Tariq Trotter — known as “Black Thought” from the Philadelphia hip-hop group The Roots — is now a venture capitalist, thanks to relationships he built in Boston over the past few years.
It’s an interesting development, given that the musician wasn’t thinking about things like term sheets or return on investments for most of his career.
But in 2014, the lead MC of the house band for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” was going through a difficult time — the band’s longtime manager died of cancer, and on top of the grief, Trotter felt uncertain about his professional career.
“I was trying to find myself, maybe redefine myself,” Trotter, 48, said.
Around 2016, he started to put more effort into building his personal brand. He created a social media presence and jumped at opportunities to speak at events.
That’s how he ended up at the Harvard Innovation Lab for a fireside chat, which Boston tech entrepreneur and investor Phil Beauregard invited him to. There, he met Rich Miner, cofounder of the Android operating system, who was making investments for Google’s venture arm.
Trotter had spent little time mixing with investors and entrepreneurs. He was actually “standoffish” to the venture capital world, having “less of an understanding of what it really was about,” he said. But something about the Harvard event made him feel comfortable.
“I mean, I can kick a rhyme,” Trotter quipped, after being asked to rap for the audience. Trotter recited freestyle lyrics for the next five minutes.
“I was able to open up and be vulnerable and transparent … in a way that I hadn’t really before in my career,” he recalled.
Trotter started angel investing in startups and learned more about the sector he was once skeptical of. He kept in touch with Beauregard and met David Brown, who started Impellent Ventures in 2019, and they tried to convene whenever Trotter played music in the Boston area.
“They would come out, bring a whole crew,” Trotter said. “Our friendship has come to be in an organic way.”
Now, the relationship is professional, too. Trotter has joined Beauregard and Brown at Impellent as a general partner. He said it’s important to him that he is “actually going to have to do stuff ... get my hands dirty.”
Impellent is raising $50 million to invest in companies in “secondary hubs,” or emerging tech ecosystems from the Rust Belt and East Coast. The fund is focused on sectors including artificial intelligence, health care, robotics, and consumer goods, and its team is based in several cities, including Boston, New York City (where Trotter lives), and Philadelphia.
The firm also provides startups and entrepreneurs of color with access to mentors, including familiar faces in Boston like Miner, Mike Volpe, who held executive roles at HubSpot and Lola.com, and Mike Salguero, founder and CEO of ButcherBox.
Trotter said he likes that Impellent is keen on “funding the underdog,” and he’s already been getting to know the movers and shakers of the Philly tech scene.
“That being my hometown, it’s just nice to come home with something to pipe into the community,” he said.