Joining the Kauffman Fellows Board

In September, I joined the board of Kauffman Fellows.

If you aren’t familiar with the Kauffman Fellows Program, it recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. I was around at the beginning, spending a day a month in Kansas City with the Kauffman Foundation as an entrepreneur-in-residence when the program was originally created by a team at the Kauffman Foundation to identify, develop, and network the next generation of global leaders in the venture capital industry using a two-year apprenticeship program. In 2003, it was spun out of the Kauffman Foundation into a separate non-profit but, at the 20th reunion in Kansas City, the Kauffman Foundation made a new gift to the Kauffman Fellows Program to accelerate the midwestern venture capital ecosystem.

Kauffman Fellows now has almost 500 Fellows in 40 countries across the world. The power of the network and how it impacts both the venture capital industry and the startup ecosystem is profound. Some of the early Kauffman Fellows are now leading major firms. Consider a few people from the first three classes, including Jason Green (Emergence), Rob Coneybeer and Ravi Mohan (Shasta Ventures), Susan Mason (Aligned Partners), Jennifer Fonstad (Aspect Ventures), and Bryan Roberts (Venrock).

As someone who is now 20 years into his own journey as an investor in companies as well as other VC funds, when I was approached about joining the board by Jeff Harbach, the CEO, it was an easy yes for me. After spending some time with Jeff, who recently took over the CEO reins from long time CEO (and now Chairman) Phil Wickham, I realized that by engaging with Jeff and the board I could support a new CEO running a non-profit organization to train the world’s future VCs. Jeff blew me away with his vision and energy, which is the primary driver for me – beyond the mission of the organization – when I engage with a non-profit.

In one of our longer conversations, Jeff focused on the non-investment activities that he viewed as critical to the success of investors. We talked about topics like authenticity and mental fitness. We talked about a common paradox – the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know – and how difficult it is to acknowledge and process this concept in whatever context it appears. I’ve experienced this many times in my career and have deep empathy and understanding around the challenges. I believe that peer-mentorship, one of the key activities of Kauffman Fellows, is essential here.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a strong advocate for diversity across all dimensions. This is not new for me in business – when I was at the Kauffman Foundation, I heard it, among other values that I cherish, as being attributed to Mr. Kauffman. When I looked around the room at the Kauffman Fellows Reunion, it was easy to see why they are having a huge impact on diversity in venture capital, with over 30% of the most recent class being women, 11% being African-American, alongside numerous participants from all over the world.

Kauffman Fellows is not necessarily for people just entering the venture industry but for experienced VCs looking to accelerate their growth. The program is centered around established innovation leaders – if you are looking to grow and become a better investor you should think about doing this program.

I talk often about being intrinsically motivated by learning. It’s the primary driver of most of my activity. When I struggled with a depressive episode in 2013, I realized that I had a glitch in my thinking about my own motivation. I had separated learning and teaching into different concepts. As I have gotten older, I am spending a lot more time teaching, which was taking away from time I had previously spent learning, and that was bumming me out. When I thought harder about this (with the help of my therapist), I realized that I learn an enormous amount in contexts where I’m also teaching. Consequently, I was able to repair the glitch by linking the concepts of learning and teaching as the core of my intrinsic motivation.

By joining the board of  Kauffman Fellows, I get to do both. I’m now a node on another network – one shared by 20 years of experienced VCs around the world as they work together to help identify, nurture, and develop the next generation of VCs. I expect I’ll teach a lot, but as with many things in life, will learn even more.

Jeff – thanks for asking me to be a part of things. I’m honored.


Also published on Medium.

  • Pointsandfigures

    One of the true lights of entrepreneurship passed away Dec 4. Prof Paul Magelli from UIllinois. He was heavily involved with Kaufman back in the day

  • Jason Randell

    Congrats Jeff! Its been too long…

  • Jason Randell

    What are the key takeaways of the Fellows Program?

  • Rob K

    It’s great to have you as part of the leadership Brad. Thanks for contributing the time.