Social Impact Sways Kauffman Selections


Private Equity Insider

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Center for Venture Education has named its 2010 class of Kauffman fellows, with a continued focus on creating a positive social impact.

The Palo Alto, Calif., organization finalized its selections for the annual Kauffman Fellowship Program over the past week, picking 32 up-and-coming venture capitalists out of a field of some 250 applicants.

Of particular interest was choosing individuals with an interest in changing the world for the better by fostering entrepreneurship and building new businesses. For example, Eric Hallstein is serving his apprenticeship at the Omidyar Network, whose investments are geared toward economic, social and political advancement. And Claire Tomkins is with Carbon War Room, a nonprofit organization that researches market-driven ways to address climate change.

Participants are also working with government agencies in Mexico, Japan and Singapore.

Then, of course, there are the established venture capital investment shops like Atlas Venture, DCM and Panorama Capital. But to some extent, those types of operations are figuring less prominently as the Center for Venture Education's social causes become more of a guiding force for the Kauffman program.

The Kauffman Fellowship Program each year pairs aspiring venture capitalists with mentors from firms or organizations where they work or are placed. During the two-year fellowships, the participants attend quarterly classes while aiding in the day-to-day businesses of their hosts - which pay their tuition and typically compensate them as employees. The idea, as the Center for Venture Education puts it, is to "provide a proving-ground and laboratory for rising stars in the venture investing industry."

While predictions have abounded in recent years that poor returns would eventually kill off many venture capital firms, Center for Venture Education president Phil Wickham said the basic concept of developing young companies remains alive and well. "We see a much broader swath of innovation and venture than almost anybody, and our view is the sport of entrepreneuring globally has never been more robust," he said.

The program has taken on more of an international feel in recent years. This year, 12 of the participants are working outside the U.S. That's up from nine out of 27 last year. And five of the 2010 participants are in nations where no Kauffman fellows have been placed before: Chile, Greece, Jordan, Nigeria and Singapore.

The Nigeria-based fellow is Sola Adeola, a project coordinator with the Institute for Venture Design in Lagos. Through an affiliation with Stanford University's Center for Design Research, the institute is trying to increase technological development and help build a culture of entrepreneurship in the country.

As usual, some fellows have taken unorthodox paths into the venture capital industry. One is Randall Crowder, a managing partner at Texo Ventures of Austin, Texas. After attending the United States Military Academy at West Point, he spent almost three years stationed in Iraq as a officer in the U.S. Army - a role in which his work included the development of explosive-detection software. He later earned a graduate degree and in 2009 started the healthcare-focused Texo with his Kauffman mentors, Jerry DeVries and Philip Sanger.

This year's fellows also include:

*Thomas Hawes, a vice president working on a healthcare-focused program that Sandbox Industries of Chicago runs with Blue Cross Blue Shield.

*Jana Nieto, a coordinator for Mexico's Ministry of the Economy whose focus is assisting small and mid-size businesses.

*Taro Sato, who helped set up a $9 billion public-private investment partnership called Innovation Network Corporation of Japan in Tokyo.

*Edward Tsai, a senior associate at DCM in Menlo Park, Calif., who invests in electronic-commerce companies and a mix of businesses in China.