3 Houston innovators to know about this week
Kelly Avant hasn’t really charted a linear career path. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering with the Peace Corps, and even attending law school, she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.
“VC is a great way to shape the future in a more positive way, because you can literally wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems,” Avant told InnovationMap.
Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full-time as an investment associate. Now, having completed her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she’s excited about this new career in Q&A investing.
InnovationMap: From law school and the Peace Corps, what inspired you to start a career in the venture capital world?
Kelly Before: I got an MBA from Rice University, started looking for an investment company in my freshman year, and the summer after my freshman year, I was basically working a full-time internship at Mercury . But I love telling people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a small ski college in Colorado. If you come across anyone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please get in touch, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I thought – and said – of business students, but I’ve really come full circle.
I always thought I would work in a non-profit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a lawyer for civil rights. I found this time and again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.
The problem with operating as a nonprofit in capitalism is that you always pander to donor interests. The NFL was a key sponsor of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated relationship, to put it mildly, with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became quite clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship often put the wrong party in charge. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative funding for nonprofit organizations. I became convinced that the most exciting companies build solutions to the world’s problems while making a profit, which allows them to survive to have a lasting positive impact.
VC is a great way to shape the future in a more positive way because you can literally wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are crafting solutions to the world’s problems.
IM: What companies are you passionate about?
KA: There are some super interesting founders that I have come into direct contact with. To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock and Polco.
I am very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy-efficient Blockchain that tracks ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about Mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship-based peer-to-peer lending to address the massive problem of predatory payday lending.
We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part of working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I’m excited to go to work every day and help them create better solutions.
IM: Why are you so passionate about diversity and inclusion at Mercury?
KA: I love working with exciting, highly skilled and super smart people. This category includes so many people who have historically been excluded. As a member of Mercury’s investment team, I have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to praise the best people in the Halls of Influence.
IM: With your new role, what are you focusing on the most?
KA: In my new role, I identify and research high potential investments. We are building an educational series on Mercury to lift the veil on VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the foundational skills to successfully complete venture capital due diligence and have the ability to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best possible returns for our investors, and we can’t achieve that goal unless we develop resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.
This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.