ND Founder Profile #150: Latinos’ lack of access to capital inspired this founder to launch a fast-growing angel group


Company Founded: Angeles Investors Year Graduated: 2004
Title: CEO & Co-Founder Degree: MBA, Mendoza College of Business
Location: Munster, IN Residence Hall: NA

Born in Gary, Indiana, in 1972 to immigrant parents from Puerto Rico, David Olivencia had a typical American childhood. He attended Catholic school. Played football, including his high school’s state champion team. He also enjoyed math and computers.

One thing was different, however. All of his grandparents mainly spoke Spanish, and his extended family was bilingual. They’d come to his games and would sometimes be the only ones in the stands speaking and cheering in Spanish. Family gatherings were boisterous, rich with traditional Puerto Rican food and music.

“At the time, my grade school was only about five percent Latino. Being ‘different’ didn’t matter. We had few issues; we were accepted into our community,” he says.

No one in Olivencia’s family had ever graduated from college, so when it was time to choose a school, he aimed high and was accepted by Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, among the top engineering schools in the United States. “I loved what they were doing in computer science, and I could continue playing football,” he explains. “I was lucky to get in because my SATs barely made it over the minimum requirement.”

The pressure to succeed during college weighed heavily on Olivencia. After playing for two seasons, he gave up football to focus on his major, electrical engineering. During the summer, he took classes at Purdue University Northwest to get a leg up. “I was really scared I wouldn’t make it out of college and scared I wouldn’t have options. I literally studied all the time. When I graduated early, I was the first person to earn a college degree in my family.”

Olivencia’s tenacity caught the eye of Accenture (then Anderson Consulting). The firm offered him a job in Chicago as a technology consultant. The magnitude of the moment lives with him still.

“My parents grew up very poor, and as a child we were middle class. In 1994, my starting salary with Accenture was $34,000 a year. That was more than my parents made together!”

What came next was equally mind blowing. “Here I was, a 21-year-old kid, consulting with clients around the country on system technology strategy and implementations. Within a couple of years at Accenture, I was working with Verizon in New York City, Koch Industries in Wichita, Kansas, and USAA Insurance in San Antonio. The Internet was just coming on and here I was, still a kid, advising major companies on how to leverage technology to be more successful,” he says.

“It was quite a run!”

After Accenture, OliVencia joined Intelligroup for two years before joining the Ford Motor Company as an enterprise architect. It was during this team that he realized he was inadequately prepared to have high-level business conversations about finance, accounting, and other core business functions. He started looking at top executive MBA programs: University of Michigan, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.

“I had always loved Notre Dame, but when I went to visit the campus, it touched me. The Catholic values, the traditions, the crosses hanging in the classrooms, the way people greeted me. I believe it was a divine calling for me to go to Notre Dame,” he says

His choice of MBA programs was life changing on many levels. “Up until this point, my faith was on the side. At Notre Dame, I learned that faith is integral to you as a leader and can be a huge source of strength. It makes you a better leader and a better human being.”

While at Notre Dame, Olivencia also developed a passion for entrepreneurship and investing. “I knew about technology and startups but didn’t know how to get in the game. I started learning about investing, startups and pitching. My last project as part of my MBA was helping with the IDEA Center, which was in its infancy.”

At the time, the University of Notre Dame and the IDEA Center weren’t doing much in the area of tech transfer. As part of his project, Olivencia talked with leaders of the South Bend community to see what they wanted. This ultimately led to creating a tech transfer strategy for the IDEA Center.

“This experience led me to get involved with angel investing,” Olivencia says. “I started to invest with some groups and on my own and joined the IrishAngels in 2013. I really enjoyed mentoring startups and reviewing business plans.” He also served on the Mendoza Alumni Advisory Board from 2005-2015.

With his MBA completed, Olivencia continued moving up in the global corporate world, serving in senior positions for Verizon, Oracle, and Softtek before returning to Accenture for another six-year run as a managing director.

Something else happened during this time that was ignited by his time at Notre Dame: Olivencia began looking for ways to give other Latinos a hand up. “I looked around and there were not many role models for Latinos in senior tech and corporate roles. I wanted to identify and promote role models for Latinos beyond the usual athletes and celebrities. We need a workforce that is representative of our society and for a better America.”

In 2006, he co-founded the Hispanic Information Technology Executive Council (HITEC). The organization’s purpose was to help grow stronger companies, stronger leadership teams, and a stronger America by increasing the competency, leadership, and influence of Hispanic IT leaders. Since then, HITEC has grown to be one of the strongest technology non-profits in the world whose membership includes CIOs and technology executives of numerous Global 1000 companies including AT&T, DHL, Facebook, HP, J&J, Coca-Cola, and others.

