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Kevin Hart, comedy superstar, assumes the role of startup guru

Founder of HartBeat Ventures Kevin Hart speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt 2022 on October 19, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. | Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch

Kevin Hart is a movie star, one of the world’s biggest comedians and an avid crusader against cancel culture.

But in the parlance of Jay-Z, he’s also “a business, man”: a magnate-in-the-making with a toehold in media production, NFTs, undergarments and startups through his venture capital firm HartBeat Ventures. 

“I don’t like to use the term celebrity; at this point I’m a business, I’m a brand,” Hart said during a panel at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference on Wednesday. 

Growing up in North Philadelphia, where Hart said conversations about personal finance were nonexistent, he initially viewed investments with healthy skepticism. His eventual exploration of venture investing was the result of a yearslong process of education about risk capital and the larger economy. 

“Investing to me was attached to the space of the con,” Hart said. “The biggest learning for me was understanding that investment has a timeline attached to it; just because I invest today does not mean I get anything tomorrow.”

Hart was sharing the stage with Robert Roman, the cofounder and president of HartBeat Ventures, and Michael Elanjian, the head of digital investment banking at J.P. Morgan. The occasion was J.P. Morgan cutting a check for HartBeat Ventures’ new fund, in the firm’s first institutional investment. Elanjian said the investment was part of Project Spark, the bank’s initiative to invest in diverse, emerging capital managers.

How big that check was, though, was left unsaid. 

Despite valiant efforts by moderator and TechCrunch reporter Natasha Mascarenhas to surface more details on the investment, HartBeat Ventures’ stated commitment to funding diverse businesses or the fund’s focus areas, the speakers stubbornly stuck to their talking points.

But it was a great opportunity to see Hart in action—not as a comedian, but in a role more familiar to the startup-centric crowd. That is, a public-facing venture capitalist sharing business platitudes. 

On the kinds of founders HartBeat Ventures backs:

“When people are excited about things and they’re 100% committed to things, they find a way of giving their all to things. I think that’s when you put yourself in the position to get the best business return,” said the stand-up star. 

On how the firm is poised to grow past Hart himself: 

“This is a space and a world where egos can’t exist. The only way to improve is to empower. […] This is a table where we sit and we talk, we ideate and we come up with the best possible solution-based ideas,” Hart opined. 

On relationship-building within tech: 

“In this space if I want the right relationship, I have to be willing to do the work to obtain the more. That's what I do very well. I think that's the separation from the Kevin Hart and the world of this and that,” he philosophized. 

Ultimately, Hart painted his activities with HartBeat Ventures as a journey to try and create a lasting business and a brand that lives outside of his persona as a performer. If the firm’s new partnership with a major bank is any indication, he might be onto something. 

“When I look at names at the top of buildings, my mindset is ‘Why can’t that be a HartBeat Ventures? Why can’t that have a name attached to an entity that I helped create that has longevity and is evergreen?” Hart said. 

“If it was just about the Kevin Hart effect, I would go and do shows, I would go do more movies. That’s not what this is for me, and that’s the difference,” he said.