Building an inclusive economy, one founder at a time
Having experienced her own difficulties raising capital, Founders First Capital Partners Founder and CEO Kim Folsom launched her San Diego-based organization to provide growth opportunities for underrepresented small business founders.
As a private provider of growth funding for service-based businesses — and the only Black and women-led, revenue-based venture platform — FFCP is focused on partnering with small businesses in underserved communities. She is also the founder of Founders First CDC, a nonprofit, community development organization and micro-small business accelerator.
We spoke to Folsom (pictured, right) about Founders First, its initiatives and why she believes that founders are always “first” in her role as a change agent for others’ success.
Bridging the gap
Vistage: Kim, how did Founders First Capital Partners get started?
Kim Folsom: Founders First is my seventh business, born from my lived experience as a minority woman founder. I have experienced firsthand the growth challenges and the inequities that exist for underrepresented founders such as access to capital, a community of like-minded leaders to learn from and business education.
V: Can you tell us about the communities you serve and why supporting these entrepreneurs is vital?
Folsom: We focus on funding and growing service-based companies generating $500,000 to $10 million in annual revenues. Over 80% of our investments are in companies led by diverse founders including people of color, women, LGBTQ+ and military veterans.
As a diverse-led business, we understand the challenges underserved founders face when starting and growing their businesses. At Founders First, we don’t just write checks. We provide ongoing wraparound services and follow-through funding to help businesses grow.
Original pathways to success
V: What do you mean by “Founders First”? How does this name reflect your journey as a founder?
Folsom: As our name implies, the founders are at the heart of the decisions we make, the resources we offer and the strategic alliances we foster. They are the reason we do what we do. We foster an inclusive ecosystem propelling the growth of underrepresented founders through flexible capital and advisory services. Through our non-profit, Founders First CDC, our accelerator programs help unlock the growth potential of underserved businesses.
V: How should entrepreneurs and small business owners prepare before reaching out?
Folsom: Distinguishing ourselves from conventional lending institutions, we pride ourselves on simplifying the process for founders. We only ask for a few essential documents: the profit and loss statement, balance sheet, and debt schedule. The entire process to get funding happens in a little under three weeks.
At Founders First, we don’t burden entrepreneurs with the obligation of preparing an elaborate pitch or business plan. We place greater emphasis on the strength of the companies themselves, placing importance on recurring revenues and year-over-year growth.
A meaningful investment
V: Which success stories stick in your mind the most?
Folsom: Three stand out, and all happen to be women-owned businesses.
Our first investment at Founders First was for Klarinet Solutions. They were a half-million-dollar company when I first met them and today they are closing in on $4 million in annual revenue and earning accolades from reputable mediums.
The second is OnShore Technology Group. Since receiving funding, they have more than doubled their annual revenues and made it to the Inc. 5000 list two years in a row.
Last, but not least, Blu Digital Group. Their founder had been pitching for years with no bites, but she attests it was the pitch she developed in Founders First CDC’s FastPath program that finally got her the funding needed to accelerate their growth. Since completing FastPath, they have landed on the Inc. 5000 multiple times and were recently voted one of EY’s winners for the Greater Los Angeles area.
Simply put, we believe that building an inclusive economy is not just good for diverse founders, it’s good for the U.S. economy.
Kim Folsom, Founders First Capital Partners Founder and CEO
Making a collective impact
V: Before Founders First Capital Partners, you also founded a nonprofit organization of the same name: Founders First CDC. Can you tell us about it and why it’s important to you to give back to entrepreneurs in this way?
Folsom: Founders First CDC is a 501(c)3 established in 2015 to support underrepresented founders of different growth stages with grants and accelerators to grow their businesses. The accelerators focus on business health, leadership and financial readiness. Simply put, we believe that building an inclusive economy is not just good for diverse founders, it’s good for the U.S. economy.
V: What advice would you give to other growth-stage entrepreneurs who might have been a part of an incubator and are trying to get their product or service off the ground?
Folsom: Capital is essential for business growth, enabling you to invest wisely and dedicate time to strategize effectively. It’s crucial to explore various funding options that align with your business objectives. If, for any reason, you are not ready for traditional bank loans or investments from private equity (PE), venture capital (VC), or angel investors, remember that alternative solutions exist. Consider exploring revenue-based financing, such as the offerings provided by Founders First Capital Partners.
V: What are the next steps for Founders First Capital Partners?
Folsom: This year, Founders First Capital Partners is embarking on a multi-faceted initiative that will accelerate our growth trajectory. We are honored to be among the select few chosen as co-leads on an initiative funded by the U.S. Treasury Department and Vice President Kamala Harris’ office. This initiative primarily aims to empower small certified diverse businesses by streamlining their access to capital for investment in job creation and economic growth. As part of this initiative, we are collaborating with large organizations, major utilities and supplier diversity councils across the country.
As an entrepreneur, it’s important to stay up to date with the latest economic trends and funding sources to ensure your business’ success and continued growth. In this July 21 webinar, “Funding the future: A monetary outlook for small business owners,” Folsom and Vistage Chief Research Officer Joe Galvin explore the current economic landscape and discuss the various funding sources available for small business owners. Watch the webinar, now on demand, and learn more about partnering with Founders First.