Chingona Ventures, a three-year-old Chicago-based venture firm that invests in pre-seed firms predominantly in the Midwest and mostly formed by overlooked persons with a focus on enormous markets, has raised $52 million in a new fund. PayPal Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners, Melinda Gates’ Pivotal Ventures, Foundry Group, and the Illinois State Treasurer’s Illinois Growth and Innovation Fund are among the limited partners in the new fund. It’s a significant step up from the firm’s $6 million debut fund and a vote of confidence in Samara Hernandez, an engineer who spent six years at Goldman Sachs before joining Math Venture Partners as an investor in 2015 and then founding Chingona in 2019, where she remains the firm’s sole general partner.
While it’s too early to assess the portfolio’s profitability, Hernandez has been busy, investing $100,000 to $250,000 in 27 firms with her first fund and eight more with her second. Career Karma, a four-year-old firm that connects workers and contractors to vocational training programs (and which received $40 million in January), and Suma Wealth, a financial wellness platform for the Latino population, are two of these portfolio companies, according to Crunchbase statistics.
Both businesses highlight Chingona’s areas of interest, which include finance, health and wellness, food tech, and the future of education. They also play to Hernandez’s strengths, such as Suma Wealth’s grasp of the huge and developing Latino market. (Hernandez, who was born in Mexico and reared in the United States, points out that one out of every four children born in the United States today is Latino, yet Latinx businesses receive less than 1% of venture capital investment in this nation.)
She’ll also back startups who have been turned down by other investors, such as Ruben Harris, co-founder of Career Karma. Despite the fact that Harris and his co-founders had gone through Y Combinator, he had a network, and he resided in Silicon Valley at the time, he reached out to Hernandez cold on Twitter after being turned over at several prior meetings. “They didn’t believe in his plan, but I did, so I invested,” Hernandez explains. (Earlier this year, Career Karma expanded on its basic approach of assisting ambitious students and working professionals in finding the perfect bootcamp.) Harris relocated to Miami from the Bay Area as well.)
Hernandez claims that now that she has a lot more money, she plans to do more of the same, but with somewhat larger cheques, ranging from $250,000 to $1 million. Chingona — a Spanish phrase for a brave lady who gets things done, according to Hernandez – aspires to “be the first and largest check into a round.” “With fund one, I understood that a lot of these founders really need someone to lead, write the biggest check, and help accelerate the round.” She’s more than eager to take the lead now that investors like PayPal and Insight are turning to her for deal flow.