Backing the Underserved: Alumna Co-Founds Venture Capital Firm to Fund Women, Minority and Military Veterans

Mary Iafelice '11 named to Forbes 2018 Social Entrepreneurship '30 Under 30'
April 19th, 2018 by 

Mary Iafelice '11 addresses students at the Holy Cross Non-Profit Careers Conference in January.
Mary Iafelice '11 addresses students at the Holy Cross Non-Profit Careers Conference in January. Photo by Rob Carlin

If anyone’s surprised that a philosophy degree could lead to a career in venture capital, it’s Mary Iafelice ’11.

“When I graduated from Holy Cross with my degree in philosophy, I thought I was going to stay in academia,” Iafelice confesses, “but then shortly after graduation, I eloped. Suddenly, I found myself living in North Carolina with my new husband — a Marine — and no job.”

It took Iafelice seven months to find part-time employment, a development that reset her expectations.

“It was a frustrating and humbling experience,” she says.

Things have changed considerably since then. Today, Iafelice is the co-founder of humble ventures, a venture capital firm that helps economically underserved entrepreneurs — women, minorities and military veterans — leverage internal and external partnerships to get their ideas to market. Since launching in July 2016, the company has helped 25 startups raise more than $4 million in venture capital funding and achieve almost $1 million in revenue. In early January, Iafelice was recognized as one of the 2018 Forbes ’30 Under 30′ in the Social Entrepreneurship category.

“Receiving that award was a shock,” she says, “but I’m so grateful. Being recognized for my work, into which I pour my heart and soul, was of course amazing, but the recognition has also opened up incredible opportunities for me and for the people I work with, which is the most important thing.

“My journey to this spot was a bit of a circuitous route,” Iafelice continues with a soft laugh. “I loved studying philosophy at Holy Cross — the faculty is incredible. Professor Lawrence and Professor Manoussakis were especially influential; they taught me how to think and gave me a true appreciation of the insights that deep analysis can provide. When you can spend three hours discussing one sentence, you realize it’s more about how you’re learning than what you’re learning.”

Iafelice says her stint as director of Student Programs for Urban Development (SPUD) also provided insights that inform her work to this day: “I saw that many of the problems plaguing underserved communities are the result of lack of economic opportunities.”

And when Iafelice entered the workforce, she realized much could be done. Her time as operations manager and then managing director with Bunker Labs — a national nonprofit committed to educating transitioning service members and veterans as they seek to launch their entrepreneurial ventures — cemented her resolve. Realizing that opportunities to “do well while doing good” were legion, Iafelice joined forces with Ajit Verghese, Harry Alford and Ray Crowell to form the venture capital firm humble ventures. “We realized that there were opportunities to take the programs we had created to a much bigger audience,” she says.

The firm’s aim is simple: to support entrepreneurs who are working to solve problems within their communities. “There are many leaders within local communities who have great ideas, but they’re often ignored by venture capitalists,” she says.

The humble ventures team is empathetic to their struggles, Iafelice continues, but that doesn’t mean they’re a soft touch. “We are looking for entrepreneurs who have the ability to be coachable — we don’t want big egos,” she notes. “We ask three tough questions of every startup: ‘Are you solving a problem that can be solved? Is the problem worth solving? Can your solution be monetized?'”

Humble ventures is one of a growing number of venture capital firms investing in underserved populations, Iafelice acknowledges, yet she maintains much work remains to be done. “Last year, 2 percent of all venture capital went to women and less than 1 percent went to founders of color,” she notes.

Iafelice remains committed to doing her part to move the needle. In January, she returned to Holy Cross to give a presentation at the Non-Profit Careers Conference, speaking on the “Business Side of Non-Profits.”

“I’m grateful to Professor Chu for inviting me to speak and share what I’ve learned,” Iafelice says. “I view my time at Holy Cross as one of the Top 5 achievements of my life, not only in what I learned, but also in the mindset that I shaped there. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to give back.”

FIVE QUESTIONS with MARY IAFELICE ’11

What’s the most important quality for an entrepreneur to possess?
Resilience. There are lots of ups and downs in the entrepreneurial journey, and usually more downs. It’s important to stay calm and maintain a steady mindset, even when the wheels are coming off the bus.

What’s the most common mistake you see entrepreneurs make?
They focus too much on their solution, rather than on the problem at hand. One of the biggest dangers for an entrepreneur is building a product that no one wants or needs. You’ve got to keep the end user in mind at all times.

