It’s been just over a year since AltFinance, a program created to increase diverse representation across the alternative investment industry, launched its signature fellowship program in partnership with Clark Atlanta University, Howard University, Morehouse College and Spelman College. And in the time since, its goal of bringing more Black students into the alternative finance fold has proven fruitful. So much so, AltFinance announced last week that it is gifting $500,000 each, $2 million total, to its HBCU founding partners. The hope is to further the transformative work already taking place at these liberal arts institutions. 

“In our first year, we launched our Fellowship program in partnership with Management Leadership for Tomorrow, providing 31 HBCU students with industry-specific education, exposure, and experience necessary to succeed in the alternative investments,” Marcus Shaw, CEO of AltFinance tells EBONY of the inaugural class. “These fellows have already developed relationships with mentors and leaders in the industry that will better position them for success; 70 percent secured summer internships in alternatives or investment banking. Over the next 10 years, we expect hundreds of students will benefit from the fellowship program.”

The program’s first cohort set off in January of this year with a curriculum driven by AltFinance’s mission to help HBCU students interested in finance, gain exposure, mentorship and hands-on experience to jumpstart a long-term career in the alternative financial industry. The three main pillars of the initiative are AltFinance Fellowship, AltFinance Institute and AltFinance Scholarship. As outlined in a statement shared with EBONY, the Fellowship provides students from partner HBCUs intensive preparation, mentorship and guidance for breaking into a career in alternatives. The Institute will provide students at all HBCUs with virtual courses and programming to build financial acumen, and The Scholarship provides program fellows with need-based funding each year they are in the program to pursue their academic endeavors.

“The AltFinance Fellowship program has provided our students an opportunity to join a trillion-dollar, fast-paced and limitless industry that impacts innovation and finance projects in important industries such as healthcare, technology, and the service sector,” states Dean Anthony Wilbon, Ph.D of Howard University School of Business.

A commitment of $90 million from Apollo Global Management, Ares Management Corporation,and Oaktree Capital Management over the next 10 years, makes it all possible and fuels the opportunity for Black students to excel in a relatively young industry with a small number of firms and a small workforce. “The leading firms in the industry are not names that most people know, although they own some of the most recognizable brands in the world. The pathway to a career in the industry is largely based on relationships and networks that have historically not included Black people,” says Shaw.  

Because firms have traditionally targeted Ivy League schools and elite investment banks to source talent, these feeder systems are faced with challenges in diversity, driving a narrow pipeline of Black talent in the alternatives industry.  On the investment side of the business, Shaw describes the industry as an “apprentice model,” meaning most professionals start from the bottom. “This dynamic makes it difficult for professionals to enter the industry mid-career without having to restart from the bottom,” the 20-plus year financial industry vet asserts. “If you are not exposed to the industry as an undergraduate or early in your career, it is unlikely Blacks will find an entry point into the industry. AltFinance is solving this dilemma by building relationships between HBCUs and alternative investment firms, such that a critical mass of highly-talented Black students gains early exposure to the opportunities available in alternative investments.” 

Over the course of the last year, the leaders at AltFinance have shared their knowledge, and in return have been able to witness the growth of the program’s participants. “Our Fellows have demonstrated a passion for investing and understanding how wealth can improve their lives and those around them,” says Shaw. The partnering schools have also seen the payoff from this investment and are eager to behold the success that will come from this collaboration. “Financial leadership is among the most important attributes of a Morehouse student and graduate,” says David A. Thomas, Ph.D., Morehouse College President. “Our partnership with AltFinance will empower our students to become financial change agents who can not only build wealth for themselves but also foster sustainable prosperity in challenged communities for individuals and families from all economic backgrounds. We continue to prepare professionals who can catalyze a more equitable financial future based on broader access to investment opportunities.”