This week’s interview features Jeff Cherry, Executive Director of Conscious Venture Lab. JB and Jeff discuss the start-up community in Baltimore, conscious capitalism, the role of accelerators, and innovation across the region.
Hosted by JB Holston. Produced by Jenna Klym, Ian Lutz, Nina Sharma, and Justin Matheson-Turner.
Learn from leaders doing the work across the Capital Region and beyond. These conversations will showcase innovation, as well as history and culture across our region, to bridge the gap between how we got here and where we are going.
About our guest:
Jeff Cherry has roles as a CEO, hedge fund manager, designer, entrepreneur, educator, mentor and consultant Jeff has a diverse and unique career spanning more than 25 years of executive leadership. During his time as an executive and business consultant he has developed significant expertise in a broad range of operational disciplines and industries including: technology, design and construction, finance, hospitality and professional services.
In his capacity as an executive and business strategist, Jeff has helped organizations from start-ups to established middle-market companies and government agencies create operational strategies and business ecologies aimed at inspiring knowledge worker performance. His diverse background and experience has helped companies create everything from new office environments and online offerings to completely new innovative business models.
As a thought leader in the areas of stakeholder management and the emerging discipline of Conscious Capitalism®, Jeff had the honor of consulting with authors David Wolfe and Raj Sisodia on their book Firms of Endearment, How World Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose, which was published in 2007. Jeff later expanded on the ideas of Conscious Capitalism® to form Concinnity Advisors, a hedge fund focused on identifying and investing in companies operating from a more holistic, long-term value mindset.
Prior to forming Concinnity Advisors Jeff was the co-head of research for Multi stakeholder investment strategies for a multi-billion dollar hedge fund based in Stamford, CT. Immediately before that Jeff spent 20 years as founder and CEO of Lloyd Lamont Design, Inc. a multifaceted management, architecture and technology consulting firm, which, after being named as one of the fastest growing privately held companies by Inc. Magazine was acquired by a strategic investor in 2006.
Jeff received his Bachelors of Architecture and Masters of Science in Architecture from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. He also completed extended executive study courses at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Program for Growing Companies. Jeff is currently a member of the Society of Human Resources Management, ANSI Investor Metrics Workgroup as well as the Industry Working Groups (IWG) for the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB).
Jeff Cherry 0:00
How we craft the physical environment as a way, you know has an impact on how we feel when we walk into a space. But it also has an impact on how we behave when we walk into a space. So we started thinking about that as a way to use the physical environment as a tool for our corporate clients.
Nina Sharma 0:23
Welcome to fresh take a candid interview series featuring thought leaders and innovators from across the capital region, these one on one conversations, highlight the incredible work happening in our communities, and showcase both where we are and where we are going as a region.
JB Holston 0:41
Hello, everyone, I'm JB Holston. I'm the CEO of the Greater Washington partnership. This is fresh takes this is our weekly conversation with thought leaders. Jeff and I were talking earlier, and we agreed that we're going to try to keep up with the pace at which Megan Smith drops ideas. That's our whole our whole objective here. But it's great to have as my guest, Jeff cherry, a little bit about Jeff's background, and then then we'll jump in for the conversation. And again, thanks for taking the time today. Jeff. Jeff, over the last 30 years has been a designer, CEO, educator, consultant, and investor and as a black belt in Taekwondo. So just rounding out the picture for everybody here he enjoys a creative process, both from an artistic and organizational perspective, is bringing these divergent experiences together in order to help companies develop more conscious, purpose driven business models and help investors build societal as well as financial value. He brings right and left brain thinking to problem solving business creation and investing ideas, hopefully asking better questions using his expertise to make the lives of those around him more fulfilling and successful. As a founder of the porter group, managing partner of conscious Venture Partners, founder and executive director of the conscious Venture Lab, Jeff is an evangelist for the transformation of capitalists working with private investors in early stage businesses. His goal is to create businesses that are operating at the intersection of profit and purpose. He speaks on these topics around the world. And he's a recovering NCAA football player, which how that intersects with your ability to still do taekwondo. Jeff is beyond me.
Jeff Cherry 2:17
Well, it's a recovering division three, so I didn't take the beating.
JB Holston 2:23
Well, it's great. It's great to have you here with us today, Jeff, and Thanks for Thanks for sharing the time.
