Entrepreneurs

Nonprofit Venture Fund Helps 87 Social Impact Startups Raise $254M

I scour the globe for stories worth reading about ventures that are a true force for good for humanity and our planet. 

That’s why I’m THRILLED to introduce Banks Benitez, Co-founder and CEO of Uncharted. 

Banks and Uncharted’s mission is to accelerate the growth and impact of early-stage ventures tackling economic inequality in America. 

Their impact to date? 

Over the last decade, Uncharted has worked with 87+ social impact startups, helping them raise over $254M and impacting 47.5M lives. 

Equipping ventures to challenge the status quo is what Uncharted does best. For every $1 in funding Uncharted receives, their ventures generate $8.12 within two years, funding that they attribute directly to Uncharted’s support. 

Let’s dive into the deep end.

Diana Tsai: What’s the problem you’re solving?

Banks Benitez: In America today, our economy is out of balance. Significant wage gaps between men and women persist, particularly for women of color. Wealth is unequally distributed across the country, with Black households holding a fraction of the wealth of white households. And the percentage of venture capital dollars going to women-founded companies has barely budged in the last decade—the numbers are even worse for Black and Latinx founders.

The persistence of these economic inequities is not by accident, but rather the result of centuries of federal and state policies that have systematically tilted the playing field, enabling those with power and wealth to remain on top. When our economy favors some more than others, it holds us all back, so here at Uncharted we’re working toward a future where everyone in America has equitable access to the resources, tools, and opportunities they need to thrive.

Tsai: How are you solving it?

Benitez: We back early-stage ventures who are committed to transformational, durable change. We make big bets early on, and in many cases some of those bets don’t pay off for a few years, sometimes more, but when the ventures we support do eventually succeed they create deep and lasting impact.

There are plenty of programs and funders that already support less risky ventures with more moderate ambitions, but we believe that the most promising ventures are born out of contrarian insights and ideas that have yet to reach the mainstream. For many of our ventures, we are the first one in their corner. We believe in them and cheer them on when others can’t yet grasp their vision.

We are drawn to innovators who are tackling complex challenges, and who have unique insights on both how they should do it and why they should do it now. We look for thinkers and builders who deeply understand the problems they’re trying to solve—many of whom with firsthand experience.

Tsai: Paint a future state picture for us of what the world looks like when you solve this problem.

Benitez: The goal is to reduce extreme inequality in the United States and create more opportunities for people to build wealth, be economically mobile, and be less vulnerable to economic shocks. 

Economic inequality is a base-layer issue; it’s hard to see and it often presents as other problems. For example, inequality acts as a force-multiplier for issues like political polarization, affordable housing crises, inequities in education outcomes, public health challenges (like COVID), and cultural divides. A future state with less extreme economic inequality looks like a stronger democracy, more livable cities, fairer wages, increased access to opportunities, and a deeper sense of shared identity. 

The next 30 years are going to require a different, more humanized type of capitalism than we have had in the past. The capitalism of the future will require greater consciousness about its consequences and its humans. Changing our relationship to our economic system will change the downstream consequences of that economic system, like extreme economic inequality. As an organization, we’re committed to ushering in this change.

Tsai: What motivated you personally to start this nonprofit?

Benitez: I grew up as the son of two entrepreneurs who launched a small family business on the side, so entrepreneurship has been a topic around the dinner table and something I practiced from a young age. Every summer I hustled to make money, start small businesses, and come up with new products and ideas.

Over time, I grew interested in how businesses and entrepreneurs could solve social problems. Ever since I was small, I have had a fierce sense of justice, and my commitment to social justice was blended with my curiosity about entrepreneurship. I spent time studying microfinance, I examined the business models of social entrepreneurs, I did a masters in anthropology to understand the cultural and linguistic dimensions of economic development. I chased after my curiosity, and it led me to Uncharted.

I joined Uncharted after it had already launched in the early days, so I am just one co-founder. But I believe in the optimism and the pluck of early-stage entrepreneurs, especially those who are so dedicated to solving a personal and real problem in their lives (or in the lives of their community) that they will go to the ends of the earth to do whatever it takes. Uncharted believes in these entrepreneurs, surrounds them with a community, funds them (when they are often overlooked by so many others), and does everything it can to remove barriers that stand in the way of their success.

Tsai: A little vulnerability – how do you take care of you so that you can be the best version of yourself to serve others?

Benitez: Building Uncharted has been the hardest thing I have ever done. It has taken all of me, and there have been days when I’ve felt lost, afraid, lonely, insecure, and unsure of myself. I don’t think enough founders have the spaces to talk about the inner game and the psychology of leadership, so we try at Uncharted to create these spaces where we can be brave and vulnerable.

Personally, I regularly meet with a group of three other CEOs to talk through challenges, fears, and our relationship to our work. That group has been a safe, brave space for me to show up fully and draw inspiration from other people who are navigating similar challenges. I think we underestimate the power in (and the space created) when we ask sincere questions of each other, and I am trying to ask sincere questions of the people around me about my leadership and my work at Uncharted. The vulnerability of a sincere question creates the opportunity for people to pour into you.

Finally, I am a recent evangelist for 8-hours of solid sleep. The drivers of mental health and self-care are surprisingly physical, and good sleep is one of the most important things we can do to care for ourselves. Everything is better after a good night’s rest. 

Diana: How can readers get involved / support / help?

Benitez: We have ambitious goals to raise $9M over the next three years to support 90 early-stage ventures tackling economic inequality in America by closing race, gender, generation and class wealth gaps.You can learn more about Uncharted, support our work through tax-deductible donations and sign up to be a mentor at www.uncharted.org

Learn more & take action:

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Each week I publish stories about for-profit and non-profit VENTURES FOR GOOD. Because the world needs more GOOD news. 

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