Kristen Sonday, cofounder of the justice tech company Paladin, is among six partners who are today launching a venture fund designed to support startups founded by diverse and underrepresented individuals in Chicago.

The fund, LongJump, is a first-check venture fund that will invest amounts averaging $100,000 in underrepresented ideas and founders, including founders of color or women.

While the fund will not focus on any particular industry, Sonday told me that she hopes that legal tech and justice tech companies will apply. She also hopes the fund’s model will encourage others in legal tech to invest in diverse startups.

Kristen Sonday

Sonday has been a vocal proponent of greater diversity in the legal profession broadly and in legal technology specifically.

She has twice conducted surveys of diversity among legal tech founders, with her latest survey in January showing that the number of diverse founders has dropped since her first survey in 2018, where the results were already woeful.

First-Check Fund

LongJump will focus on investing in startups at their earliest stages, where it can be difficult to raise investment capital and where diverse founders are less likely to be able to tap into “friends and family” funding.

“What we’re trying to do is revolutionary,” Sonday said, “to focus on pre-revenue, pre-traction companies that typically wouldn’t have the momentum to get into the typical venture capital scene.”

The fund’s six general partners are all founders or leaders of Chicago-based startups. Three are Black and Sonday is Latina. The other partners are:

Investors in the fund include the Yagan Family Foundation and more than 100 Chicago-area founders and business leaders, including Mike Gamson, CEO of e-discovery company Relativity.

While LongJump is not an incubator or accelerator, this network of limited partners will provide founders with connections to help them grow their businesses, as well as tactical advice on their products, sales and marketing, Sonday said.

Model for Legal

Even though LongJump is not focused on the legal vertical, Sonday hopes its model will inspire the legal tech community to pursue similar initiatives aimed at increasing diversity.

“It’s really important to walk the walk,” she said. “We do a lot of talking about supporting diverse founders, but it’s important to take the initiative to actually do that.

“I hope this inspires others in legal to up their commitment to diverse and female founders.”

Founders can learn more and submit an application at Applications will be reviewed on a quarterly basis, and the typical check size will be $100,000.

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.