Jeff Cherry 2:28
Yeah, thank you. It's good to be here. I'm looking forward to the conversation.
JB Holston 2:32
Great. Why don't we start a little bit about by talking just about your journey, obviously, you've done lots of different things and love to, you know, hear what brought you to, to this and then we can talk in a little bit more detail about conscious venture itself in Baltimore, and innovation, all that other, all those other great topics.
Jeff Cherry 2:49
Yeah. JB happy to get into that. So I'm sitting in Baltimore now. So are you in DC?
JB Holston 2:56
Yeah, I am in DC.
Jeff Cherry 2:57
Yeah, so I started in DC. I'm a New Yorker originally, but all of this sort of path I guess, started in DC I went to Catholic U and ended up staying in DC for quite a long time. So I guess Baltimore is like my third home DC is my second in New York's my first I guess, all related. I saw the architecture at Catholic view and was just on path to do what the rest of the folks that I was in school with you know, go work for someone intern and you know, and try and be an architect for us my life but I I ended up getting into the bar business of all things, a cool tending bar that helped put my way through college because I had three younger sisters. And when they were getting ready to go to school, you know, mom and dad said, you know, we're turn off the spigot and you're on your own. So I started tending bar to help pay my way through college. And got to learn a lot about the hospitality industry. And the long story short had a friend of mine, actually, the guy went to high school with a guy named Jeff bishop who asked me to design a restaurant form and I actually had a job offer with the with a firm called swanky Hayden and Connell, they were working on the renovation of the Statue of Liberty. So I was ready to move back to New York. And they literally were hiring anyone who could hold a pencil because they were so far behind. But I told them, I was going to take the summer and do this other job. And I've never, never looked back. So started by designing restaurants which also led to designing corporate interiors. And then, you know, I was I had a partner, another guy with Catholic with me, by the name of Spence bowling, and we were sort of thinking about how to compete, you know, young kids just coming out getting started, how to compete, and for some reason, I had hooked up with some guys in San Diego, that were running a thing called the Academy for neuroscience and architecture. And they were studying the impact of the physical environment on the brain. And I've always been sort of an amateur Winston Churchill follower. And Churchill once said, first we create our buildings, and then they create us. And he was talking about, you know, rebuilding parts of, you know, Britain after the Blitzkrieg. But we we know, in our in the design world, that that's pretty true, right? That the physical environment has an impact on the brain. So how we craft the physical environment, as a way, you know, as an impact on how we feel when we walk into a space, but it also has an impact on how we behave when we walk into a space. So we started thinking about that as a way to use the physical environment as a tool for our corporate clients, instead of just closure. So if you have a strategy, and you require people to behave in a certain way for that strategy, we could use a physical environment to get people more inspired or unable to behave in that fashion. So that led us to thinking about, you know, architecture as a consulting practice. And instead of just a design practice, we quickly found out that the physical environment was only a small component of the thing that drives behavior. So we started to get into thinking about the technological environment and their cultural environment. So, you know, over 20 years story, we built this and ran another partner by a guy named Joe Logue who ended up being a partner at Booz Allen years later. But the three of us myself, Joe Spence, bowling and a bunch of other people built this sort of Venn diagram of a business that was had architects and engineers, technologists and computer science guys, and organizational development type folks, all sort of gear to how do we create environments for performance. And this has a lot to do with where I am today. Because that over that, you know, we started to see something particularly in the architecture side, and then in the management, the organizational development side of those businesses, that we had companies that were coming to us and asking us two different sets of questions. One about dropping costs and raising revenue. Okay, we get that. But the other was about the nature of their relationships, if you will, so how do I get my employees to give a damn about this place, like I do, and partners to feel, you know, suppliers and feel like partners and not like servants, communities, not put up barriers to entry, but to welcome us in. And customers most importantly, to be feel like they want to be in a relationship and not just a transaction. And that we saw was the beginning of what we now call conscious stakeholder capitalism, ended up being a consultant on a couple of books on the idea with a guy named Raj Sisodia, a book called Firms of Endearment, Raj was the author, my partners, and I were consultants. And then Ross subsequently wrote conscious capitalism with John Mackey from Whole Foods. So a lot of what we do today is based on this idea, that there's a different way to think about the practice of capitalism, that it's not just about, you know, a bunch of greedy little bastards trying to to each other in that it's more about how do we how do we create a mutual exchange of value for each other. And in doing so we create better societies, better communities, but also just better managed businesses? So that's a little bit of the background sort of how I Yeah,
JB Holston 8:34
that's great. Thank you. That's helpful. Those topics. So you know, sort of this notion of conscious capitalism, multi stakeholder care for multi stakeholder, etc. You know, you've got folks like the Business Roundtable now, saying things like that. So it, but there's also a lot of, I wouldn't say criticism, but concern that it can all end up as sort of greenwashing on a part of, you know, larger, larger companies. I want to jump to conscious ventures labs itself in Baltimore, etc. But if you look at larger companies, larger enterprises around this topic, have you seen progress? Do you see do you see this catching on?
