In a trailer that served as an Atlanta public-school chemistry classroom with no science equipment, I noticed that one student, Desiree, was struggling with her grades and with making friends. I gathered her teachers together to create an improvement plan and coached her during free periods. Two years later, in 2012, Desiree was preparing for college. Her strides cemented my belief that small interventions can result in transformational change. I empathized with Desiree because without the teachers and sponsors who pushed to bring out the best in me, I never would have become a first generation college student at Ohio State. This is why I taught middle- and high-school science through Teach for America, hoping to change the lives of students just as my mentors had changed mine. I always believed in “paying it forward,” and now, as a consultant and tech startup mentor, I continue to share the love.
I had a burgeoning interest in entrepreneurship while teaching, and it was at Wharton that I finally found a welcoming startup ecosystem. Operations, Information, and Decisions Professor Christian Terwiesch’s innovation class catalyzed a community of founders: We generated 50 business ideas, tested their viability, and through peer-to-peer pitching arrived at 10 polished concepts. I had no idea of the power of impact investing until I joined the student-led Wharton Social Venture Fund (now Wharton Impact Investing Partners). Our first investment was in Revolution Credit, an inclusive, behavioral-data-driven financial services company that gamifies financial literacy education. We partnered with OurCrowd, an equity crowdfunding platform, to invest $250k—a meaningful sum that amplified Revolution’s work.
These experiences propelled me into a senior associate role at the storied TechStars accelerator in New York—home to ClassPass, Next Big Sound, and Contently—where I worked with energetic founders. There I met Yin Lin, who started SheWorx, a network for women entrepreneurs. Now, I use my teaching and impact investing skills to mentor SheWorx-affiliated startups in my spare time. They come to my office and explain their businesses, and I strategize with them on funding and accelerator applications.
Wharton magnified my desire and my ability to give back. I’m constantly inspired by the generous and accessible alumni network, and I help current students whenever they get in touch. Recently I chatted with Davis Filippell WG18 about funding and differentiating his platform, PolarNews, which presents opposing viewpoints on current events. The best outcome I can hope for: Davis finds success and a Desiree of his own.—Jerrod Hill WG15, consultant at the Boston Consulting Group
Published as “Small Gestures, Big Change” in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Wharton Magazine.