Since 1976, the month of February has been recognized in the United States as Black History Month to observe and celebrate Blackness in its many forms. We want to continue this tradition by dedicating our first employee spotlight to the wonderful Steph Jones, and celebrating all that they have accomplished in their unique and jam packed career journey.
I met Steph this past summer when we both started contracts with Acceleprise the same week – Steph as our Diversity and Inclusion strategist, and me as our Head of Marketing. Steph and I meet weekly to catch up on work, life, and most importantly, so that Steph can guide my marketing efforts to make sure that everything we communicate is inclusive of the entire VC community. Steph does this in a way that makes me feel safe and unjudged. I’ve learned so much from them in such a short time. It feels like every week when I chat with Steph, I learn something new about them that always makes me think “is this the most interesting human I’ve met in my life?”
When I sat down with Steph this week to interview them for our first employee spotlight, I realized quickly that I had only scratched the surface. Their story is amazing, filled with curiosity, passion, drive, authenticity, a desire to have an impact, and a ridiculous amount of hard work.
Steph is only 24 years old but seems to have accumulated way more experience than most people older than them has. You’ll see what I mean here. Read on and enjoy!
Alexis: So Steph, tell me about your career journey so far.
Steph: When I was 16 I made a bet with my mother and told her I would be the mayor of New York City by the time I was 30. We shook on it, and from that point forward I threw myself into the public sector of New York, started volunteering for political community driven nonprofits in my neighborhood, which in turn sparked my interest in going to Baruch College in NYC. I went to an open house there and heard the Dean of Public Affairs talk about his experiences, he said that he can die today and know he did his duty for the city. I wanted to reach that level of professional contentment one day, which is what inspired me to pursue a degree in Public Affairs with a concentration of qualitative and quantitative research at CUNY Baruch.
After Freshman year, I started working for a Council member that I didn’t completely align with – I was passionate about community driven work, while he was more focused on taking steps to become mayor. So I started moving around to work with other council members and eventually landed on leading a research driven task force that addressed holes in equity in NYC, such as how to get the homeless sheltered, how to get low income mothers to give birth safely, and how to ensure trans children don’t get bullied in school. What I soon came to realize was that a lot of these solutions actually came from tech, not the public sector – young founders who are passionate and building things quickly. So I focused on investigating and building public/private partnerships where early stage founders could get to beta tests with the NYC public sector, in exchange for ensuring their product served some historically and systematically ignored New Yorkers like the homeless and mentally ill and low income mothers, for example.
I was a full time student with a double minor and working full time – it was a lot. At the same time, I was surrounded by people that didn’t look like me and unfortunately didn’t inspire me – I realized how much surrounding yourself with a good team matters. Lastly, there was a lot of red tape in the public sector, even within something as inconsequential as fact finding research and beta tests, and it just took too long for things to change.
So, I took a step back and decided, as well as had the privilege, to take a full year off of full-time work, focus on finishing my thesis on mental health in NYC and pursue Art as the manager of a digital art museum. It was here that I learnt here how important it is to be inspired by those around you. Every day I was excited to work because I had a manager that I looked up to and a talented team that created ridiculous and amazing things. I still carry her work ethic and empathy in my daily life as a VC.
Alexis: What drew you to Venture Capital?
Steph: After school, I wanted to take my time and be very deliberate about my next step. I felt drawn back to the tech scene because I was so inspired by founders building things that could actually change the world. I saw an application for Acceleprise that caught my eye – it was for a contract position to build out their diversity & inclusion practices. I applied, and staying true to my belief in the importance of team, decided to take the role because I felt a great connection to the person that interviewed me (my now manager).
Alexis: What do you do for Acceleprise?
Steph: I started out in a contract role dedicated to Acceleprise’s diversity, inclusion and equity practices. The team realized that they have a platform that they weren’t utilizing to be impactful, i.e. that they could do more for early stage founders who are systematically ignored, and to educate portfolio founders on the importance of building out diverse organizations.
I was brought on to build a system for this that includes things like wiring money to underestimated founders, hiring a diverse team internally, creating a diverse community, and educating employees, founders and the wider community about these issues. I became a full time employee in September 2020 to sustain and evolve this system, and bring it into everything we do.
Today, I do a little bit of everything: I support founders with our 16 week program, I do ad-hoc research for the team as a whole, I help with sourcing, and more. My main focus remains D&I, and the little bit of everything is my way of quickly learning venture – the gaps that need to be fixed, and understanding how I can impact it, what we need to build, and the questions we need to ask to help us uncover our biases and create real change.
Alexis: What are you excited about right now?
Steph: I’m actually learning how to build digital products right now, which I never expected to do and I’m super excited about it. We’re currently building a platform for our founders that provides everything they need in their journey with us in one spot, and lessens the lift from the Acceleprise side in terms of administrative tasks so that we can focus our time on supporting founders with 1:1 time. We’re also going to be expanding this product to the rest of the community, but that’s still in the early stage. It’s really exciting to learn these new skills.
Alexis: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Steph: That changes as time goes on – nothing is set in stone. Regardless, I want to be able to say that in 5 years, x amount of founders who have struggled to get funding, who didn’t believe they could do it, or who have great ideas but don’t know where to get support, have been able to build their companies. I want to say I built something that gave these people an opportunity and the support needed to succeed.
Alexis: What is your vision for the Venture Capital industry?
Steph: It’s lonely being Black, trans, queer, and in Venture Capital. The biggest vision I have is that a new table is created where I can look out on a Slack or on a Zoom and there will be many more faces that look like me and feel comfortable being there and using their voice.
Alexis: What are some interesting quirks or fun facts that the team doesn’t know about you yet?
1) I re-watch Charmed, all 8 seasons, every year in the Spring
2) I’m the biggest Mariah Carey fan, I made a star for her to go on top of my Christmas tree.
Alexis: What are some of your passions outside of work?
Steph: My minor was digital art, and I was in a few shows in NYC. I like DIY, I just finished building my couch, I’m currently building side tables. I love horror, and I’m currently writing a script about an alien horror movie that I plan to produce this summer. AND I love cartoons – when I retire and live on a farm, my dream is to produce an adult cartoon that’s a mix of anime and traditional american cartoons.
Alexis: Any great books/movies/shows that you’d recommend?
Best horror TV show – The Exorcist – only had 2 seasons
The Four Agreements – I read it every year to check in with myself
Scooby Doo Zombie Island – The best movie to ever be made