Jeff Cherry 9:12
I think that those, you're absolutely right, you know, Business Roundtable come out comes out with that statement, August of 2019. We felt great about that. Right? We felt, you know, sort of a buoyed by that idea. And I think you're right, you know, we so after we did the consulting thing, we actually sold that we started a hedge fund, based on these ideas. And my partner Rick Fraser, at the hedge fund came up with this notion that we had to be able to separate the pretenders from the contenders. So we were we've been focused on this idea of greenwashing or stakeholder washing, if you will. It's look, it's hard to do, right. It's, we think that there is a perverse set of the the you know, the capital market. It's particularly if you're a, if you're a publicly traded company, right? There's a perverse set of incentives that make it harder and harder if you are responding to the pressures of quarterly earnings. So it's hard for big companies, right. And I think that that's something that we have to recognize it's easier for smaller companies, it's easier for private companies, it's harder for companies that have to respond on a daily basis to the whims of Wall Street. We think that it's your if you don't respond to those whims, you're going to be a stronger company in the long run. But it's not easy. Sometimes, when we're talking about that, you know, the whole idea of stakeholder capitalism, people think, Well, that's easy. Everyone should be doing it, and everyone should be doing it. But there's a lot of pressure on those on big companies. So we, we do see some greenwashing if you will? Well, we also see some companies that are really dedicated to it, and just trying to figure it out.
JB Holston 11:00
Yeah, that's great. Let's talk a little bit about conscious Venture Labs. You know, how it came about what what it does? I mean, I understand it's a it's a, it's an accelerator, but talk a little bit about the construct, and, and who some of the businesses that you engage with to accelerate?
Jeff Cherry 11:14
Yeah. So. So the extension of that hedge fund story is that for we had been talking for a long time when we did that about how do you make this idea of stakeholder capitalism, the norm and not the exception to the rule, and that was sort of part of our, you know, our why statement, if you will, at the at the hedge fund. But we quickly came to the conclusion that while the hedge fund was required in the capital stack of conscious businesses, that it wasn't going to be the thing that was sort of move the needle and making more businesses operate that way, because that was all we, you know, it was all about how much capital can you raise, and we raised in the middle of the financial crisis, close to $700 million. And which sounds still, to me, like, like a hell of a lot of money. But on Wall Street is, you know, we were we were small fries. So there was no way for us to raise enough capital to change the environment, the way that we wanted to, we came to the conclusion that the way that this was more of a grassroots movement, then we'd have to build more businesses that thought this way. And that would be the groundswell would would be the thing that that might, you know, sort of move society in this direction. So I just became really enamored with that as an idea and wanted to do it. So I left the fund in 2012, spent about a year continue to help Rick with the research on the fund. And then we were we had continued this conversation. And then I landed on the idea of doing an accelerator. I was gonna do it in New York or Washington, and a friend of mine, a woman named Julie Linzer. I was talking to her and she said, Well, I'm working in innovation space for Ken Coleman, who is a county executive, Howard County at the time. And she said, You should talk to Ken about this. And Ken Long story short, Ken and I got on the phone. And he said, Nope, I get it, I get exactly what you're trying to do. It's actually a better way to think about economic development. You know, can we build these unicorns from the ground up, and these companies that are more community focused, so what it would take for us to get you to do this in Colombia. So I ended up moving back to DC. Ken gave us a grant, we match that grant with investment capital, we launched the conscious Venture Lab in Colombia. And I was doing that commute from DC up there, Columbia, Maryland, second traffic on 29. For about a year and a half, I got tired of that. And that's when I moved to Baltimore. But the construct essentially is, we're very much like lots of other accelerators out there. There's this model canvas, lean startup stuff, but we've layered on top of that was a part of our curriculum, the sort of we take directly from Rogers and John Mackey's book, conscious capitalism to talk to companies about, you know, how do you articulate purpose in a way that's not just about money so that people, you know, more stakeholders are engaged in your success? How do you build a culture, a conscious culture where employees are giving you their best and discretionary effort? How do you actually manage a business for all of its stakeholders as opposed to just managing for shareholders? And then how do you create a leadership frame around all that? So, you know, so the servant leadership? So we've added those four components as part of our curriculum. So that's sort of what we do. And you know, we've had some success we've, we work we've invested in we have an investment