By Evan Chandler – Santa Fe Reporter
July 24, 2023
Creativity has a long history in Kelly Holmes’ life.
As a Miniconjou Lakota from the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, Holmes founded Native Max Magazine 10 years ago. The first Native fashion magazine of its kind blossomed into a full-blown multimedia company that publishes positive stories about Indigenous people across print, digital and social media platforms. And if that wasn’t enough, Holmes now wants to go even further in supporting her community.
Holmes, who lives in Denver, co-founded Skoden Ventures with long-time Santa Fe creative entrepreneur Alice Loy from Creative Startups as a venture capital firm dedicated to investing in creative businesses owned by Indigenous, Black and Brown people and women, who often struggle most in securing venture funding. According to PitchBook reports, companies founded solely by women received around 2.1% of the total capital invested in venture-backed startups in 2022. Black entrepreneurs face a more challenging situation: Crunchbase data shows only around 1% of the total venture capital went to Black entrepreneurs in the same year. Data on Indigenous-owned companies is virtually nonexistent.
“[Alice and I] both share this passion of helping creative entrepreneurs succeed. That is all we want,” Holmes tells SFR. “I want to see my people succeed and thrive for generations to come, so with my work I’m able to do that, and with Skoden Ventures, I can do that even better.”
The name “Skoden,” a slang word in Native communities that’s a version of “Let’s go then,” represents action and how fast the duo wants to start preparing and equipping the entrepreneurs they invest in, she says.
The nascent company has begun to seek creatives for future investment, according to Holmes. For example, Shelby Kaye, owner of Broken Arrow Glass Recycling, currently has a “mentor-like” relationship with Skoden Ventures, she tells SFR, and has made a pitch for capital.
Kaye upcycles glass into art, offers stained glass classes and is currently working with Los Alamos National Labs to study the raw material and create innovative and diverse products out of it, including a mix of concrete and glass called terrazzo.
Her connection to Skoden started with Loy through the Creative Startups programs, a series of classes designed to teach entrepreneurial skills and promote growth. She says one way Skoden appeals to her most are the shared values they hold, measuring success by sustainable community impact, and they’ve been insightful in helping grow her business.
“While I always knew the material science behind raw glass material was where the interest and the growth potential is within my business, [Skoden Ventures is] helping guide me and facilitating the support of working with LANL and resources within this community that I can have access to [so that I can] continue to grow these products I’m developing,” Kaye says.
When Skoden Ventures decides to invest, the firm starts by studying the pain points, or what’s hindering growth, and deciding what kind of capital might be needed. From there, they create a few different creative model funding structures for the creative to consider.
“We really want to work with the entrepreneurs and what they need and what would help them,” Holmes says, “but at the same time not be overbearing.”
Skoden relies on not just investors, but also “venture partners,” who Holmes says help secure investors and also connect entrepreneurs who are seeking help.
One partner, Executive Director of Vital Spaces and co-founder of Earthseed Black Arts Alliance Raashan Ahmad, has years of working with creatives in Santa Fe under his belt. Finding affordable spaces for artists and amplifying the voices of Black creatives in public arts and culture programming makes up some of the work for both organizations.
He first got involved with Skoden Ventures through previous partnerships with Creative Startups and Loy, who is a friend. He describes the fund as an “amazing model,” that moves away from more “transactional and extractive” relationships in exchange for true partnerships.
“I’ve always just realized that a lot of me and my friends always had amazing ideas and things we wanted to do, but we never had any capital, any context of capital, any understanding of how that would work, and even anybody who was in the VC space that understood culture in a deep way,” Ahmad says. “This model with the lead being two women and one being an Indigenous woman, it really puts culture and the people at the forefront of it, so I just wanted to be a part of it and support the community of creatives that are mostly of color and women who just don’t have the same opportunities.”
Holmes agrees there’s a lot of hesitancy and not many opportunities within financial spaces, especially among creative entrepreneurs who typically aren’t out to make millions of dollars. She says this mode could make the difference.
“We invest capital in return for equity,” Holmes says. “We are a venture capital firm in the way it is commonly understood, but we are different from traditional VC in ways that are really important, such as we know BIPOC and women are building the next economy and they are severely undervalued and undercapitalized, which is a great opportunity for investors. And creatives drive extraordinary economic value. We know how to do both.”