When talking about his North Star, McKeever “Mac” Conwell II tells the story of a young, Black woman in Baltimore with sterling academic credentials and brilliant idea to revolutionize the wig- and weave-care market – part of the $2.5 billion Black hair care industry.
“I immediately just saw dollar signs,” he said.
He supported her through two years of frustrating conversations with potential investors, who repeatedly told her she was too early in the process to fund. Sometime later, the woman called Conwell to let him know she had found a way to raise some money: she had become a surrogate mother.
“This woman literally gave birth to twins to raise the money to build her prototype. That’s crazy. That’s wrong. That’s why this industry is broken. And that’s why I want to do things differently,” said Conwell, the founder of RareBreed Ventures. “I believe I can find great entrepreneurs, where nobody else is looking. And I can support them to help them get to the point where they’re the next billion dollar company. So that’s why I do what I do.”
RareBreed is the pre-seed fund he started in 2020 to invest in the kind of exceptional founders who are often overlooked or under-networked. Often these companies are born outside of large tech ecosystems, building products that traditional VCs don’t understand, or serving communities that are out of many investors’ fields of vision.
Missed talent, missed opportunity
Conwell grew up in Baltimore, the rare high schooler who was both on the football team and in the robotics club. He attended Morgan State University, where he focused on engineering, and was recruited into a STEM program at the Department of Defense. There, in addition to having “top secret clearance doing a lot of cool stuff I can never talk about,” Conwell found a group of like-minded entrepreneurial Black peers who inspired each other to build out their ideas. Two of them became co-founders in his first company, a social gifting platform.
Conwell is unusually open about the trials and challenges of founding a company. His RareBreed bio highlights, “One of Mac’s companies failed, the other went on to a successful exit,” and he talks about expanding out his invaluable network through trial, error and serendipity. (That network continued to grow during the COVID-19 pandemic, when his handle attracted around 20,000 new Twitter followers.)
His winding career also helped him to deeply understand investors and investment strategies. He spent four years at Maryland Technology Development Corp. – or TEDCO – where he helped to launch the Pre-Seed Builder Fund focused on economically disadvantaged founders. This allowed him to witness firsthand a wide range of companies that could not find financial support, despite brilliant ideas, and a host of investors who were missing underrepresented funders because they weren’t part of traditional networks.