model, so it's a fund and an accelerator, invest in about 30 companies. So far, we're in the process of due diligence for the next round. Some local companies that people may have heard of probably our most famous, if you will, is a company called Hungry Harvest. They were hungry harvest was on Shark Tank right after the came Out of the conscious Venture Lab, they were in a second group, I think, or the conscious Venture Lab. Evan Lutz, the CEO has done an amazing job, you know, sort of internalizing these ideas, and growing a fantastically, you know, profitable and growing business. So that's one of them. There's another company that we're really hiring right now a company called our three score. Mother and daughter team, African American mother and daughter from Baltimore, essentially have created a credit rating, if you will, for to help banks and hiring managers understand how to deal with returning citizens, because it's that's a that's a big issue right now. So from you know, we talked before we got on a little bit about this idea of inclusive growth. So that's one of the companies that are focused there in Baltimore, there's talk about this notion of what we're calling equity tech, or equity tech, which is thinking about companies that are using technology to level the playing field to break down barriers. So that's sort of something we're really sort of focused on as of late.
JB Holston 16:10
It's great. It sounds like you don't have a specific industry focus for the lab or a geographic focus, per se. How do you find prospects? I mean, is it is it like sort of, you know, are you like TechStars, or others that kind of canvass the globe to find opportunities? How do you do that?
Jeff Cherry 16:28
Yeah. So we are relatively industry agnostic, right? We're thinking about this idea of equity tech as an industry like cyber or, or fintech. But this is a this is sort of a new construct that we're working on. But we're relatively industry agnostic. We were, you know, we think about, you know, I'm a city kids. So we're looking at technology, looking at ideas to make living in cities more just more joyous, more equitable. So we're focused on urban environments. But so that's sort of from an industry standpoint, from a GIS geographic standpoint, for we are we're of Baltimore. So we are definitely ensconced in the Baltimore ecosystem. And we get a lot of, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to make Baltimore better and investing in Baltimore companies. When we were on site, you know, we made a pivot during COVID. And we've taken our whole process of, you know, the whole accelerated process online. So now that we're online, we are definitely much more, you know, sort of national and international. The last time around, we had 42 companies from 15 states in 13 countries, but half of those were from Baltimore, and much like TechStars, same thing. We've got about 70, what we call pipeline partners. Your colleague, Nina Schommer, was a pipeline partner for us when she was out in Denver. Lots of universities, all the conscious capitalism, chapters, other accelerators and incubators that we've been friends with the guy from impact engine in Chicago Impact Hub, all over the country. So we do a big social media. But we also the I think the other thing that we do, we do a lot of on site recruiting, like we're going out to organizations like Black Girls Code, and like Baltimore, young professionals here in Baltimore, which is a, you know, a collaborative initiative about two or 300 minority entrepreneurs and executives, to because what we what we started to improve, or to think about, after Freddie Gray, killed in Baltimore in 2015, seven discussions with then Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, and I said, you know, this ain't really about Freddie Gray. This is about under investing in minority communities for the last 100 years. And you have to do something about that, too, in addition to the policing issue, and we came to an agreement with Stephanie, that we would move the conscious Venture Lab into Baltimore, we moved into West Baltimore, right across the street from Andaman mall, and made a pivot to sort of focus on identifying minority and underrepresented founders to to invest in the training investment. But unlike others out there that are sort of put a stake in the ground and say, they're only going to invest in black and brown founders, we actually have taken a different tack, we're like, look, we're going to invest in the best founders we can possibly find. But we're not going to use that as a sort of a racist dog whistle. We're not going to use that to think about, you know, this, this notion of a meritocracy that in many cases isn't really so how are we going to do that? We got to be really, really, really deliberate about getting into minority communities and finding those entrepreneurs because we think they can compete with anyone. Right? So we just do a really good job. So we do a lot of on site. You know, I have a call coming up with vendor Roy July who is attorney here in Baltimore. To To get with both young professionals to give them you know, so it's like a lunch and learn so they know when to apply and all that sort of stuff. So it's, um, it's a lot of work to get out into community. But we think so far, it's been worth it. We've invested more than 50% of our capital in minority or female founders. And this time around with 42 companies, 70% of them were underrepresented founders.
