Honoring the Living History of Tracy Gray

The expression “It’s not rocket science” is used to say something is not complicated, but most people saying it are not rocket scientists, so how would we really know?

Tracy Gray went from being an actual rocket scientist to a rock band manager with an interest in emerging technologies — and all of those experiences led to her current work leading a fund that invests in diverse founders with manufacturing companies, including clean-tech. I’ll listen to her anytime!

Photo from Tracy Gray's archives

Tracy is the Managing Partner and founder of The 22 Fund, which invests in tech-based manufacturing companies to increase their international sales (exports), creating clean, quality jobs of the future in the US. They intentionally include women and BIPOC led firms to deliver both high ROI and social/economic impact.

In her experience, “...women avoid discussion of power because we think it’s about being aggressive and taking over. Power is about making decisions and capital, and we, especially women of color, need to embrace the word power and not be ashamed in any way of having it.” Now, Tracy has placed herself in the position to address that issue on behalf of others.

Tracy’s journey to become the financial influencer she is today took her down a path that revealed roadblock after roadblock for women and people of color. Each obstacle only increased her determination to show that systems are strengthened by diversity — a conviction that would eventually lead to the founding of The 22 Fund. 

When she was in her 20’s, Tracy wanted to be an astronaut, but the Space Shuttle was designed with men of a certain size (which she was not) in mind and demanded perfect eyesight (Tracy wears glasses). But that didn’t stop her from pursuing the field of space travel. She described part of her first job as Systems Engineer and Mission Monitor for the NASA Space Shuttle as translating technical language for the non-technical top brass decision makers. The skills she developed in this context would later serve her well, but in case the space path didn’t work out, Tracy also had a side-hustle, managing rock bands just because she “liked the music“!

Photo from Tracy Gray's archives

Tracy’s varied experiences from out-of-this-world space travel to the music industry — combined with her tech savvy — opened doors for her in the late 1990s. She was invited to join a venture capital fund focused on early-stage tech firms. 

While in that position, she noted a pattern. “Two million dollars would go to white guys all the time, but everyone else got very little — even though this was the opposite of demographic trends in the US.” She also noticed that very few people of color were coming through, so she decided to start her own firm.

Tracy already had an impressive resumé, but notes that “women of color never think they are enough.” So, she earned dual MBAs. Her firm launched in 2008, but everything fell apart with the financial crash, so that plan was shelved, and she found herself regrouping, searching, and moving on.

She landed at the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office where she helped raise capital for affordable housing. Not space travel, not cool tech venture capital funds, and not a firm of her own, but it eventually led to a position as a senior advisor to the mayor for strategy. She focused on increasing exports from LA to help the regional economy there.

At the Mayor’s Office, she also worked with the Brookings Institute to work on increasing “exports” nationally to diversify and therefore help stabilize the US economy. This looked like an important direction to her. She felt that diversification was important. She tried to attract other investors. None came forward, but she was undeterred, so as she said, “I knew these types of companies were a good risk and spent the next four years to launch a fund myself.”

In 2018, Tracy launched The 22 Fund, a social-impact venture capital and advisory firm that invests in tech-based manufacturing companies to increase their exports. The firm sets itself apart by intentionally including women and BIPOC led firms, allowing it to deliver high return on investments, as well as, notable social and economic impact.

Tracy knew launching The 22 Fund was not going to succeed by “trying to make White men feel guilty and do the ‘right’ thing.” She saw The 22 Fund as an opportunity to grow women’s and people of color’s wealth and use the power of their wallets to change the world. She is now in the process of raising $100M to do just that.

“I look up to my collective ancestors, different people give us different things — like my parents and grandparents from Mississippi, like the picture of MLK and Thích Nhất Hạnh in my office, Amanda Gorman to Maya Angelou, my BIPOC female friends — and how much they do with so little. I am always trying to learn from all of them all the time, never just one.”