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Agent of Impact: Thea Messel, Unconventional Ventures

ImpactAlpha, Nov. 21 – Nordic countries get consistently high scores for social progress but venture capitalists there have a surprisingly poor record for financing female founders and other “underrepresented entrepreneurs.” Thea Messel is moving into that capital gap to capture what might be called ‘diverse-founders alpha.’

Investing in entrepreneurs overlooked or underestimated by other investors is the thesis of U.S. funds like Arlan Hamilton’s Backstage Capital, Kesha Cash’s Impact America Fund and Henri Pierre-Jacques and Jarrid Tingle’s Harlem Capital. This week at the Slush conference in Helsinki, Messel launched Unconventional Ventures, a micro-fund for women, people of color, LGBTQ and immigrant entrepreneurs in Nordic countries like Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

Messel grew up in Oslo, studied philosophy and economics at Copenhagen Business School, and joined Danske Bank to pursue “green” investing. “It was so hard to get those decisions through,” she recalls, “I felt like I was banging my head against the wall.” On the side, after her first child, she co-founded a sustainable clothing brand for busy mothers. 

Messel eventually joined a small team of “corporate entrepreneurs” within the bank. She was running pitch events for all-female founders when she got the idea to start a fund. “We were a bank with an unpopular brand, in a competitive space for banks to break into, yet despite that we received this amazing deal flow,” she recalls. “That’s when the penny dropped.”

At an entrepreneurship event in Sweden last summer, she met Hamilton, who became her first investor and advisor. Early support from Hamilton as well as and LEGO Ventures’ Alexis Horowitz-Burdick helped attract 60 investors, some cutting checks as small as €500. The €125,000 micro-fund will make tiny, but crucial, early investments to demonstrate the value of underrepresented founders solving unmet challenges. “We believe that underrepresented founders present one of the biggest market opportunities today,” declares Unconventional’s website.

Don’t underestimate the fund’s own female founder. Says Messel, “We’re creating an ecosystem of allies who would love to support each other.”

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