• Heartful Academy

Why Conscious Entrepreneurship is the Way Forward for Humanity

Heartful Academy session with Jeffrey Cherry, Executive Director of Conscious Venture Lab, Managing Partner of Conscious Venture Fund.

In 2013 Jeffrey Cherry, Cosmina Popa, and Zach Gottlieb launched the Conscious Venture Lab. When I heard about their initiative, I remember at first being a bit puzzled about the name. Venture Lab made perfect sense, but what was meant by Conscious? I mean, are we humans not per definition conscious unless we are sleeping, knocked unconscious by a blow to the head, put under anesthesia during a surgery, or in a coma? Surely, we must be conscious when we are building our ventures. So was that name not stating the uncontested obvious? I mean, who wants to start an unconscious business?

Since then I have learned more, and consciousness has become a big deal in our culture and society - also among business leaders. Today, I understand that most of human behavior is actually governed by our subconscious (or unconscious) patterns, habits, and conditioned view of the world. As business is nothing other than organised human efforts around a (hopefully) shared goal, so of course a business can be operated in a way that is very conscious, or not very conscious at all.

Meeting Jeff for the first time a handful of years ago, I could immediately feel his passion and dedication for the mission he is on. Jeff was a consultant on a number of game-changing books, including Firms of Endearment, by Professor Raj Sisodia (earlier Heartful Academy speaker), and Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, which Raj co-authored together with John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods Market. In conscious capitalism, Jeff finally found what he was looking for: a constructive and comprehensive new paradigm for business. He became a co-founder of the movement’s New York chapter, and met a lot of like-hearted friends that strengthened his resolve.

Jeff had already been working with investments, stakeholders perspective and sustainability since 2006 when he sold his company. But he hadn’t landed on the right format and message, and he felt unfulfilled. So at 53 years young he decided to start all over again, close his other activities down, and go all-in on creating a startup accelerator that would work to elevate the consciousness of the founders coming through their program.

It was a bold vision, especially on American soil, where capitalism in its purest form is celebrated and by many seen as the only way to win in the global economy. By working for conscious capitalism you can be accused of implying that good old fashioned capitalism, based on hard nosed profit-optimization and self interest, is not conscious. Jeff’s journey hasn’t been an easy one, but he has demonstrated a persistency that now pays off.

Throughout the past 8 years more than 50 startups have been through his accelerator program, among them Hungry Harvest which “saves ugly fruit”, has successfully pitched on the iconic Shark Tank show, raised $14m to date, and employs over 75 people.

Jeff has taken on board roles in organisations that are on the same overall mission for conscious business practices. He is a member of the Cornerstone Capital Global Advisory Council, a global sustainability investment advisory firm, a member of the Board of Advisors for the Maryland Momentum Fund, the venture capital fund for the University System of Maryland, and founding partner and member of the Board of Directors of the Laudato Si Challenge, a global initiative supported by the Vatican to create profitable, sustainable and innovative products and services for climate change and involuntary migration.

Now, suddenly everyone is talking about sustainability, impact, and diversity. But, having done 8 years of groundwork, Jeff is optimally positioned to ride the wave. At Heartful Academy we are extra inspired by the people that worked for a certain change in our society long before it became hype to do so. Jeff is definitely such a person.

Some of the questions we asked Jeff to address during this Heartful Academy session:

  • What is so compelling to you about the Conscious Capitalism movement and paradigm that you decided to sell everything and start all over again at the age of 53?

  • How do you find the strength and determination to stay motivated and keep working towards this goal, even though the ‘status quo’ in business has been so entrenched and resistant to change?

  • How do you determine if a startup is conscious enough that you want to work with them, invest in them, and support them?

  • Over the years, do you see that your mission is becoming easier, or harder?

  • What impact does COVID-19 have for the conscious capitalism movement, is it speeding it up or slowing it down?

  • Being a Black entrepreneur and investor in the US, what is your take on the Black Lives Matter movement and on systemic racism?

  • What is the best way, in your opinion, that we can work for diversity and inclusion?

  • What do you see in the investment community in the US right now? What are the big trends?

  • Why should investors care about whether a startup lives up to your definition of conscious or not?