Silicon Valley Times

Ron Levin, “Higher Purpose Venture Capital”

Ron invests in early-stage startup companies as Managing Partner and Head of the AV Seed fund at Alumni Ventures, the most active VC firm in the United States. Ron has spent his career in a variety of entrepreneurial, leadership, and business development roles. He has been an angel investor and advisor to over a dozen technology startups. Ron was Co-Founder and CEO of TravelPerk, a VC-backed travel management platform that is now a “unicorn” company with thousands of employees and customers across the globe. Prior to TravelPerk, he started the B2B division of Booking.com and before that was a consultant with McKinsey & Co. Ron began his career at Lycos, one of the web’s pioneer search engine/web portals. Ron graduated from Babson College and received his MBA from Harvard Business School. He is the author of the impact-focused

Higher Purpose Venture Capital Blog on Substack. An avid world traveler, having visited over 140 countries and all 50 states, Ron lives outside of Boston with his wife and two daughters. 

Inspiration and Motivation:

Your book emphasizes the failure of societies to address poverty and inequality. What inspired you to delve into the intersection of venture capital and social impact, and why do you believe it’s a crucial area for exploration?

Since transitioning from startup operator to VC investor close to five years ago, I began to recognize I was motivated by companies that were solving major societal problems. I was fascinated by companies that were taking on the causes and effects of poverty and income inequality.

Many of us who have been fortunate enough to be in the position to deploy vast sums of capital haven’t faced barriers in life, like the challenge of paying $100 for an unexpected medical bill or not being able to send our kids to high-quality schools. I decided I wanted to amplify the stories of inspiring entrepreneurs who were taking on such barriers in the hopes I’d inspire investors to consider generating true impact alongside financial returns.

As a proponent of capitalism as a tool for social justice, I began interviewing some of these incredible founders and sharing their stories via blog posts. I eventually compiled 50 of these stories to share with a wider audience in my book.

Socially Conscious Entrepreneurs:

Can you share a specific example from the book of an entrepreneur whose work is making a significant impact on societal challenges, and what drew you to their story?

One of the most striking stories in the book is about an education technology company called AllHere. Founded by Joanna Smith-Griffin, a former Boston public school math teacher, the company’s AI chat platform boosts engagement between schools and families.

AllHere’s app is making a material difference in raising attendance rates across age groups by helping to solve issues related to absenteeism, all in real-time. It’s also helping teachers communicate with parents about their child’s homework, performance, and other school-related matters.

Having been incubated at Harvard’s i-lab and Google’s Startups Accelerator, AllHere has raised over $8 million in VC funding and is achieving demonstrable success, both in terms of user adoption as well as educational outcomes that many inner-city public schools have long struggled to achieve.

Funding Challenges and Solutions:

The availability of funding is a key barrier for purpose-driven entrepreneurs. What challenges do these entrepreneurs face in securing funding, and how does your book provide insights or solutions for both entrepreneurs and investors?

In the book, I focus on “showing” rather than “telling” by sharing 50 examples of purpose-driven founders who have, in fact, raised institutional venture funding to pursue their innovative solutions. Through a Q&A format, the founders themselves tell readers how they got started and what they’ve done to build their ventures.

A common theme among these founders is that nearly all of them—either personally or through direct relationships—experienced the very problems they’re aiming to solve. These problems relate to education, health and wellness, career potential, food, housing, and other causes and symptoms of poverty and inequality.

Because I call the book “Higher Purpose Venture Capital,” I include a list of investors who have backed these companies so readers will get an idea of the specific VC firms that are bullish about funding scalable tech businesses with both a social and bottom-line mission.

Global Perspective:

It’s clear that you envision venture capital as a force for ending global poverty. How does your work address the global implications of venture capital, and do you see unique opportunities or challenges in different regions?

There are innumerable opportunities to eradicate the causes and effects of global poverty. In the book, I share several examples of companies that are tackling global issues, ranging from access to capital to simplifying remittances for migrant workers to access to affordable food staples to ensuring safe drinking water in poor, rural communities.

Roughly 50% of the population of Africa, for example, is unbanked or underbanked. This group has a very limited ability to raise money to pay bills, buy a house, invest in education, or start a small business. Thankfully, a generation of innovators called “neobanks” are helping people get around these barriers to credit. I profile companies such as Fido, which operates in Ghana, and Carbon, which is active in Nigeria, as well as software infrastructure providers, such as Emtech, that are enabling a revolution in the democratization of money and opportunity.

Practical Guidance for Readers:

Your book is described as a practical, hands-on guide. Can you elaborate on the practical steps or advice you provide to readers who want to align their investments with both purpose and profit? Are there key principles or strategies discussed in the book?

Investors are unique individuals who have different motivations and priorities that determine which issues are most meaningful to them. I always encourage angel and VC investors to think about what causes matter most. What would they wish to solve in their lifetime if they could? This might be solving climate change, economic inequality, education, rights for disabled individuals, or enhancing global philanthropy.

If you’re looking to invest, start researching and networking with individuals and organizations who align with your priorities. Try to find those entrepreneurs who are bringing energy and dedication to solving the issues that matter to you. Contact them and offer your wallet—and your expertise if it’s relevant. No successful startup gets that way because of just one person. Without guidance and, importantly, capital, few of these businesses have a chance to grow at scale.

Consider that all early-stage venture investing comes with risk and is generally a long-term, illiquid form of investing. However, the potential returns of such investments are often more meaningful than a safe investment in fixed-income or public stocks. Think about the right diversification strategy for your investment portfolio; how much of that should be dedicated to supporting purpose-driven founders who are working to solve the problems you care about most?

Measuring Success:

In your book, you talk about identifying multiple paths to purpose-driven profits. How do you measure success in the context of venture capital that aligns with a higher purpose? What indicators or metrics do you find most valuable in evaluating impact?

There are several metrics to look at in any “double bottom-line” business, but these naturally depend on the specific business model. Any for-profit business that hopes to scale must demonstrate customer growth, user loyalty and retention, and gross margin profitability. If it’s not a sustainable business for shareholders, it won’t be able to execute its social mission either.

The performance measurements for impact will vary. For instance, how much does an e-learning upskilling platform lead to higher earning potential for its students? How many new small businesses are created because a new service allows unbanked clients to borrow money to get started? What’s the productivity impact of offering better access to childcare? The list goes on, but the point is when it comes to measuring results, financial indicators and impact measurements go hand in hand. 

Connect with Ron Levin:

Download Your Copy Today: https://amzn.to/3w4j7BP

Visit: higherpurposevc.com

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