Better Ventures Founder: ‘Passion for the problem leads to an ability to succeed’
As part of our Breakthrough Builders podcast series, our Head of Brand Strategy, Jesse Purewal, chats with Wes Selke, Founder and MD of Better Ventures, about his journey from traditional finance to profitably investing in businesses that address our most pressing societal issues.
Wes Selke always liked math. From a young age, he found himself drawn to the clear structure, the rewarding logic, and the satisfaction of finding the ‘right’ answer. This affinity, and the skills he developed because of it (including skills in foreign languages), served him well at every pivotal moment of his formative years.
After graduating from a well-regarded business program, he began a promising career in finance at a global firm. And it was here in moments of reflection that he realized that his equation for life fulfillment wasn’t adding up. There was something missing, and the math wasn’t working. He describes his worries to Jesse Purewal on the Breakthrough Builders podcast:
“I was scared to death about waking up and being 40 –my age now – having a wife and kids and a mortgage, and being depressed, having boxed myself in into a certain career path that I couldn't get out of.”
It was a chance to spend a week at a rural Mexican orphanage with his church group that changed everything. “I think for one of the first times in my life kind of experienced this deep fulfillment.”
Feelings of purposelessness in his day job only intensified after this experience. He had tasted the missing factor and he had to have more, but how does one combine finance and feelings? Or fuse the quantitative with the benevolent? Could he practice hard math while providing play for a soft heart?
Behind the breakthroughs
The ‘right’ answer was not clear.
“This was a major dilemma, initially I flirted with the idea of joining the Peace Corps. I thought about foreign service in D.C., about teaching English abroad, or going to work for a non-profit... but I just kept coming back to, “I like business, I like finance, I’m good at it.’”
It was an introduction to the work of Mohammed Yunus, the Nobel Prize winning father of microfinance, that suddenly made things click.
“I researched microfinance online. I was like, ‘oh, my, gosh, this is it. This is an opportunity for me to combine my desire for impact and my skill sets in business and finance’.”
From there, his decision to go to business school, to cultivate relationships with classmates, and his conviction that courageously pursuing his goal would, as Wes puts it, allow “the universe to conspire to help him achieve his purpose” landed Wes at Good Capital – a pioneering Venture Capital fund in what was then a nascent Silicon Valley social enterprise scene.
Investing in impact
Good Capital founders Kevin Jones and Tim Freundlich challenged conventional thinking with their contention that through investment in for-profit social enterprises it was possible to both make an attractive return and solve problems traditionally considered the purview of philanthropy.
This provided the perfect environment for Wes to learn the core skills of the VC world before jumping into his own undertaking with an eye towards giving even smaller impact-oriented startups a hand up.
Several years and dozens of investments later, Wes and Better Ventures continue to provide needed capital to promising startups looking to address critical gaps in everything from workforce support and education to economic sustainability through greenhouse gas reduction.
When Wes talks about the social enterprise founders who succeed, he talks about those who have a personal connection to the problem they are trying to solve:
“Maybe it's someone who grew up with a very low income and had a hard time accessing financial aid to go to college. Maybe it's someone who had a parent who was afflicted with a disease and therefore they're working on a drug discovery platform to solve cancer. We're looking for deep connections to the problems that they're looking to solve. And we think that out of passion for the problem comes this ability to bust down walls and succeed.”
Wes continues to find ways to combine his passions with his skills, and to make the mathematics of finance and social impact work together for the greater good.
Listen to Wes chat with our Head of Brand Strategy, Jesse Purewal in a recent episode of our Breakthrough Builders podcast.
Breakthrough Builders is about people whose passions, perspectives, instincts, and ideas fuel some of the world’s most amazing products, brands, and experiences. It’s a tribute to those who have the audacity to imagine – and the persistence to build – breakthroughs.
Listen to the full conversation with Wes Selke
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