Giving Back

One of my favorite memories from 2007 was the day I became a venture capitalist. Financial journalists are really no different from the sports reporters who secretly want to be sluggers.

My stint as a VC wasn’t quite like the Gary Snoman cartoon though. I didn’t fire any CEOs or ask them about India and China. No, I took on the role of a VC with the responsibility I imagine all the professionals I cover exercise every day. I smiled, I nodded and I wrote checks.

I invested in a handful of promising startups engaged in the design and manufacture of a unique product in an explosive emerging market that—I’m told—could be worth $10 billion by 2008: friendship bracelets.

Fortunately my investment wasn’t in real money and my “entrepreneurs” weren’t graduates of MIT or Stanford. They were just embarking on their educational journeys as fifth graders at the Carden El Encanto Day School in Santa Clara. And I was their BizWorld volunteer for the day.

The BizWorld program teaches kids about entrepreneurship and takes them through the process of product design, manufacturing, marketing and sales. They pitch their bracelet-making startups, raise capital and go to work.

Of course not all students are cut out to be entrepreneurs. Would be artists and future English majors are the first to snub their noses at the math-intensive world of business—until you explain how artists fit into the design functions of a business (Jonathan Ives) and the writers can persuade people to buy products (Leo Burnett). My class had a handful of burgeoning patent lawyers, design engineers and even corporate raiders.

At the end of the afternoon, we tallied up profits and stock outstanding. We determined which company had achieved higher profitability and why. (I won’t say that I returned 10x to my LPs, but I was a “top quartile” performer.)

Then we talked about what makes a good company. Good companies, they said, make good products that don’t hurt people, have financial success, treat their employees fairly and give back to the community. I couldn’t agree more.

As we come to the end of the year, many of your minds may be turned toward giving. Maybe it’s giving a gift, or giving your time, or giving the executive assistants and associate at your firm a bonus. Maybe you’d like to give something to the readers of this Wire: one good anecdote or suggestion of how to donate their time and or well-earned returns in 2008.

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