In March 2011, Olivencia joined the Board of Directors of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute, serving until January 2020. During his time on the nonpartisan board, he was invited to the White House across three presidential administrations and met the presidents of Colombia and Mexico. He also testified before Congress. In addition to bringing a voice to Latinos and honing his leadership skills, Olivencia realized there was more he could do elevate other Latinos in business.

In 2020, during the peak of the global pandemic, he made his biggest move to date, co-founding Angeles Investors, an angel investing group focused on Latino innovators, entrepreneurs and investors with an eye to economic development and betterment of society.

“I looked at the trend in the U.S. population. Latinos are 20 percent of the population and growing. Yet we only receive two percent of venture capital. That’s a funding gap of hundreds of billions of dollars over the last several years if one funds to parity of population. I have great connections within the Latino community and across global corporations. Angeles Investors is an opportunity for me to leverage my network to find, fund, and grow promising Hispanic led or supported startups.”

Among Olivencia’s first tasks was recruiting sponsors to fund the organizational structure and processes, hire staff, recruit board members and volunteers, and allow him to quit his day job and serve as a full-time CEO. An experienced networker and best-selling author of NetWORKing Excellence, Olivencia was up for the task. He succeeded in signing on six of the eight largest U.S. banks as well as Amazon and Google.

Few angel investing groups have a cohort of sponsors quite like Angeles Investors. Olivencia says it is not a diversity play. Rather, it’s sound business, a recognition that Hispanics are among the fastest growing segments of U.S. population. “Hispanics are a huge under-served growth market. These companies want to connect with this demographic as innovators, business partners and consumers. Supporting Angeles Investors, our team and portfolio demonstrates commitment to the Hispanic community and what we can achieve.”

With sponsors aligned, building out Angeles Investors’ board or directors, advisors and team members. Again, Olivencia leaned into his network, recruiting colleagues from his days with HITEC as well as CEOs, CIOs, and directors of other investment groups. True to his vision of lifting other Latinos up, he currently has five interns from universities from across the United States. In terms of investors, membership is open to accredited investors who can invest in any deal of their choosing and associate members who do not invest.

With a lack of capital available to Latino-led startup companies, the word got out quickly to Latino entrepreneurs about Angeles Investors, aided in part by a LinkedIn page with more than 10,000 followers. Says Olivencia, “The response from entrepreneurs has been overwhelming. We look at 200 deals a quarter, all with a Hispanic connection. Our criteria for investing is strict. We look at the companies and ask, can this make money? What is the growth potential? Do they have the right leader, the right market.”

He adds, “We’re tough. We only invest in one or two deals a quarter.”

Even with thorough due diligence, Angeles Investors has built a portfolio of 22 companies, representing agtech, digital media, fintech, and SaaS. Among the group’s super stars is Canela Media, a minority and female-owned media company that is the first free streaming service of culturally relevant programming for U.S. Hispanics. Its founder and CEO, Isabel Rafferty Zavala, was E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year in 2023.

Although Angeles Investors is a young group with just four years under its belt, it is among the fastest growing angel networks in the country. In 2023, Olivencia and his team succeeded in launching a $35 million fund. Olivencia has invested in more than 70 companies and his portfolio contains three unicorns and 10 companies with valuations of $100 million or more. His message to investors and startup founders: Patience.

“We are getting better at sourcing startups, recruiting members and hosting events,” Olivencia says, “but the pressure is on. With our focus on Hispanic innovators, entrepreneurs and investors, we are changing perceptions of startups, investors and society at large. We want to be role models in how to do things right. So we want our portfolio companies to outperform those of other angel groups.”

The biggest challenges to date, says Olivencia, are managing growth and educating the Hispanic community on angel investing. “Angeles Investors has grown so fast that we have to ask ourselves ‘How big do we want to be? How much should we invest?’ Those aren’t easy questions. Our investors, many of whom are Hispanics with first generation wealth, are not familiar with this asset class. I’m one of the most experienced at angel investing so I spend a lot of time educating members and potential members.”

The biggest wins to date are securing a roster of world-class sponsors, which has fostered immediate credibility, and participating in Canela Media’s Series A round. Angeles Investors wrote checks totaling close to $2 million. in the Latina-led streaming media company. “That was exciting,” Olivencia says.

Asked what advice he’d offer to others regardless of race or ethnicity who want to start a company, Olivencia offered this: “Really love and be passionate about the problem you’re solving as it will consume your life. Get the right advisors and mentors lined up who are potential investors, colleagues and customers. These should be people who care about what you’re doing and want to help.”

He continues, “Have a quick path to revenue. Too many startups let two to three years go by and still haven’t figured out revenue. It’s a muscle you have to use—asking people to pay for what you’re developing—or your company will die. Finally, if you want to accelerate your career or your startup, get deliberate about networking.”


Originally published by Melanie Lux at ideacenter.nd.edu on February 14, 2024.