Impact Entrepreneur Sees Problems As Opportunities
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In the past, I have observed that the best entrepreneurs are not the ones who see the glass as half full, but instead are the ones who see it as “almost full.”
Vanessa Bartram is that sort of entrepreneur. One who quiets her doubts and charges ahead. And she does it with an eye toward changing the world.
In 2008, Vanessa launched what has become a $2 million per year staffing firm, focusing on paying fair wages and alleviating poverty.
She says, “I was interested in social change from the time I was 12 years old. But having two entrepreneurs as parents made business my natural ‘toolkit’ for working on those issues. We absorb and embrace what we hear about around the dinner table. I tried several different avenues to social change – non-profits, development agencies, foreign service – but ultimately business is the road that most suits and energizes me.”
As I spoke with Vanessa about the challenges she’s faced in her career, she laughed, “I’m not very good at identifying obstacles. I see everything as an opportunity.”
She acknowledged that building WorkSquare has been a challenge because she is competing with firms that not only don’t share her values, but don’t always obey laws like paying overtime wages or screening for undocumented immigrants.
She does remember, however, those early days when everything was more tenuous. “The first two years were a blur of waking up every night at 3:00 AM wondering if this is actually going to work.” It did. And, transitioning from entrepreneur to investor, Vanessa has gone on to launch LAVAN, a group of like-minded impact investors focusing on investments in Israel and the global Jewish community.
She is just now launching an impact fund called ZORA. She acknowledges that with her first investor pitch coming up next Monday, she’s feeling “one of those moments” coming when she wonders if anyone will show up to hear her pitch.
The Princeton and Harvard-educated entrepreneur credits a love for solving problems as the core of her success. “An addiction to learning and challenge? Having a big, scary, ‘can we actually pull this off?’ challenge in front of me is what excites me and gets me out of bed each morning. And the challenges I find most compelling are to figure out what we can do to honor and develop the incredible potential within every human being on our planet. There is unfortunately no end to this work. But the stimulation from the constant learning it requires and the inspiration I receive from fellow impact entrepreneurs fuel me to keep plowing ahead.”
On Thursday, May 12, 2016 at 11:00 AM Eastern, Vanessa will join me hear for a live discussion about her success and the lessons she’s learn along the way. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
More about ZORA:
(2015 – Present) ZORA is a Tel Aviv-based impact investment fund that sees Israel’s unique potential to become the world’s leading source of exceptional social impact companies. Together with the individuals, family offices, and foundations that invest with us, ZORA is bringing this vision to life. We invest in, and work closely with, outstanding Israeli impact entrepreneurs who have scalable solutions to pressing global challenges in health, education, poverty alleviation, and the environment.
More about LAVAN:
(2015 – Present) LAVAN is a global community bringing together Jewish values and the power of business to repair our planet. Our mission is to develop the next generation of impact investors and entrepreneurs, in Israel and around the world, who view impact investing and social entrepreneurship as meaningful expressions of Jewish identity. We support early-stage Israeli impact entrepreneurs, engage and develop young talent, and curate impact investment and learning opportunities. Note: I will be in New York at time of interview for LAVAN’s first pitch event, bringing four fantastic Israeli impact entrepreneurs to pitch to investor communities in New York (May 16th) and San Francisco (May 18th)! Fun, fun, fun.
More about WorkSquare:
(2008 – Present) WorkSquare is a Miami-based staffing and recruiting firm designed to improve financial and professional outcomes for low-income workers. WorkSquare is a certified “B Corp” and has been recognized nationally by the Hitachi Foundation and others for its unique for-profit approach to workforce development and poverty alleviation. She continues to serve as WorkSquare’s Founder and Chair.
Vanessa Bartram, social entrepreneur, courtesy of WorkSquare
Vanessa is an impact entrepreneur turned impact investor. She is Managing Partner of Zora Ventures, a micro-VC focused on Israeli entrepreneurs with solutions to global challenges in health, poverty, education and the environment. In addition, she co-founded LAVAN, a network of US impact investors supporting social entrepreneurs in Israel and the Jewish world. Vanessa also serves as Israel’s local champion for “B Corp,” a global movement and certifying agency for impact businesses. In 2008, Vanessa founded WorkSquare, a Miami-based staffing and recruiting firm designed to improve financial and professional outcomes for low-income workers. WorkSquare is a certified “B Corp” and has been recognized nationally by the Hitachi Foundation, Forbes and others for its unique for-profit approach to workforce development and poverty alleviation. She continues to serve as WorkSquare’s Founder and Chair. Prior to launching WorkSquare, Vanessa spent four years working in mergers and acquisitions, primarily with KPMG Corporate Finance in Mexico City. She provided sell-side advisory services to mid-market clients, preparing valuation analyses, drafting offering memoranda, and identifying strategic and financial acquirers. While in Mexico, Vanessa also provided pro bono consultation to Ashoka and the InterAmerican Development Bank. She holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from Princeton University. She is a Heritage Fellow with the Wexner Foundation and a Miami Chamber of Commerce Young Professional of the Year.
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