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Humans of the Science Center: Eli Velasquez

Eli Velasquez had many chapters to his career before adding angel investor to his resume: mechanical engineer, rocket scientist, editor, lawyer, IP consultant, to name a few. Rivaling the length of his resume is the number of locations he’s stood up entrepreneurial support programs: El Paso, Boston, California, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Israel – and now Philadelphia. The throughline of his career has been his advocacy around reducing barriers to entry for underrepresented investors and mobilizing capital for underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Read on for a glimpse into Eli’s story, what his role as Capital Advisor for the Science Center means, and which tequila he prefers with his steak.

Science Center Capital Advisor, Eli Velasquez

Tell us about your role as Capital Advisor for the Science Center.

My role as Capital Advisor is to help stand up new capital initiatives, such as the Science Center Health Fund, connect national and international investors to Philadelphia, and launch new programs like the Capital Readiness Program.

Your professional journey illustrates the importance of reducing barriers to entry for becoming an accredited investor. Tell us how you came to be such a passionate advocate of engaging underrepresented individuals in angel investing.

My personal story is not unlike many professionals who have achieved financial milestones that should enable them to participate as early-stage investors but have not been able to due to current accredited investor definitions. I believe that if we open more pathways for professionals to become angel investors, we can maximize access to capital for more entrepreneurs. Simply put, the more angel investors we have, the more economic opportunities we create for our communities.

You launched Investors of Color after bearing witness to a disproportionate number of white angel investors, even in communities like El Paso with an 80% Hispanic population. Tell us more about the investor network and what you hope to achieve over the next few years.

The aim of Investors of Color is to engage more people of color into early stage investing to help close the racial funding gap. Currently, there are about 300,000 individuals in the US who qualify as accredited investors. Our aim is to find those who identify as people of color and engage them into angel and venture capital investing so we can deploy more capital and, ultimately, create generational wealth.

You’ve been intimately involved in developing and delivering the Science Center’s Capital Readiness Program curricula. What are the biggest misconceptions startups have as they begin pursuing their first institutional investment?

Founders have been led to believe that the pitch deck is all they need to attract capital. The reality is that investors need to see all the legal, operational, and personnel components of the business. This can only be found via a thorough review of their Due Diligence (or Data) Room. Our goal with the Capital Readiness Program is to ensure that startups have a realistic purview of what investors want by working alongside active investors and service providers. In the end, founders will have a robust business to showcase to investors.

You’ve worked in nascent and established startup ecosystems across the country. What’s consistent across all? What stands out to you about Philadelphia?

Every ecosystem I’ve worked in has a deep desire to see founders succeed. Philly shares the same desire but has an added competitive advantage: it doesn’t believe it needs to replicate Silicon Valley to achieve that success. This community knows they have all the ingredients from unparallel university research, globally renowned startup support organizations like the Science Center, a myriad of angel and venture capital groups, and a network of corporate partners all working together to make Philadelphia an innovation juggernaut.

What keeps you up at night? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

My career has enabled me to work all over the world, and no matter what time zone I’m operating in and whether I’m awake or asleep, founders are working. Day and night, they’re building and trying to get their innovation to market. My aim is to help them whenever and wherever I can. For me, innovation knows no border or time zones.

What is your superpower?

I have had the privilege of building an incredible global network of founders, investors, startup supporters, policy makers, and ecosystem champions. I have a trusted network and I know how to use it. I am really good at connecting like-minded people to see them come together to produce exponential impact.

When you’re not working, what can we find you doing?

Globetrotting or at home grilling a ribeye steak while sipping a Don Julio Anejo tequila. My great escape, though, is taking long walks on hidden nature trails with my chocolate labradoodle listening to endless podcasts . . . about supporting startups.