How VCs deploy capital is fundamentally flawed, says the team behind World Within Ventures.
They’ve closed an inaugural $20 million fund to change the narrative around what funding humanitarian-focused startups can look like.
World Within’s portfolio companies to date already provide interesting insight into how the founders think about creating equity through tech funding. But it is their own founding story that helps to best capture the fund’s different approach to investing.
The founding team, Rostam Zafari and Mehul Bhagat, met as students at Emory University. Through a mixture of academic and entrepreneurial pursuits, the two found themselves on a mission to “create a world they would be happy to be born into at random.”
Zafari was part of the founding team behind Rapid Ebola Detection Strips (REDS) and has worked across the social entrepreneurial ecosystem before landing in the VC space.
At 21, he became one of the youngest Chief Investment Officers in the country at Sage Hill Capital Partners, where he led over 75 direct investments and 15 fund investments across the US, Europe, Africa, and India.
Bhagat serves as the Board Chair for Emory’s Global Health Institute and has also made his mark across the startup landscape.
The team believes positioning World Within as part of the growing builder capital community will be key to their growth.
“Because [World Within] is structured in such a long-term way, we have some discretion,” Bhagat told Hypepotamus. “The idea is also to have companies at different stages in their life cycle so that you can reinvest profits.”
The team counts several keys players in Builder Capital as advisors and investors.
Nathalie Molina Niño, a veteran tech entrepreneur, investor, and creator of the Center for Women Entrepreneurs at Columbia University, told Hypepotamus that the Builder Capital community was born when she realized others in her VC network were just as burned out by the traditional investing model.
She describes builder capital as “an alternative asset class to venture capital that is long-view oriented.”
“That hold option,” she added, “isn’t possible for venture capitalists whose funds are structured on modern portfolio theory.”
“Builder capitalists tend to be operators, not bankers. So we’re not about numbers and playing odds, like Vegas, which is ultimately what modern portfolio theory is,” Molina Niño added. “Let’s spray a bunch of money into 100 companies and let’s pray that one or two of them become unicorns. We’re not about praying. We’re actual operators. We know how to build companies and how to grow companies.”
World Within has sourced their initial investments and deal flow through Sage Hill Investors family office. Initial investments include startups across AgTech, network security, supply chain, and last-mile broadband, to name a few.
Advisor Dave Furneaux, who serves as CEO and founder of investment firm BlueIO, talked to Hypepotamus more about the role investing can play in the global health ecosystem.
“The pandemic has shined a light on the importance for us all to spend our time working on building companies that make the world a better place and to do this challenging and rewarding building work with people we share values and ethos with,” Furneaux told Hypepotamus. “Core areas like biomedicine, genetics, cyber security and agriculture, and food technologies are fertile ground for tomorrow’s influential companies.”
Investing in Atlanta and the rest of the world
Other known Atlanta advisors include Kat Cole, former President and COO of Focus Brands, and Joe Gebbia, founder of the City of Brookhaven and current Mayor Protem.
Gebbia connected with Zafari back in 2016 on a previous startup. He told Hypepotamus that as he spends more time investing in philanthropic funds, he’s been impressed by the team’s dedication to making a lasting impact, particularly across sustainability, health, and food sectors.
“It’s amazing the success rate [Rostam] has. It is a statement of his acuity and being able to filter through all the noise to pick up on the important parts that make a company successful.”
The team and its investors see Atlanta playing a central role as they look to build global impact.
‘We actually thought about moving because some of our portfolio companies are spread globally,” Bhagat told Hypepotamus. “But we kept returning to Atlanta, both because it feels like home and where we’re needed…but also because there are people here who have struggled to make our country better and to amend our country. I really find a sense of humility among people who are building innovations and working on things here, often on a global scale.”
“Being in Atlanta really is an opportunity to bring together disparate fields and people who have maybe come from both the startup ecosystem, but also much larger institutional ecosystems across Emory, CDC, and other parts of Atlanta,” he added.