Overheard

Tracy Gray on creating quality jobs by investing in women-owned manufacturing companies

Innovators share ideas with WorkingNation Overheard at the Milken Institute Global Conference 2021
By Laura Aka
October 19, 2021

“Our mission is to create clean, quality jobs in underserved communities, low-and-moderate income communities, and to grow generational wealth for women and people of color,”  explains Tracy Gray, founder and managing partner of The 22 Fund. They do it by investing “in manufacturing companies to increase their export capacity, meaning their international sales.”

WorkingNation sat down with Gray at the Milken Institute Global Conference 2021 in Beverly Hills as part of our #WorkingNationOverheard interview series. With Charting a New Course as the guiding theme, thought leaders and innovators shared ideas about the changing economy, worker development, education, tech, philanthropy, and more.

“I entered venture capital about 20 years ago and more women and people of color are coming in and starting companies, yet the numbers receiving capital have actually gone down percentage-wise,” says Gray. “I work in startup, but I also work with existing businesses. Manufacturing is a big equity gap—meaning not equity in race or gender, but equity in the type of capital they’re receiving. Mainly, the only capital they have access to is loans or some government grants. And you just can’t plan a business based on just debt.”

Gray says, “We all have these biases that we want to be with people that look like us or act like us and think like us. And so that’s who we give our money to. And 98.7% of all assets, money, capital around the world is managed by white men, 98.7%.” She adds, “When you see these numbers, (there are) biases baked into the system.”

Gray says the top allocators like the limited partners, the big banks, the foundations, the big institutional investors need to be funneling investment funds to women and people of color. “They need to put a lot more capital into this segment because diverse founders and diverse leadership leads to higher returns. We have so much research now that there doesn’t need to be any more that proves this. We have no research that proves investing in only white men leads to higher returns, yet they keep doing that.”

Acknowledging the entrepreneurial drive of women and people of color, Gray says, “We do so much more with so much less. We’ve had to innovate, right? And that’s why we are entrepreneurs because we’re trying to innovate.”

“I have two sides of my personality—I’m optimistic and I’m very stubborn. When someone tells me I can’t do something, I’ll just dig in. I’m out to prove something and I’m a systems changer,” says Gray. “I am a former engineer and if it’s illogical, if it doesn’t make sense from numbers and research, then I got to try to fix it. That’s just me.”

And for a little background—Gray explains The 22 Fund, based in Los Angeles, was named after the 22 men and women of color who originally settled the city, the Pobladores.

Click here to learn more about The 22 Fund.

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