At Unshackled, our mission is to empower the next generation of immigrant founders. As part of that, we want to be as transparent as possible about what we look for in new ventures, how we think about investing and who we are as people. So, we decided to turn the interview on ourselves. First up, we are profiling our newest partner, Maria Salamanca.
Partner, Unshackled Ventures
What do you think makes Unshackled unique?
Two things: when we invest, and who we invest in. We focus on pre-seed. That means we get to be the first people to demonstrate belief in a new idea. I think our superpower is identifying undiscovered talent. We’re not looking for carbon copies of past winners. We get involved really early — sometimes before a founder has even left their day job. So, we develop a strong relationship before they show up on other VC’s radars.
How does your experience as an immigrant inform your approach to investing?
I know how tough it can be to show up in the US without a support network and try to build a life. I know because that’s exactly what my parents had to do when they first arrived from Colombia. My Mom had been a stay-at-home-mom, but in the US, she had to work three separate jobs. My Dad had run a hospital back home but couldn’t find the same kind of white-collar work in Florida without the U.S education level to match it.
As a family, we were ripped off by bad lawyers and had to start from zero. I was on my own a lot, and had to figure out my path without much guidance. I think that experience really drives me to support our incredible founders — that is, to give them the resources and community that a lot of young immigrants simply don’t have access to.
What do you think is special about the Unshackled community?
I think we create space for everyone to feel safe and really be themselves. That’s especially important given our community. In many funds, it’s against the norms to ask the “dumb questions” because it shows weakness in founder communities. But if you’re new to this country and starting your first company, having open conversations about the most basic things can be crucial.
Another important–if obvious–thing: We are all immigrants here. Both the founders and the investors. So, we’ve all been through the same process in some form or another. It’s a nurturing and supportive community where people show up and really care. I think that’s pretty hard to find these days — in any context, not just investing.
What should founders know about working with you?
One thing we emphasize is being totally transparent and clear about our process. We’ve heard so many stories of founders getting ghosted — or, never getting an initial response. We make an effort to operate differently. Our process is pretty simple. First, we write back to every single email. If we’re interested, the flow is as follows: there’s a pitch, two or three more meetings, diligence, and then there’s an investment. Or, there’s not. But we’ll let you know where you stand at every step of that process.
What drives you to do this work?
I’m relentless. I’m incredibly driven to win on behalf of my founders. I also think VC is the perfect venue for someone like me because of the pace of the game. It doesn’t matter what I accomplished yesterday, today I have to go out and prove myself again.
I’m also inspired by the icons of venture capital, and their exceptional ability to see the present clearly. What are the current inflection points that are pointing the way toward the next great startup? Every other VC has a thesis about how crypto and the metaverse will change society. The much harder question is timing: the when and the why. Trying to figure that out is what drives me every day.