In the past five years, there’s been an emphasis on increasing the percentage of funding for women and BIPOC-owned businesses. Not that it hasn’t come with a struggle. According to Fundera, out of the 12.3 million women-owned businesses in the U.S., women receive just 7% of venture funds for their startups. Although work still has to be done, significant strides have been made toward closing the funding gap. As a result, more companies and venture funds are created to invest in and support underrepresented communities every day.
Nicole Jeter West, the newly appointed CEO of underdog venture team, leads a team that makes a positive social impact in the investment sector. As a next-generation agency focusing on increasing diversity within the sports industry, 66% of the businesses underdog invests in are BIPOC or women-owned. Additionally, the company offers branding services to help change the value proposition and perspective of its portfolio clients, including SportsHi, Healium, X2 Performance and GameOn.
“Now, where I am, I want to be able to impact industry and culture at the macro level,” West states. “The mission for underdog was very much about that. I’ll use one of my favorite quotes from Shirley Chisholm, ‘Not only are we bringing our own folding chair to the table, but we’re creating a new table.’ We’re setting a new table and making room for everyone and anyone to participate. We’re doing that through the venture studio and the investments we’re making.”
West began her career at Madison Square Garden (MSG) after visiting a friend. While sitting in the lobby with a suit on, an executive asked if she was the next interviewee on his list. Although she wasn’t, he still asked her if she would like to interview for a trainee position. The New York Knicks offered her the role, and once the program ended, she wound up working her way to a marketing manager position.
While working at MSG, West got married and was ready to start a family. However, with the amount of stress she was under and the long hours the sports industry demands, she had a few miscarriages. West knew she needed a change of pace. So she transitioned over to the Mixx, serving as a senior project manager. The lifestyle change enabled her to become pregnant with her first child. Also, it opened her to the idea of starting her own company. In 2004, she launched a consulting firm out of her home, which allowed her the flexibility of earning an income while raising her son.
MORE FOR YOU
“I like to feed off other people’s energy and ideas and like to collaborate,” West explains. “It is a bit of an adjustment to learn that you don’t necessarily have that accessibility when you’re an entrepreneur and building something on your own. So that was probably the biggest challenge. But then I learned to create a network of other entrepreneurs.”
After two years, West went back to the Knicks as a director of marketing after a mentor told her about some of the front office changes and that he’d like her back on his team. She managed a $1.3 million media budget and accounted for $1.1 million in ticket revenue attributed to database marketing. Striving to evolve in her career, she eventually went to work for a startup before joining the United States Tennis Association (USTA). In five years, she worked her way from the director of marketing to the managing director of ticketing and digital strategy.
Gaining a reputation within the sports industry as an innovative woman who gets the job done, she was approached to join the Legends team. “My husband was like, ‘So what are you afraid of?’” West recalls. “And that was the last thing I needed to hear. I was like, ‘What do you mean afraid? I’m not afraid. I’m going to take this job.’ That was the best thing that I did because it pushed me and challenged me in ways that I’ve had not been challenged up until that point.”
In four years, she became general manager of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic properties and made it on the Sports Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 list. Eventually, she left Legends to work on LA 2028 full-time, marketing for the summer Olympic Games being held in Los Angeles in 2028.
Once West heard and understood underdog’s mission, she was drawn to the opportunity to not only evolve in her career, but she saw the impact she’d have on others and the world. She took a risk and joined the company as CEO in March.
“We’re not just an investment fund, we’re more like a venture studio because we’re providing investments to companies, but we’re also providing solutions and services,” West shares. “So it’s not just about writing a check. We want to see these companies succeed. … We’re not focused just on sports. We’re focused on culture and sports are part of the culture.”
As West pivoted in her career, she focused on the following essential steps:
- Take a step back and evaluate the opportunity. Don’t agree to a position with a snap judgment. Instead, assess the whole situation before giving a definitive answer.
- Have clarity on what you really want out of your next career pivot. That will help you focus your energy and efforts on finding that next role.
- Explore the opportunities that take you out of your comfort zone—here is where you’ll level up the most.
“I only think you’re as prepared as you think you are,” West concludes. “Every day, I’m learning something new.”