JB Holston 20:26
That's amazing. Let's talk a little bit about Baltimore. You mentioned the former mayor, obviously, as a new mayor. Have you talked to the new mayor? And and let's just talk more broadly about Baltimore? I know you've been there for a while, you know, how how's it doing? Where are the opportunities to improve, generally, and then on the innovation ecosystem in particular, so that when you run for mayor, I'm just emptying you up now. So you can give us those answers.
Jeff Cherry 20:55
I think I want I haven't heard the new mayor, I don't know. And well, I know that he you know, he knows Stephanie. Well, so I suspect it will add on his calendar shortly. But there's a lot going on in Baltimore, and Baltimore is on a really good trajectory. A couple of things, I think that are top of mind for me, there's a bunch of stuff happening in terms of hot creating a more inclusive innovation ecosystem in Baltimore. The Baltimore Development Corporation saw this thing called Baltimore together, which I was a part of, which is really focused on how do we create Baltimore as a more inclusive ecosystem? I mean, laser focus on it, and lots of people sort of getting involved in thinking about ways to do that. And it's everything from how do we get more investing into those company, minority companies? How do we make sure that we're not gentrifying neighborhoods that we're building those neighborhoods up without creating a situation where people want to live there can't afford to live there. And these are not easy, easy things to struggle with. So we're really you know, Baltimore together as a big part of that. There's a new organization, and these are all coming together, which is something that I really am, I'm really pleased to see in Baltimore. When I first got here, Baltimore felt like a collection of assets, but not really an ecosystem. And even with a couple of different related organizations being stood up right now, I see that the connective tissue between them is getting stronger and stronger every day for our organization that I'm on the board of called surge Baltimore, that is really focused on how do we create this is where this idea of equity, equity, tech equity technology is coming out of? How do we create and put a stake in the ground around Baltimore as a great place to grow and to build and grow businesses from IP from idea to IPO and make that inclusive and put a stake in the ground around something that we think Baltimore can be really good at, right. So there's, obviously the health care system, but this idea of technology that's making the world more equitable, which includes inclusive, right, so that's being launched by folks at Brown advisory, Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, Point Field Partners, which is the family office investment arm of Steve Ashanti, the owner of the Baltimore Ravens, all included. So that's one great thing. We're just about to do groundbreaking at Port Covington, which is Kevin Plank, and Under Armour side, more ventures, well, a development, big development that's happening in South Baltimore, which I think again, is going to be a tremendously important part of the ecosystem. So I think Baltimore, you know, the the name search Baltimore, sort of this is a surging city. I think Baltimore is on the rise. It's got it still has its problems. But like any city, right, JB, I mean, you and I been around for a long time I was I've been in DC when we opened our offices at 14th. And you, it was us, it was a recenter in Ben's Chili Bowl. And that was it. Nothing else and for five blocks in every direction from the 68 riots, right. And Baltimore. Washington's that was a tough, tough place to be that and you know, these cities evolve. I mean, I remember thinking that, you know, when I live that 40, the Rhode Island, one block to the next could be vastly different in terms of safety and housing, and all that sort of stuff. And we worked our way through it. So all these these big cities have their issues. Baltimore's no different but I think we're moving in the right direction.
JB Holston 24:47
Yeah, that's great. Let me let me ask you something that's a little orthogonal, and I just I have to use that word. So I'm just throwing that in here. But you know, a little bit coming in from the side but I think it relates we're gonna release a study next week that he I do For us on the whole returned to work plans for Capital Region companies, and, you know, I don't want to preview everything but you know, clearly companies are looking to be a lot more hybrid when they come back to the degree that they can be. And you know, the implications. I mean, I think we all have to think through those. But you know, there are some, some big ones. One that's possibly good for the region is that there are a lot of folks here who can work remotely or ready. And so in theory, companies could, you know, have those folks work from this region, even if they're not headquartered here. The flip side is that you know, downtown's city centers place is where headquarters were traditionally, maybe may not have as much activity in the future as they've had in the past. You know, you're you're a place based thinker, you know, you you the sort of the density and the creativity and all that activity matters. How do you think about all of that, as you think about, you know, where we're how we're going to come out of all of this?
