Interview with Aaron Walker, Founder & CEO, Camelback Ventures: www.camelbackventures.org
Tell us about your organization. Camelback Ventures is a non-profit organization based in New Orleans. We run a fellowship program where we support early-stage social entrepreneurs of color. We’ve been running it for almost 4 years with our first fellowship class in 2015. Since then, we’ve supported 33 fellows, and we’re about to launch a new investment class in 2018. Applications open on January 4th and will remain open for 3 weeks.
What motivated you to start this organization?
I have spent most of my adult life in education. As a teacher, I spent some time in the New York City department of education. Before Camelback, I tried to launch another startup. As I think about those experiences, I also think about my career generally and about all the places where I have been the “lonely only” – if not the only person of color, one of few. I was saying to myself, you know, I think we leave a lot on the table when we don’t leverage people who come from different backgrounds, especially representing the backgrounds of the kids we serve. Camelback is a way to elevate the genius that exists in all communities. One of the challenges is that genius is equally distributed but access is not. For us, Camelback is a way to provide access to the genius we’re not tapping into. What successes have you seen so far? We’ve had 33 fellows and just graduated our 3rd class in September. They had doubled the amount of funding they received, collectively raising $2 million. Our first 20 fellows raised almost $15 million to date, which is really exciting for us because part of what we want to do is launch this entrepreneurial pipeline that gains traction. Camelback Ventures has been 10% of Forbes’ 30 under 30 Education list. It means we’re beginning to change the archetype of what an education leader looks like, but it also means we’re building our own social capital which allows us to have leverage and wield influence. What have been the challenges? Sometimes running Camelback is a very meta experience: we are the problem we are trying to solve. We are an early stage entrepreneurial organization run by a person of color. The things that we’re trying to help our fellows overcome are the same things we’re trying to overcome. Coaching, connections, and capital –we’re trying to provide access to those 3 things for our fellows, given the systemic denial of those things over time that makes it hard for a person of color entrepreneur to have access to those things, but we face those things as well. Anything else you want us to know about your organization? One of the things we have learned over the last 3 years is the importance of community. We focus on these 3 C’s and over time, we realize that we’ve been able to build a powerful community of fellows which has a ripple effect. One of the things that makes me the proudest is hearing the fellows talk about how this has been a powerful experience and community for them to be a part of and that it feels more like a family than a program. I think anyone who is interested in being a part of the fellowship or being in the orbit of Camelback should understand that they’re joining not just an organization but a community and family. See more about fellowship applications at www.camelbackventures.org/apply and more about opportunities to join the Camelback Ventures team here: www.camelbackventures.org/get-involved