Nassir Criss has been a risk-taker for as long as he can remember, he shared.
“When you start at the bottom, the only place you can go is up — so I’ve never been afraid to speak my mind or walk up to someone who I think may be interesting and say hello. I haven’t been afraid to try new things or move to new places. I moved from New York City to Missouri,” said Criss, an investment associate with Sixty8 Capital and recent Venture for America graduate.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Criss got his first taste of entrepreneurship while attending Christopher Newport University in Virginia where he launched his first startup.
“It was successful but not lucrative,” he recalled. “I wanted to stay in the world of entrepreneurship, so I worked at several other startups and helped my friends get ideas off the ground. And then I went to go build a Techstars company with a CEO and CTO. … I’ve always been thinking about how to build a high-growth company, and one of the most important parts of that is surrounding yourself with the right people.”
The concept of building an ecosystem of other innovative individuals led Criss to apply for Venture for America (VFA) — a national nonprofit and two-year fellowship program that equips a next generation of entrepreneurs with the necessary skills and resources to create jobs. Criss was accepted into VFA’s class of 2020, leading him to move to Kansas City.
“It was incredible because [VFA] really helped me break into venture at a much more accelerated pace than most people usually do,” Criss said, noting he was hired as a software investor at Five Elms Capital through VFA.
After a little more than a year at Five Elms, Criss was ready to once again take a risk.
Journey with Sixty8 Capital
Early in Criss’ entrepreneurial career, he realized that demographics like socioeconomic status, gender, and racial and ethnic backgrounds played a significant factor in access to resources, he noted.
“It was very difficult for me to build businesses, and I never thought about getting capital as an option to grow a company — that was until I did it with the help of others who were cisgender, white males,” Criss said. “I started to ask to myself, ‘How do we bridge the gap so that underrepresented people can have the access to the resources and the networks that they need to be able to grow the same types of companies?’”
Answering Criss’ question was Sixty8 Capital — an Indiana-based, Black, woman-led venture capital firm that launched its first $20 million fund in 2021. The firm is working to empower and invest between $250,000 to $500,000 in 30 pre-seed and seed-stage companies in the Midwest that are led by entrepreneurs who are people of color, women, LGBTQ+ or have disabilities.
Criss joined co-founders Kelli Jones and Paul Ehlinger to be part of Sixty8 Capital’s founding team in 2021.
“It was a huge risk coming from a billion-dollar firm like Five Elms that comes with a lot of security, but I am extremely passionate about Sixty8’s mission,” Criss shared. “… It felt natural to move to a team of three. You’re able to move faster with a smaller team of three, but the resources aren’t the same; so you have to get back into this scrappy mindset of, ‘How can I do the most with the least?’”
Along with several other startups between the coasts, Sixty8 Capital has invested in QuickHire — a Wichita-based career discovery application for the service economy workforce.
“Say you’re a waitress or bartender or work at a franchise like McDonald’s and you’re looking to find new work, QuickHire shows you all the opportunities in your area and you can swipe through them Tinder-style,” Criss explained. “Another part of it is the upskilling and rescaling course it offers. Maybe you start as a cashier at McDonals, but you want to be a general manager and eventually a franchisor of your own — it will take you through what you need to do to get to that new position.”
Click here to read more about QuickHire’s history-making round.
QuickHire was founded by sisters Angela Muhwezi-Hall and Deborah Gladney. They are two of 49 Black women who raised more than a million dollars in 2021 and believed to be the first Black women to raise $1 million in Kansas.
Click here to check out Sixty8 Capital’s portfolio of investments.
Although Criss graduated from VFA in June, he plans to continue his work with Sixty8 Capital for the foreseeable future, he said, noting his plans to leave Kansas City (for now).
“It’s been an incredible journey,” Criss said. “I’m blessed to have the village I have, and that VFA brought me to Kansas City. You obviously have to move on from things. Nothing lasts forever. But I want to be able to say that I did all that I could do in that place or with that person or in that program. I have no regrets because I feel like I maximized the opportunity, and I’m excited for the next chapter.”
Becoming a globetrotter
From working with startups and venture capital, Criss has developed an appetite for exploring new avenues and taking risks, he said.
“I’m not just doing things out of impulse; I’m much more strategic about it now,” he noted.
This outlook led him to the life of a digital nomad, he continued. Starting in September, Criss will begin traveling the world for a year to meet community leaders, while also searching for the best entrepreneurs to invest in with Sixty8 Capital.
“On the self-development side, I will really learn and evolve my perspective,” Criss said. “… My mom has always pushed education onto me and my sister. And beyond college, just teaching us to fall in love with learning. So my curiosity definitely comes from her.”
Criss plans to travel throughout the United States, as well as Europe, Africa and the Middle East, he said — noting he is currently in the process of developing a creative way to share his journey with others and allow them to get involved.
“The end goal is hopefully — after a year or maybe two if I fall in love with it — is to come back to Kansas City or another place along the journey with this renewed vision of life and I will be able to contribute so much more,” he explained.
In his personal journal, Criss has written down the goal of creating 100 millionaires before he dies, he shared.
“I want to be an inspiration for people to be healthier, wealthier and just more excited to live,” Criss said. “That translates to how I think about myself, how I talk to myself and how I view life. My outlook has become more positive. I’ve become more rooted in my community.”
The idea of one’s legacy is always changing, Criss continued, but he stands by the sentiment that people need to keep the right priorities.
“There’s such a short amount of time here,” Criss said. “We don’t need to be serious all the time, but get serious about enjoying life and being intentional with your time. When you really think about it, why would you spend any time not trying to achieve happiness?”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.