On the occasion of the summit dedicated to philanthropy and nepotism proposed by Forbes France on April 20, the editorial board took the opportunity to speak with investor and entrepreneur Nawa Khamallah to learn more about his history and vision for achieving more inclusive success. The Angel & VC club DQV community works in particular to support minority projects, which so far only amount to 1.4% of available funds in venture capital.
Can you tell us more about your background?
I lived an eventful adolescence in the cities of northern France. I was a lost young delinquent who lived on the streets and even went to jail. When I decided to pull myself together, I had a serious obstacle to entering the world of recruitment. Like many other minorities in France or former delinquents with notoriety, I had to give my first name Francis to navigate many barriers to corporate employment. Without a baccalaureate degree, without a net, she persevered and in 2018 landed a management position with electric scooter supplier Lime. Then I joined the startup Voi as Vice President. A year later, I co-founded Charge, and then joined Swedish brand Vassla in 2021. In April 2023, I launched a community of Angel & Venture Capital Don’t Quit Ventures with several colleagues.
How do you explain this success?
Obviously there was a factor of luck that helped me but also associations that accompanied me in my steps such as administrative localization; Because getting out of danger starts with the simple fact of getting an address! Then I gave myself to work both physically and spiritually, and that’s how great CEOs decided to care about my results rather than my past. There was for example Cain Conti, founder of Lime, Frederick Helm, founder of Voi Technology or Andrew Fox, co-founder and CEO of Charge and lead investor in Lime. They are all true progressives who know how to reward hard working people and they have all shaped my vision of leadership.
It is important to me and when I got my first managerial positions, I immediately removed the need for a diploma as a condition for employment. We spend a lot of time getting a diploma when soft skills and experience should be taken into account in the same way as hard skills.
In conclusion, I would like to say that what “saved” me were those people who believed in me, but also my perseverance. Too often, we see entrepreneurs as athletes: we remember their names when they hit the podium but forget the ten years of doubt and failure that preceded that success. For me, these 10 years of hardship have been repeated rejections of apartments and jobs (in short, social exclusion).
Was it this personal experience that led you to create the Angel & VC community?
Today’s equal opportunity paradigm is still flawed and there is still a difference between what organizations promote and what is actually done. It’s a shame that we deprive ourselves of a large number of talented profiles. Companies are shooting themselves, especially when you see the talent shortage they face.
And it’s the same observation in the world of entrepreneurship: only 1.4% of venture capital money is given to minorities. I would go further: When George Floyd died and the Black Live Matters movement came into being, all investment funds declared the lack of inclusion in access to venture capital intolerable. But after a few years, we realized that nothing had changed.
Thus, Don’t Quit Ventures targets entrepreneurs who experience frequent rejection due to their ethnicity, sexuality, or criminal record. We voluntarily enforce a numbered approach in our portfolio to prioritize women, ethnic minorities, LGBTQI+, and ex-cons. There is simply no need to come from a certain school, have a certain social level, be of a certain ethnicity, or have a life path that “looks good.” Out of a good idea!
What are the major persistent obstacles to a more inclusive distribution of venture capital funds?
The main obstacle that exists, in my opinion, is the fact that the networks of business angels and family offices still abound among themselves which excludes – without being aware of it – certain minorities. I think the simple fact of pointing out the problem can create awareness, but it takes more effort for ideological change to actually happen.
The Don’t Quit Ventures community also supports the Epic Foundation: this consists of donating a portion of the dividends and profits obtained from the capitalization of startups directly to charities. But money is not the only means and I am convinced that it is also necessary to give him personal time. For example, I recently participated in an exchange with a pitch at The Determined, an association democratizing suburban and rural entrepreneurship. The goal was to share my life’s journey to inspire young people.
What is your advice to these young people to persevere?
Know first that the world can abandon you, but you must not abandon yourself. We now live in an age of immediacy — enhanced by technology — and there is a form of intolerance for frustration. All it takes is one hurdle for the youth to give up. When a young child falls, everyone cheers for him to get up, but this is not the case for adults. So we must celebrate failure and persevere in order to succeed. Without determination and flexibility, I wouldn’t have made it to the NASDAQ stock exchange.