Interviewed March 2008
UNC Kenan-Flagler alumna Deb Parsons (MBA '06) has tried on a lot of places and careers in her search for the right fit. In seeking to marry her passions and ideals with her work, she held seven different positions in her 35 years before finding the right balance at Good Capital-a small investment firm in San Francisco specializing in creating sustainable solutions to some of society's most pressing problems through innovative investment vehicles. To best understand how she got to where she is, one has to look at where she's been.
After graduating with a degree in Accounting, Deb decided that while her degree was practical, it lacked heart. She headed to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands to open a micro-beer distributorship. When that didn't pan out, she ended up in Alaska at Denali National Park. Experiencing that humbling landscape brought "a larger respect for nature and spirituality, and combined with meeting some amazing people pursuing untraditional career paths, my worldview changed considerably."
Her journey continued to zig and zag from Bain & Co. to The North Face to Intuit, each successive job bringing her closer to her ideal. "While at Intuit, the Internet bubble burst, and in my role as partner manager, I was losing key external relationships on a weekly basis due to layoffs. Psychically, it was killing me&hellips; I realized personal finance products weren't my passion, and I had a higher calling. I was going to save the world." Eventually, her search led her to Kenan-Flagler's MBA program and the Sustainable Enterprise concentration.
While at Kenan-Flagler, Deb did more than pass out "hippie capitalist" stickers. She recalls: "I was in a unique position while at Kenan-Flagler. I was both a Carolina Venture Fellow working for an esteemed community development venture capital firm, SJF Ventures, and the president of UNC's Net Impact Club. During the summer between 1st and 2nd year, I was having lunch with Janneke Ratcliffe, of the Center for Community Capitalism (CCC) and she challenged me to create an event that showcases double- and triple-bottom-line companies."
In response, Deb led a team that created the Sustainable Venture Capital Investment Competition (SVCIC) — a spin-off of Kenan-Flagler's prestigious and well-established VCIC, and the only MBA competition of its kind. In Deb's words, "I think venture capital can be a vehicle for hope and this event showcases that hope quite well."
Now she works on that goal at Good Capital as vice president of operations and business development. The company has raised some money for its first fund, a $30 million Social Enterprise Expansion Fund, which will provide engaged risk capital for initiatives related to work force development, fair trade, health care and education. In its young life, Good Capital has been featured in Forbes magazine and other publications and is in the February issue of Inc. magazine.
Unlike traditional venture capital firms, Good Capital will share what it learns from the new fund to encourage the start of similar funds. "This field needs to have a more efficient model than is currently out there. It can't be measured on the same playing field as traditional venture capital," Deb adds.
"Capital can provide more than just the fuel in the engine. It provides people with a sense of hope."
Sustainability Reading Recommendations:
Currently on Deb's nightstand: "The Foundation" by Joel Fleishman
Foundations are at an amazing crossroads. They have a unique way of creating change both through their grant making and their investing, the later of which is very important to me in my current role.