3 Houston innovators to meet this week

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Kelly Avant didn’t exactly set up a linear career path for herself. 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 an amazing way to shape the future in a more positive way because you can literally transfer money to the most innovative thinkers, who are creating solutions to the world’s problems,” Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full-time as an investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she’s excited about this new career in investing in a Q&A session.

InnovationMap: From law school and the Peace Corps, what attracted you to start a career in the world of venture capital?

kelly avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, started looking for an investment firm my freshman year, and by the summer after my freshman year, I was basically working full-time as an intern at Mercury. But I like to tell people about my bachelor’s degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a small ski school in Colorado. If you know anyone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please contact us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think, and say, about business students, but I really have come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit 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 of civil rights. I found that moment and Once again the root of the problem was lack of resources. The problems of the world were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in capitalism is that you’re basically always pandering 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 the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative funding for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while making a profit, allowing them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an amazing way to shape the future in a more positive way because you can literally transfer money to the most innovative thinkers, who are creating solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies that excite you?

AC: There are a couple of very interesting founders that I have found myself interacting with directly. To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I am very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables the tracking of 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 solve the huge problem of predatory payday lending.

We have so many amazing founders in our portfolio. The best part of working at VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work every day and help them build better solutions.

IM: Why are you passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion to Mercury?

AC: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have historically been excluded. As a member of the Mercury investment team, I have a voice and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in the halls of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

AC: In my new role, I identify and research high potential investments. We are building a Mercury educational series to lift the veil on VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity 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’re building resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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