At a time when independent sponsors are giving private equity firms a run for their money, two investment bankers have teamed up to form a new firm with a distinct approach. Co-founders Chijioke Asomugha and Marques Martin have launched The Inkwell Group LLC to leverage racial and gender diversity.
The firm, based in Washington, DC and Cleveland, Ohio, will look to enhance lower middle-market companies through the addition of diverse executive and boardroom leadership. The firm's investments will target businesses within the healthcare, financial services, industrial manufacturing, and tech, media and telecom industries. On average, The Inkwell Group anticipates investing from $3 million to $30 million in equity to companies with up to $10 million in Ebitda. The firm has yet to make its first investment, however plans to invest on a deal-by-deal basis before establishing its first fund.
“Our goal is to help owners receive partial liquidity while remaining invested in the growth of their companies, should they so choose,” states Martin.
“We are focused on driving growth and believe in the additive impact that diverse executive perspectives and an inclusive culture can have on that process,” states Asomugha. “Small businesses rarely have complete management teams and tend to seek support within their existing network, resulting in group think that runs contrary to igniting innovation. Our approach directly addresses this obstacle to growth.” As part of the firm’s strategy to leverage diversity, Asomugha and Martin have created The Inkwell Executive Suite, a leadership network for experienced women and minority executives to source deals. Companies found in the top quartile for gender and ethnic diversity are are 15 percent and 35 percent, respectively, more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians, according to a 2015 McKinsey & Co. report.
Asomugha, prior to launching the new firm alongside Martin, led corporate development at Erico Global Co. for three years. Before then, he served as a senior associate at private equity firm Cyprium Partners and also worked in investment banking for Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS). Asomugha holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Stanford University and also received his Master of Business Administration degree in Finance and Management from Columbia University.
Martin, who received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration from Morehouse College, brings nearly 10 years of industry experience to the firm. Before establishing The Inkwell Group, he served as a senior associate for The Riverside Co., worked as an analyst for H.I.G. Capital, and most recently led KeyBank’s (NYSE: KEY) small business team as senior vice president. KeyBank’s small business team managed approximately $4 billion in assets at the time.
The Inkwell Group coming to market is rather timely as some executives say minorities and women are “grossly under-represented” in the sector. In fact, Robert L. Johnson recently launched his investment bank, RLJ Capital Markets, for some of those very reasons. Johnson owns middle-market private equity firm RLJ Equity Partners and founded Black Entertainment Television. Johnson is no stranger to paving the way for minorities in business.