096: Boston Speaks Up with Senofer Mendoza of Mendoza Ventures
Updated: Oct 30
Boston Speaks Up (BSU) is a podcast owned and operated by Value Creation Labs. (Editor’s note: this interview was one of three conducted during a special Boston Speaks Up live recording at Startup Boston Week 2023.)
Senofer Mendoza is the Founder and General Partner at Mendoza Ventures, a woman-owned and the first Latinx-founded VC fund on the east coast. In the ever-evolving landscape of venture capital, Mendoza stands as an innovation economy trailblazer and an advocate for diversity and inclusion.
Mendoza has a creative background having previously worked as an interior designer for Parker Torres Design. During her stint at the design house, Mendoza was able to work on some exciting projects, most notable would be her design work for Boston’s beloved Fairmont Copley Plaza. Although Mendoza took pride in her creative abilities, she quickly realized to reach her full potential she needed to take fuel from her passion of bringing equity to women in VC and underrepresented founders around the world.
Through Mendoza Ventures, she and her team focus on investments in fintech, AI, and cybersecurity, with diversity playing an important role in their investment decisions – about 90% of their portfolio consists of startups led by immigrants, people of color, and women. Since its founding seven years ago, Mendoza Ventures has raised two funds and had two successful exits. Bank of America Corp. is an anchor investor for the new $100 million fund managed by Mendoza Ventures, announced in January 2023.
Mendoza's outstanding contributions have been alluring attention from the Boston community, and beyond. In 2022, Axios Magazine recognized her as one of the five most influential people in Boston. Shortly after, the LA Times honored her firm as a DEI visionary as one of California’s most prominent game-changers and thought leaders in the business world today. Currently, she sits on the NACIE, the National Advisory Committee for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Mendoza's remarkable journey, from an advocate for diversity to the founder of the groundbreaking Mendoza Ventures, exemplifies her unwavering commitment to driving positive change in the VC landscape. As an influential figure and pioneer, she continues to pave the way for underrepresented voices in entrepreneurship. We were fortunate to sit down with Senofer at Startup Boston Week to discuss her career journey and her vision for a more equitable future for the startup community. You can listen to our podcast discussion embedded below or on any podcast platform you prefer (YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Google Play):
Check out the highlights from the Boston Speaks Up podcast live at Startup Boston Week 2023:
Where did you grow up? And how would you describe your childhood? Who were your role models?
I grew up on Cape Cod, and then moved all around the country (Arizona, California, Massachusetts), landing at Umass Amherst for college.
One of my role models has always been my Aunt Lucy, she was a racecar driver in the 30s, and she was unabashedly herself. Today I tend to be inspired by women that occupy space to make change and handle it gracefully.
Where are you looking to get out of your time at Startup Boston Week?
This is my first podcast with an audience, so that’s exciting!
This is one of my favorite conferences because it unifies the city, and unifying Boston is one of my favorite things. We all need a good shakeup every now and then to get out of our neighborhoods.
Can you tell us about your journey from enterprise sales and hospitality design to founding Mendoza Ventures? What inspired you to make this career shift?
It became very apparent to me that if women did not start writing the check, an equitable world would never be realized. So, I wrote the check.
Mendoza Ventures focuses on Fintech, AI, and Cybersecurity. What drew you to these particular sectors, and how do you see them shaping the future of technology?
Our team has deep industry experience in these sectors, and I just love fintech for its’ ripple effect ability to have positive impact. I get out of bed in the morning to diversify generational wealth, and when you invest in a diverse AI or fintech founder, you are not just impacting that founder, but their customers and board and partners as well.
You've raised two successful funds and are currently working on your third. What are your key strategies for fundraising, especially for a $100 million fund anchored by Bank of America?
I think, and this may be oversimplifying it, but like all things in business, consistently do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it. Fundraising is a learned skill, so just start iterating fast, and don’t stop until you hit your goal.
In an industry where diversity and inclusion are still major challenges, what advice do you have for other VC firms looking to prioritize diversity in their portfolios?
Writing a check to a woman or person of color is the same process, trust me, I’ve done it, you can do it too. You just have to actually write the check.
A great place to start is by diversifying your investment committee.
Axios Magazine recognized you as one of the five most influential people in Boston. What do you believe are the key factors that have contributed to your influence and success in the region?
Actually writing the check. :)
What role do mentorship and networking play in your journey as a VC? Are there mentors who have significantly influenced your approach to investing?
We have a policy that our team should always be lifting yourself up and pulling someone else up with you. I learn as much from our fellows as I do from the incredibly giving CIOs and investors that are kind enough to advise our firm.
VC is an apprenticeship, you are always learning, and your network becomes your success.
Can you share your thoughts on the current state of the VC industry, particularly where you see it heading in the future?
Yes, we are seeing a return to 2000s economics, where there is no longer dry powder for intellectual exercises, and healthy return generating businesses are the new hot thing. Money just got more expensive this year all around, so any founder that has optionality is going to have a great couple of years.
We focus as a firm less on unicorns and more on earlier acquisitions, so we are here for it.
What are the most exciting trends or emerging technologies in Fintech, AI, or Cybersecurity that you believe will shape the next decade?
Financial empowerment, and non-predatory terms. I love automating boring tasks too, so I am excited about AI.
How do you assess the potential of early-stage startups, and what advice do you have for founders seeking investment from Mendoza Ventures?
We are investing checks of $1-7M into the A now, so we are really looking for businesses with $1M+ of revenue. For Mendoza Impact, our new nonprofit, we will be recruiting our next comfort of seed stage founders in 2024.
There are so many bridges being raised now, the theme I saw a lot this past few weeks is know what you are bridging TO, where will this money get you that is materially different than where you are today?
Can you share some memorable moments or lessons learned from your career in venture capital that have left a lasting impact on you?
Last week I funded a 72 year old woman’s startup and I am basking in that moment today, I am actually seeing her right after this.
There are so many…
I am just so proud and inspired by the amazing men and women that are building Mendoza Ventures with us. There are three Latino businesses on Newbury Street: us, the taqueria, and the dry cleaner. I am determined not to leave it as we found it. Seeing how this company has lifted up people who invested in us inspires us daily.
And, giving founders the means to build is an obvious win. I just wasn’t expecting to love the LP side and be as inspired by them as I am by the founders.
In your opinion, what are the key skills and qualities that make a successful venture capitalist, and how have these evolved over time?
Focus, the ability to pull in help from multiple sources, board training, a deep and inherent passion for learning is a must. Discipline.
Beyond your professional endeavors, how do you like to spend your free time and relax?
I love being on the water, I love reading and we have two interns (9 and 11), I also love seeing new cities and traveling.
What advice would you offer to aspiring entrepreneurs and investors who aim to make a difference in their industries, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds?
Don’t let the muggles get you down.
Looking ahead, what are your goals and aspirations for Mendoza Ventures, both in terms of investments and its broader impact on the venture capital landscape?
Our goal is to bring the capital stack in alignment with our population, to perpetually inspire investors and founders to write the check into their communities, to build together.
FINAL QUESTION: We like the idea of ending our episodes with a challenge for the listeners/readers. Whether it be reaching out to an old friend, reading 5 pages a day from a book, creating a new healthy habit… What is one challenge you have for the listeners?
Every dollar you spend is a vote, if you have a 401k or you give to your college, you’re an investor, have you looked at who is managing that money? What percentage of them are women or people of color? What are they investing in? You’re the customer, it’s okay to ask!