with her co-founder Tamar Samuels.
  • The duo have raised $9.75 million in VC, a huge accomplishment for two black women entrepreneurs.
  • As of 2022, only a few hundred Black or Hispanic female founders have raised $1 million or more in VC.

20 years ago, Vanessa Rissetto didn’t know how food can affect a person’s health. Grow up, Her Haitian mother, known for showing her love through cooking, did most of the cooking every meal for Rissetto. When she transferred to college, it was the first time that Rissetto was in charge of her diet. The nights of pizza and fast food left her wondering how food could harm her health.

Today, Rissetto is the co-founder of Culina Health, a digital platform that connects clients with nutritionists for virtual sessions she launched with Tamar Samuels in February 2020. You collected a total $9.75 million in venture capital investments.

This is a significant achievement for Rissetto and Samuels: Only from 2022 a few hundred black or latina Female founders have raised $1 million or more in VC investments, according to Project Diane, a biannual demographic study of Hispanic and Black women in entrepreneurship.

According to the study, Black and Hispanic female founders receive more funding in health and wellness than in any other industry Project Diane report that more than highlights 750 startups founded by Latino and Black women who have received third-party funding.

“Startups in this space have been well-funded since the pandemic, raising $1.3 billion in investments since 2020,” the report said.

In an interview with Insider, Rissetto shared her fundraising experience and the importance of investing in women of color. This is an as told story based on the interview edited for length and clarity.

COVID-19 has given us opportunities to grow

When COVID-19 hit the US in March 2020, telemedicine became the preferred healthcare option for patients. As a company that uses insurance, it was the first time that Culina’s telemedicine services were reimbursed at the same rate as an in-office visit. This allowed us to engage with more customers and scale.

We firmly believed that we could increase VC in 2021 based on our 2020 success: $934,000 in sales and $48,000 in profit, all without spending a single dollar on marketing.

There was no shortage of patients who wanted to see us and this continues to this day. Since we started to date, we have grown from 500 sessions per month to nearly 2,000 sessions per month.

Since then, we have completed pre-seed and seed rounds totaling $9.75 million and the company is valued at $21.5 million. Investors include Healthworx, the venture arm of insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Our North Star is currently a potential Series A which would allow us to improve our product and vision, build our team and expand to more sessions.

Investors can serve different purposes

Tamar Samuels (left) and Vanessa Rissetto (right)

The co-founders have raised $9.75 million in venture capital.

Lauren Anzevino

When raising money for a company, there can be pressure to find strategic partners. While intended partnerships are important, founders should also recognize that investors can serve different purposes.

Especially if you are in the early stages of business and trying to get something off the ground, all you have to do is get the train out of the station. Don’t get caught up in who’s giving you money, because when someone writes you a check, it’s a signal to other people that you’re valuable.

Long-term relationships with investors come from those who genuinely want you to be successful. And leveraging investor relations can mean anything from accessing their extensive network to exchanging ideas to reviewing financial models before a board meeting.

We speak to each investor at least once a month so there are no surprises. You know what we’re doing and we can ask for help. These constant conversations make them more committed to our goals.

The Importance of Investor Support for Women in Businesses of Black Roots

In the beginning, fundraising was difficult for me because I had never experienced anything like it. I had to study and not take anything personally.

But the intersectionality of race makes investment opportunities particularly difficult for women of color. White men see white women in their homes and they see black men in the dressing room, but they don’t see black women that often. And I definitely felt a lot of that.

Luckily I found people who understand – they understand what I want to create with Culina and they understand me.

The feeling of being seen by our female investors and investors of color has made a huge difference. And I hope that with the diversification of the industries, more founders will feel seen and represented.

There are countless black women founders in healthcare. We know how to do this job, we’re gaining market share and you can’t ignore us anymore.

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