Catalyst Angel Program participant Keith Jennings was recently interviewed by Nicholas Slappey, program coordinator at TechTown Detroit. Keith shared his journey to angel investing and the importance of supporting Black-owned small businesses.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you became an investor.
Keith: I was born and raised in Detroit. I spent a few years in Kansas City but attended high school in Detroit. Coming from a middle-class family, I heard of investing and later learned about being an angel investor. But I didn’t truly understand anything about investing until I attended a finance class at Michigan State University.
The class was in a lecture hall that held about 400 students. I was the only Black student. During that class, a lightbulb went off in my head, and I learned about stocks and how they worked. I was excited about the new knowledge I had obtained; I approached the student nearest me and asked if he understood what the professor had just taught us. The student looked at me confused and said yes. I asked him if he knew anyone who had purchased stock. The student explained that his grandfather bought him 100 shares of Disney stock when he was four.
I still didn’t fully understand the concept of stocks, but what I did know was that my fellow student already had a huge leg up on me. That moment lit a fire for me and I started my journey with investing. In the early 1990s, I started purchasing stock through dividend investment programs. This required me to buy stock percentages directly from the company through the mail. I bought my first stock for $25, but I didn’t know how to evaluate that purchase. I continued to purchase more stocks that offered dividend investment programs. Over the years, I started investing in large corporations like Ford, Exxon Mobile, and General Motors. I was slowly becoming a long-term investor with a diverse portfolio.
How did you hear about the Catalyst Angel Program?
Keith: As part of my investment journey, I heard about all the money investors made when companies had an IPO (initial public offering). I wanted to know how to get on the other side of that IPO, leading me to learn about angel investing and venture capital. I did some online research and joined some angel investor groups. Unfortunately, I didn’t know much about the process. Those groups and investments didn’t work out, and I recognized that I didn’t know what I was doing so I started to seek additional help. I was investing based on minimum buy-in and dissatisfied with the lack of knowledge on investing and the importance of becoming an investor outside of financial gain. I was introduced to Dawn Batts through a family friend, and Dawn enrolled me in the Catalyst Angel Program.
What has been the most impactful part of the Catalyst Angel Program?
Keith: The educational component was one of the most impactful parts along with networking with very smart, talented and driven investors. It has been a very fulfilling journey.
Are there specific kinds of tech businesses you would like to invest in?
Keith: Not specifically. Having worked in healthcare for most of my professional career, MedTech is something that is easier for me to wrap my head around, but I am not limiting myself to that sector. The tech industry is mind-blowing, but my priority is supporting Black-owned businesses and having a diverse portfolio. I am a firm believer in being a diverse investor in asset classes.
Why are angel investors essential for the ecosystem?
Keith: Angel investors are passionate about their work and want to connect with as many businesses as possible. Those connections allow us to find more partners who share our interests and speed up the process of getting businesses off the ground that do not have the collateral for traditional banks. Angel investors help give founders access to valuable resources to help grow their businesses. We provide advice from experts on things like how to build a strong team and how to get access to resources. These resources give founders the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in the business world.
TechTown Detroit’s Catalyst Angel Program helps emerging angel investors in the Great Lakes region who identify as Black, Latinx and/or women gain knowledge about investing, engage in curated courses through partner organizations and connect with other investors in local and national angel communities. If you’re interested in learning more, complete this interest form.