We sat down with SVP partner Tasha Seitz, who was instrumental in starting the SVP Chicago affiliate 10 years ago, to ask her about the development of the organization over the last decade.
What inspired you to found SVP Chicago?
Prior to starting SVP Chicago, I spent most of my career as a technology venture investor. Through that work, I have seen the positive impact that an entrepreneur with an innovative spirit and a lot of drive can have on people’s day to day lives. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, I decided on the spur of the moment to spend a week at a community school in Zambia as a way to get some perspective. The trip was organized by a startup nonprofit based in Chicago called Spark Ventures, which was taking a venture capital approach to supporting entrepreneurial NGOs. That was the first time I had seen the venture model being applied to social impact, and I came back from this experience wanting to learn more about what was happening at this intersection. I joined the board of Spark Ventures, did a ton of reading and approached dozens of people working in venture philanthropy and impact investing to learn about their work.
As part of that exploration, I connected with the founders of what would eventually become Impact Engine, the impact investing fund that I help manage today. As we worked to launch this organization, I attended a conference in the Bay Area and met with the executive director of the SVP Dallas affiliate and one of the partners at SVP Boulder. After hearing about the model, I knew that these were exactly the kind of people that Impact Engine should become involved with, and I asked to get connected with SVP International. Coincidentally, they had an event on the calendar in three weeks to explore interest in launching an SVP affiliate in Chicago. I ended up speaking at this meeting to make the case for why I thought venture philanthropy was a powerful model for Chicago and at the end of my remarks, Rose Fealy, DeRondal Bevly, and Thania Panopoulos raised their hands to get involved, and this group of people got together and drove the initial formation and foundation of SVP. During our first year, 23 people joined us including Chris Morgan, Bob Fealy, Paula Sneed & Lawrence Bass, Sam & Jessica Droste Yagan, Alex & Jon Buck, Jim Marion, and Cindy Paulauskas.
Is there something that you are the most proud of either in how SVP Chicago was founded or how it has evolved over the past ten years?
I am really proud of the caliber, quality, and diversity of the partners that make up SVP Chicago, and that Chicago has become an exemplar for the greater SVP network. I’m thrilled that so many of the founding partners are still part of the organization, and also that the organization continues to grow and change for the better with every new, talented partner that joins the group and brings new ideas and energy to the work that we do.
What do you think it is about SVP as an entity or that has been enmeshed in the fabric of the organization that does attract the diversity of the partners or inspires people to bring the passion?
A lot of the partners really embody the mindset of being learning-oriented, curious, collaborative, and humble. I think that is in part due to the culture of the city, but it is also because those who want to become involved with us are self-selecting. This style of venture philanthropy attracts people that share fundamental characteristics that make the culture what it is. The model is not right for everyone, but for the people it’s a good fit for, it’s really powerful. I tell people that SVP partners are hands down my favorite people to spend time with — they are fun, smart, thoughtful, and purposeful.
Is there a part of SVP that you are the most proud of having changed?
One of the things that I really appreciate about SVP Chicago is that nothing is sacred: new ideas are welcomed, and things are always improving. But we are also intentional with change, and hold the mentality that if we are going to adjust something, that we must do it in a thoughtful way that engages with our partners so they feel a sense of ownership and leadership. For me that’s part of what makes for longevity for an organization like ours.
Specifically, I would point to Fast Pitch and the changes in our Investment Committee process as something to be celebrated. Alex Buck, for example, joined SVP Chicago at the end of our first investment cycle and immediately volunteered to be the lead partner for our first investee, One Million Degrees. She later raised her hand to launch our inaugural Fast Pitch, which is now one of our key programs. The recent shifts in the Investment Committee process led by Evelyn Morfin and Pat Carlevato) will lead to identifying and funding more community-based solutions, which is a great example of a couple of partners stepping up, taking leadership, being thoughtful, and engaging with partners and communities in a way that has been really successful. There has been continuous improvement in everything we have done over the last 10 years.
I would also like to note that we were incredibly lucky to get Evelyn Fitzgerald involved early on. She helps to keep our organization on track by maintaining a balance between ideas, innovation and energy, while keeping our work intentional and pragmatic. She is an important part of the glue that has held SVP Chicago together and created that culture.
What is a fun fact about yourself?
My husband is from Melbourne, Australia, and we have adopted an Australian naming theme for all of our dogs over the last couple of decades: Billabong (Billie), Matilda (Mattie), Kosciuszko (Kozzy), and our current pandemic puppy, Tasmanian Devil (Tazzie for short), who has appeared in a virtual SVP event or two!