July 9, 2020

Why our plan to invest in ‘untapped entrepreneurs’ is paying off

New Orleans accelerator Camelback Ventures is lifting up communities by providing social entrepreneurs with coaching, capital, and connections.

Camelback Ventures founder Aaron Walker, seen at left talking with 2018 Camelback Fellows Myron Long and Janine Gomez, believes in cultivating a diversity of viewpoints in order to solve our communities' most pressing problems. Photo courtesy of Camelback Ventures

One of my favorite stories about my then 3, now 6-year-old daughter, is about the time she went to the park with her mom, my spouse. After some time in the hot New Orleans sun they decided it was time to go home. Tugging her hand, her mom said, “Let’s go this way.” Insistent, my daughter said, “No, mommy! Bees.” After a couple rounds of this, her mom decides they need to have a face-to-face talk so kneels down to tell her it is time to go home and we’re going this way. Upon kneeling down, she realizes that our daughter was right all along. There were bees in the grass.

The story is a reminder of why it is important to respect the viewpoints of everyone and that often those that see things differently have the solutions we seek. It is also a metaphor for our work at Camelback Ventures.

Camelback works to identify, develop, and promote untapped entrepreneurs working in social impact. Since 2015, Camelback has worked with 84 aspiring entrepreneurs—over 90 percent people of color and 80 percent women. In the last five years, 13 of them have been named Forbes 30 under 30 recipients; collectively they have raised nearly $50 million in follow-on funding; and have created hundreds of new jobs because of the companies they have started.

Sometimes people ask why we focus on racial and gender diversity. It is because we know that the lived experiences of people that are minoritized in our society provides them with a unique viewpoint on problems we often are trying to solve.

Sometimes people ask why we focus on racial and gender diversity. It is because we know that the lived experiences of people that are minoritized in our society provides them with a unique viewpoint on problems we often are trying to solve. Those perspectives often allow them to create solutions and pathways that are ignored and not seen by others. Their lifetime of understanding makes them passionate about solving those issues, not just for themselves, but for others.

In 2020, some people are asking themselves who we should turn to for inspiration and answers to questions we have too long ignored. In this once-in-a-lifetime era, how will we know what to do? The place I turn to for guidance and solutions are the Camelback Fellows.

I turn to Vanessa Luna when I want to understand how we should be thinking about supporting immigrant students; and Brandon Anderson when I want to understand what it will take to live in a world without police violence; and Blair Pircon when I want to understand what it will take for students to make up for a lost semester of writing; and Aimee Eubanks Davis when I want to understand how higher education can still provide first-generation college students with the support that they need. I wish I had enough space and time to tell you about all of the Fellows we have worked with over the years.

Each of these leaders has taught me a lot. When I spend time with them, seeing what they see, I realize that they are teaching me just as much, if not more, than what our organization is working to teach them.

So as we embark on trying to create a new future, spend time with someone who does not see the world from your vantage point. And ask them questions.

And then invest in their vision and let them lead. Our Fellows need the same three things that all entrepreneurs need—coaching, capital, and connections.

Our Fellows have worked with amazing coaches such as Scott Garrell and Lisa Atia. And yet, like anyone at the top of their craft coaching is on-going. Share your experiences with the next generation of social entrepreneurs who will stand on your shoulders.

Camelback invests $40,000 in every founder and considers itself the friends and family funding for those who need it. Our funding is a great start; yet it is not an end. We believe that how we spend our money is the greatest expression of our values, so find a mission that is aligned to your values and invest in it.

Lastly, be a bridge. Seventy percent of job seekers find their next job through a connection. The same is true for entrepreneurs. We all know someone who someone else wants to know.

When we do these three things for leaders who work relentlessly for the public benefit—like the people we work with at Camelback Ventures—it is possible to create a world that can work for everyone.

Aaron Walker Camelback Ventures New Orleans

Aaron Walker

Camelback Ventures

Aaron Walker is founder and CEO of Camelback Ventures works to identify, develop, and promote early-stage untapped entrepreneurs with an aim to improve education and eventually close the generational wealth gap. Aaron is on a journey to live in the spirit of his baseball hero, Jackie Robinson, who said “a life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” With this ethos, Aaron taught ninth grade English in West Philadelphia, put together deals for companies large and small as a lawyer, and supported new ideas to improve education as a portfolio director for the NYC Fund for Public Schools. Aaron is humbled to say that he graduated from the University of Virginia and Penn Law School. He also knows that this doesn’t entitle him to anything and is ready to earn his keep.

You can learn more about Camelback Ventures by visiting www.camelbackventures.org or following Camelback Ventures on Facebook @camelbackorg, Instagram @camelbackventures, and Twitter @camelbackorg.
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