The name Village Capital may evoke visions of some run-of-the-mill financial-services operation, but in fact, it’s a startup-development organization with a decidedly different goal.
“Our mission has been to democratize entrepreneurship,” says Nasir Qadree, Village Capital’s sector manager for education. “Village Capital finds, trains and invests in entrepreneurs solving global problems.”
It’s a lofty goal, but Village Capital, which was founded in 2009, aims to balance the inequities in the distribution of venture capital, the primary engine for starting and catalyzing businesses. “Talent to solve global challenges is universal, but the opportunity for most entrepreneurs to take their innovation to scale is not,” he says.
Qadree notes that less than 10 percent of venture capital goes to women, and less than 3 percent to minorities.
“Making entrepreneurship accessible to everyone levels the economic playing field for all,” he says. “Entrepreneurship provides an opportunity to close a widening income gap in society and gives more people self-determination.”
Village Capital organizes forums to attract entrepreneurs tackling challenges in different fields. In a forum taking place Wednesday, the focus will be on education. Qadree says that Village Capital’s education program focuses on solving educational challenges within low-income and underserved populations across the United States.
The organization recruited 250 ventures from across the country and selected 12 for a program that will involve 100 mentorship hours per venture and focus on readiness for growth and investment. At the end of the program, two participants will receive $75,000 in investment based on Village Capital’s peer-selection methodology. It may sound like a more formal version of the TV show Shark Tank, but Qadree says, “It’s not a competition; everyone wins.”
Village Capital programs generally consist of three four-day workshops over a three-month period. In the intensive sessions, ventures develop their business models, learn to create and manage a team, interact with potential customers and connect with investors. Village Capital forum participants have addressed problems ranging from developing communication technology in Nairobi to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Louisville, Ky., and addressing the education gap in India.
One of the 2015 participants was Emily Lutyens. She is co-CEO of LegWorks, a company whose mission is getting prosthetic limbs to people in need in developing countries. “It’s a killer curriculum,” she says of her forum participation.
Lutyens says that in addition to gaining access to capital, working in groups with other similarly minded entrepreneurs was the most valuable part of the experience: “You get input from others who have the same goals.”
“Seventy-five percent of startup investment goes to three states: New York, California and Massachusetts,” Qadree says. “We believe that entrepreneurs are building great companies everywhere.” He adds: “If entrepreneurship is going to live up to the promise of changing the world, it has to include everyone.”