Jeff Cherry 26:06
Yeah. It's a great question, JB. And I'm not sure where it's going to end up. I mean, I'm, I've been various times on on different sides of, of the answer, I talked to another good friend of mine, who you might know, Steve polo runs an architectural firm, and DC, op X. And I was asking him early on, and he says, he's seeing, you know, companies coming back and saying, we're ready to do this, you know, 100,000 200,000 square foot office. But now we're just going to do something the size of Panera where people can come in when they only have meetings, and we're going to spend a lot more money on technology. So you know, that that sort of thinking makes you think that that those that the issue, you're bringing up with downtown's with how is it how are we going to rebound? But at the same time, I think, you know, Zoom is a wonderful tool. And I'm about zoomed out. Right? They all are in some ways. I mean, it's, it's it, it presents the opportunity to do some really interesting things. But also, I think that we're we're longing for that personal in person connection. Right? So I think that we're going to be in a hybrid environment, right? We, this time around offered, the local companies that we have, we have a co working space. So we moved from West Baltimore to port Cummington. Because of our relationship with with Kevin Plank in the Sagamore and well team, we offered the local companies to, to both have an online and an in person experience. All of the local companies wanted to do it. Now we were in there, we were in the grips of COVID, you know, so it was really didn't make a lot of sense. But I think that once we get the vaccination, then we get sort of on the other downside of this, we're planning on running on next cohort as a as a as a hybrid, where if you're local, that you'll be able to use a co working space. And I suspect a lot of companies will we were able to create great community online, but I think people want to get back together. So I think that it's not it's never going to go back to the way it used to be. But I'm I'm hopeful that we're not looking at you know, decimated, you know, see through downtown's as well,
JB Holston 28:35
I think people want to get back together. I think they want to access the, you know, the arts, obviously, and restaurants and activity, I think there are opportunities, you know, but the kind of work you folks do, I think even just thinking of, you know, showcasing people doing that kind of work as another reason people want to go downtown to participate in that kind of energy. You know, we did Startup Weekend in Colorado, which is just crazy, huge, because people just like to rub shoulders in person for you know, sort of serendipitous connections. So, so I'm reasonably optimistic, but, but it can take some time for sure. And, you know, the Small Business effect until we get there can be particularly difficult,
Jeff Cherry 29:21
You know, as we talked about earlier, and so, you know, coming from a background in the hospitality industry, it's, it's, it's devastating, and I can't wait for to get back. I mean, my, you know, my, my favorite restaurant in the world, DC, Johnny staff shall close down permanently in March. And, you know, that's a that's a loss for, you know, my friends, Johnny man, but that's a loss for the whole city. I mean, that's an institution. So we're, I think that people are going to want to get back to that, right? for lots of reasons. and some of those reasons will be because we want to support our friends who are struggling. So happened to
JB Holston 30:06
Yeah. Let me ask you another question on just conscious capitalism, social impact, versus ROI all that we were involved in that initiative in Colorado called the Colorado Impact Fund. And we, when we pulled that together, determining how you talk about return, versus everything else are always a challenge and and investors would tend to fall into one camp or another. How do you talk about, you know, return relative to the rest as you talk to folks who might invest in the Fund, for example?
