MinervaVerse set to invest in Sacramento’s women and minority-led businesses

MinervaVerse co-founders Anne Descalzo (left) and Rachel Zillner (right) aim to support Sacramento’s women and minority-led businesses with a venture capital fund, accelerator and incubator to support the region’s entrepreneurial sectors. (Photo courtesy of MinervaVerse)

By Hannah Ross

In Roman lore, Minerva, goddess of wisdom, commerce and arts, was born out of Jupiter’s head, split with a hammer to release her full form, clad in armor. Today, the name lends itself to the freshly launched MinervaVerse — a venture capital fund and business services organization geared toward supporting women and minority entrepreneurs in the Sacramento region. 

MinervaVerse will be the first venture capital fund founded by women in the Sacramento region and will offer wraparound support to entrepreneurs through their fund, accelerator and business incubators. 

“MinervaVerse was born out of the challenges that my co-founder Rachel Zillner and I faced as we were getting established with our business Clutch,” said MinervaVerse co-founder Anne Descalzo. “In growing and scaling the organization, access to capital and resources we found were really limited and we wanted to be part of the solution.”

For Descalzo and Zillner, being part of the solution means bringing their decade and a half of financial experience at SAFE Credit Union, and five years in government consulting with Clutch to help entrepreneurs succeed. 

When Clutch launched in 2019, the transition from financial services to entrepreneurship revealed gaps in the founders’ own knowledge of Sacramento’s venture funding landscape. They struggled to find fiscal backing through traditional methods. Faced with this gap in her knowledge, Zillner decided to jump in and learn more — first hand.

“Once I became an entrepreneur, I started to peel back the onion … I began to learn things that made me really surprised and then angry,” Zillner said, citing statistics that show how women-only founded startups receive only a tiny fraction of what their male counterparts get from venture capital funding. 

Zillner wants women to get to a place where they receive 50% of venture capital funding.

Zillner began by making individual angel investments in local entrepreneurs and hosted a series of learning events in Folsom. She invited Alex Chompff, executive director of Evolution Accelerator and angel investor, and Cheryl Beninga, co-founder of FourthWave and former venture capital investor for Intel, to provide more accessible knowledge on venture capital and angel investing to women.

“We decided that when we got to a place where we were more financially secure, we would find a way to reach back and support other women who might have a similar experience,” Zillner said. 

The Minerva Fund launched with $2 million eligible to invest, and the group plans to select recipients every quarter. Its founders say the fund offers an opportunity to support women and minority-fronted businesses through fiscal investment, providing access to capital for regional entrepreneurs, and a chance for investors to diversify their portfolios. Funding applications are open year-round and all are eligible to apply according to Descalzo and Zillner.

Amy Wister, CEO of RevShoppe and one of four founding venture partners of MinervaVerse, said she is excited about the potential to fund new technology and innovation in fields that have historically left women out of the conversation. The fund has received over 40 applications since opening on Jan. 22, some from entrepreneurs and businesses across women’s health innovation and women’s financial technology.

“If you bring minority interests to a table where there’s already majority interest, the combination of those two interests is only going to make something better, “Wister said. “Not only does it bring the voice to the conversation, it brings the dollars to the conversation.”

In late spring, MinervaVerse will launch its inaugural accelerator program in collaboration with FourthWave, a nonprofit for women-led technology businesses in Sacramento that offers mentorship and education on startup fundamentals. 

The Minerva Incubator, slated to launch in 2025, will support early-stage business ideas and start-ups in the government request-for-proposal process, and through managerial training, and networking. 

“We want to be a catalyst to also enlighten people that they can diversify their own financial portfolio and contribute to the local economy by investing in businesses in this way,” Descazolo said, “Not only does it benefit the startup and the entrepreneur, but it’s a way to keep capital here in our region, which we all have a goal to see Sacramento continue to thrive.”

This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and the James B. McClatchy Foundation. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.

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