By Mitch Kapor, Partner at Kapor Capital
Where some are worn down by seeing seemingly intractable problems, others see innovative opportunities to create new solutions. The key to the entrepreneurial mindset is the ability to recognize opportunity where there is great need. Successful venture capitalists back entrpreneurs whose lived experience gives them the insight to spot opportunities underestimated or not seen by traditional investors.
Recognizing innovations that come from this mindset is our mission at Kapor Capital, where we have been fortunate to count Ben Jealous as one of our partners. He has been instrumental in helping for profit companies tackle issues such as payday lending, closing the educational achievement gap, giving low income communities and communities of color access to healthier food, more reliable and affordable transportation, and helping the incarcerated stay in touch with their families.
When we look across our nation, there is a great deal of angst. Whether it’s young people taking to the streets and marching for gun control, young immigrants fighting deportation from the only home they’ve ever known, or hard working Americans struggling to make ends meet despite a booming economy, many of our fellow citizens feel great unease with the direction of our country.
In their angst we also see a desire for a different kind of leadership. Einstein once said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
Many of the problems we face today are ones we’ve faced for decades: skyrocketing healthcare premiums, mass incarceration, and inadequate mass transit, to name a few. These problems don’t require the same old debates over incremental reform, they need innovative minds willing to apply bold ideas. And they require the type of leadership that comes from a politics rooted in results for everyday people who are struggling the most right now and can make interdisciplinary connections and convene major players from disparate fields. We need leaders who know when the best solution is legislative, when it’s a tech-enabled startup, and when it needs grassroots advocacy.
It’s the kind of leadership that has the courage to take risks, that understands with great challenges comes opportunities for change. A leader who personifies what is needed right now is Ben Jealous, former national President & CEO of the NAACP and candidate for governor in Maryland.
Ben is a civil rights leader whose life has been about taking risks and excelling at things people believed to be nearly impossible. A young activist turned journalist turned Rhodes Scholar turned youngest-ever President & CEO of the NAACP, Ben has worked in countless ways and with every type of person to advance the cause of social justice. And in 2013, Ben added venture capitalist to his resume when he joined Kapor Capital.
At Kapor, Ben has been successfully merging activism with an entrepreneurial spirit to help solve real world problems. He has a toolkit spanning the for profit and non-profit sectors; better still, he knows how to build practical coalitions to get things done.
Many times our leaders fail to offer real solutions to real problems, and that’s because they fail to see problems as opportunities for growth. Throughout Ben’s entire life, he’s taken on hard problems and turned them into opportunities to do good. His brand of leadership will serve the tech community and a state like Maryland well.
The state is bursting with talent, from Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University to the biosciences sector thriving in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. In Prince George’s County, there are thousands of African-American programmers that could develop new economic expansion for the state while helping many Silicon Valley companies to close a glaring diversity gap. States like Maryland are brimming with potential. And as Congressmen Tim Ryan and Ro Khanna have recently pointed out, 80 percent of venture capital investment goes to just three states.
In Ben, Maryland would have an organizer and businessman as governor, someone who knows how to leverage the public and private sector to solve real world problems.
That’s exactly what Ben has done his entire life. Let’s give new leadership a try.