Jeff Cherry 30:36
Yeah, that's a great question. So I think that the thing for us to be is that we think about impact, probably a little bit different than, than you guys did at the cultural impact fund. So there's this idea of impact on the product or service that the company is developing, and what impact that product or service has on society? Obviously, a lot of that, you know, it's got its environmental pedigree coming out of the environmental movement, the 60s, and 70s, we started to think about that. So that's one way to think about impact, right? are you solving a social and environmental problem? We love those companies, we work with a lot of those companies. And we think about from the fun standpoint, from ours from our perch, we think about impact in a little bit of a different way or more or in another vein, if you will, it's the the impact of how you show up as an entrepreneur, how you run your business, and who you're supporting. So I always say for our LPs, our impact drives our return, right? Because our impact is an investing in companies run by minority, female underrepresented founders that are solving big intractable problems. Right. None of that's concessionary. It's all about, you know, sort of societal returns, driving financial returns. So we are you know, that there are other funds that are focused on, you know, other things specifically, you know, could be water scarcity, or carbon footprint. And they look at that and say, if we're getting more of that, then we are willing to take less financial returns. That's sort of not what we do, we think about impact differently. So from our perspective, it's easy for us to talk about impact. And even for those companies that are impact driven on a product or service, we're trying to, to give them a frame, an operational frame that allows them to scale and grow and be more profitable. So I'll tell you a quick anecdote. I, I think you may know this, Nina certainly does. But I helped run an accelerator at the Vatican in 2017. A lot of it came from the fact that they're conscious capitalism, stakeholder, all that stuff that we do. And we were invited as an investor, and then as part of the program to help bring content, because I was talking to the to the people who are Silicon Valley, folks that were founding this and put against the ground. And I said, Look, if you're just focused on the first type of impact, we're probably not interested. Because as consultants, we've worked in not for profits that were no, no pun intended, doing the Lord's work, that were miserable places to be. And nobody wanted to, you know, the only reason people want to be successful because the outcome, but people couldn't really their hearts weren't into it, because of the way that those people showed up. So even if you have an impact company, we think it's important for you to think about these the tenants of conscious or stakeholder capitalism. They agreed and we ended up doing it, but we're having a meeting in Rome. And a priest got up and said, you know, so one of the things we want to guard against is growth for the sake of growth. We want to be supporting companies just because they're going to grow. And just for the sake of growth, we're really focused on impact. And Catherine, I think Kathleen Matthews, who started Earth Day, I was gonna mix up. But she had she was at the event and she had made a comment earlier about the fact that there were 700 million people who didn't have access to fresh water. So the preset growth for growth's sake, we want to guard against that, I raised my hand and said, I have a question. The founder of Earth Day said that there were 700 million people without access to fresh water. If we find an entrepreneur who can solve that problem, how rich would you like him to be? And people looked around I said, he's got 700 million customers before he has to worry about growth for growth's sake, I think you'll be okay. And everyone said no. Okay, we get that. So we're trying to make sure that this idea of impact doesn't need to be concessionary. You know, there's a continuum philanthropy, conscious capitalism. But we think about we try to think about it in those terms, if that makes sense.
JB Holston 35:14
Oh, yeah, absolutely. No, that's great. That's helpful. Thank you. And yeah, 700 million customers isn't installed base is a great, you know, that SAS business selling water to, but at any rate, that's a great point. Take a couple of minutes here, as we as we wrap things up, Jeff, to talk a little bit about the region, you know, the whole mission of the Greater Washington partnership is to lift up the whole the whole region. And you know, we've defined our focus as Baltimore to Richmond, obviously, we end up dealing with things that are Maryland wide, Virginia wide, as well as DC, but, but particularly sort of Baltimore, to Richmond, and and again, the three of the cases that they're things that are happening here that can happen here that we can accelerate, that can make sure this is the best place to bring a business grow business and live. And, you know, the partners have become very, very focused on inclusion, you know, inclusion, kind of as the new innovation. If you're the most inclusive economy in the country, you will be the fastest growth and most attractive economy for talent. Now, things have changed times have changed. But but you know, you've had experience in DC, you're very embedded in Baltimore, right now, what's what are the things that a group like this can do? Or what are the things that generally anyone can should be doing to to to help catalyze some of this to scale on a regional basis? Does the thesis hold?
Jeff Cherry 36:33
Yeah. So one thing I want to mention, we talked about this a little bit earlier, JB is that there's a group that again, associated the Vatican called the Council for inclusive capitalism, and the CEO is in Alexandria. So one thing I think you should definitely connect with with them, because they're thinking about the same ideas and, you know, sort of partnership, and though they can do some great work, but in terms of what, you know, sort of what needs to happen, I guess, for us to be a more inclusive economy inclusive region. You know, a lot of this is about, as I said earlier, about sort of what we do is about being deliberate. Right? It's about sort of understanding, what do you mean by inclusion? Right? And then, you know, once you have a definition of that, so what are what are the things that we can do deliberately to make more that happened? This, you know, I was railing on this issue earlier in the summer, because of all of the, you know, after George Floyd, and a lot of the, you know, the content that we were hearing a lot of people saying, you know, okay, enough is enough. We have to do something about this, particularly in our business on the investment business. And I want to relate this to your question. But how do we find minority founders to support? So you know, I actually put a put a piece out on medium and said, it's really not that hard, you have to be deliberate. And if you want to support minority founders, you support so be supporting minority fund managers. Now, I know, that's a plug for what I do. But I really actually believe it. Right. That's one of the things but it's about this notion of being intentional, right, is that if you know that there were people like myself, there's a new fund being launched in Baltimore, called Rare read Ventures by a friend of ours. McKeever, Conwell, lots of folks in this new organization, black VC, which is a DMV group of black venture capitalists, that are sort of deliberately focused on this. So one thing we can do in a region is look around for a partner, someone who's deliberately focused on these ideas, and how do we support them? Right, because this not the thing that the the members of the Greater Washington partnership do every day. They do their day jobs, too. And there's things that they can do be more deliberate in their day jobs, but as a region, why there are organizations there are entities that are businesses that are, you know, that are squarely focused on the idea of inclusion. So and they're being deliberate about it. So deliberately, you know, supporting those, I think that's one of the biggest things we can do. So those two things, right, defining what we mean by inclusion, right? And being very clear about it, what are we what outcomes are we looking at? Or what outcomes are we trying to bring forth? And then who's being deliberate about it? How can we be more deliberate about it? How can we support you know, we, the whole thing with Baltimore together and surge Baltimore, is about bringing folks that are essentially the members of the Greater Washington partnership together to bear on this because there's capital, there's intellect, there's technology, there's a ton of resources in within GWP that can be put to work within these other smaller organizations. are really focused on on inclusion. So I think it's about being deliberate about that, if that makes sense.
JB Holston 40:06
Yeah, no, that's great. I mean, one of the things we're looking at doing very quickly, I know, again, it's a little orthogonal, I got to use that word twice. Now, Jeff, so I appreciate that. But there's there's some new legislation end of the year $12 billion in incremental funding for CDFIs and an MDI, so we're putting together a group to look at, you know, how do we where are the gaps in the region to take advantage of that? And, and a lot of that will be about exactly what you just said, some great CDFIs in this region, you know, what, what, how do we, you know, communicate across to others that may be doing that kind of work, what the best practices are, you know, where are the talent gaps, where, you know, those kinds of things?
Jeff Cherry 40:42
Yeah, well, let me jump in there. And one issue, and this is sort of thing that's sort of near and dear to me, again, it sounds like a plug, but it's really not. I think that the CDFI thing is really important. But I also think that we see from the larger organizations, focusing a lot on CDFI, which essentially, is debt capital, the risk capital, is really, really important. In terms of growing more inclusive, growing minority and female founded businesses. risk capital is equally if not more important. So not saying don't do the CDFI thing. But there needs to be a focus on risk capital to
JB Holston 41:19
Yeah, no, that's a great, that's a super point. I think the the good thing about the legislation is all of the capital looks like it can be leveraged. It's pretty, it's pretty risk managed capital from the Treasury. And so there, it looks like it could be a sort of 100 billion extra capital into the market. But your points really well taken, you know, they're not they're not providing equity into the capital stack of the entities that they're supporting. And, well, Jeff, this has been a terrific conversation, I wanted to thank you for taking the time I can't wait till we can actually get together in person will come on up and visit you in in Baltimore. And we'll you know, we'll have you down to DC, obviously, but take you all through the region to tell the story as best we can. Well,
Jeff Cherry 42:00
I'm looking forward to that. JB when we can, we can be back together in person, you know, finish this up and go have a glass of wine somewhere and support the folks in the hospitality industry.
JB Holston 42:14
Perfect. Yeah. Well, I don't think capitalism can be conscious of it's not in person to a degree, right. My guess has been Jeff Cherry, with conscious Venture Lab and is really a thought leader around conscious capitalism for for quite some time. Thanks for joining us. Thanks for all the work and we'll look forward to seeing you soon Jeff.
Jeff Cherry 42:32
Again, JB, thank you.
JB Holston 42:34
Nina Sharma 42:37
Thanks for tuning into fresh take. This episode was produced by Jenna climb, Ian Lutz, Nina Sharma, and Justin Matheson Turner. If you liked what you heard, share it with your network. For more information and to access all of our podcasts, events and publications, visit Greater Washington partnership.com.