How would you describe your approach to investing in philosophical terms?
I always ask myself two questions: Is this problem worth solving? Is this the right time and the right team to take the solution to market?

You’ve stated that you enjoy employing empathy to help underserved entrepreneurs. How would you respond to those who say that empathy and venture capitalism are antithetical?
I’d tell them they’re wrong. Empathy is at the core of my success. Without empathy — for entrepreneurs and for the populations they’re serving — I could easily become sidetracked by the challenges we encounter and the problems we’re working to solve.

What’s the most surprising startup idea you’ve seen?
One of our entrepreneurs is a woman in her 60s from Savannah, Georgia, so right away you see she’s not your typical entrepreneur — she’s a woman, she’s not a millennial and she’s not from a hot area of the country for startups. But she came up with a great idea for a business. It’s a telehealth company called Corstrata, and it provides wound care management to patients who can’t easily access wound care specialists. It’s a terrific idea, and it’s meeting a vital community need.

Written by Lori Ferguson for the Spring 2018 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.

About Holy Cross Magazine

Holy Cross Magazine (HCM) is the quarterly alumni publication of the College of the Holy Cross. The award-winning publication is mailed to alumni and friends of the College and includes intriguing profiles, make-you-think features, alumni news, exclusive photos and more. Visit magazine.holycross.edu/about to contact HCM, submit alumni class notes, milestones, or letters to the editor.

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4/2/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
This two-day conference highlights a new, historically-sensitive...
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Once in a Lifetime
4/2/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
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Assumption College Graduate School Info Table
4/2/2019
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 3
Stop by the Assumption College Graduate School Info Table...
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Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Collections
4/2/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
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Once in a Lifetime
4/3/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
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Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Collections
4/3/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Conference: Readings from the Roots, on Bible Translation and Its Impact
4/3/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Readings from the Roots is a new, historically-sensitive translation...
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Once in a Lifetime
4/4/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
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Ira Sukrungruang
4/4/2019
English
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Thursday, April 4thIra Sukrungruang (multi-genre)READING 7:30PM...
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Once in a Lifetime
4/4/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
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Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Collections
4/4/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/5/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


MID Club
4/5/2019
Classics
Fenwick Hall 420
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/5/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Collections
4/5/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/6/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


Rodin: Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Collections
4/6/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery 2
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin: Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Collections
4/7/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery 2
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
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Community Dance Workshop with Ronald K. Brown
4/8/2019
Arts Transcending Borders (ATB)
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite A - 4th Fl
Open to the Public
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COPE Well Week
4/8/2019
Counseling Center
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 402(03)
Open to Campus Community Only
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MPE Meeting (Event canceled)
4/8/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 304(05)
Open to Campus Community Only
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MPE Meeting
4/8/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
Open to the Public
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Once in a Lifetime
4/8/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
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Hester/Craig Debate
4/9/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Kimball Hall Seelos Theater
Is theistic belief rational in a scientific age? Listen in on a conversation...
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COPE Well Week
4/9/2019
Counseling Center
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 402(03)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/9/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
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COPE Well Week
4/10/2019
Counseling Center
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


City Year Info Table
4/10/2019
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 4
Stop by the City Year Info Table for learn more about this...
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Once in a Lifetime
4/10/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
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Lecture: Glenn Loury on the Ethics of Affirmative Action Policies in Higher Education
4/11/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Glenn Loury, the Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences,...
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Once in a Lifetime
4/11/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


COPE Well Week
4/11/2019
Counseling Center
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 304(05)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/11/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/12/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


MID Club
4/12/2019
Classics
Fenwick Hall 420
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/12/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/13/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
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Holy Cross Jazz Ensemble Spring Concert
4/16/2019
Music
Brooks Music Center CONCERT HA
An evening of Big Band Jazz music that plays from the Classic to the...
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American International College Graduate Programs Info Table
4/16/2019
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
Stop by the American International College Graduate Programs...
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Community Dance Workshop with Ronald K. Brown
4/22/2019
Arts Transcending Borders (ATB)
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(09)
Open to the Public
See More >>


Holy Cross Orchestra Concert
4/24/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
The Holy Cross College Orchestra will perform Tchaikovsky’s...
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Manusripts, Inscriptions & Documents Round Table Discussion
4/24/2019
Classics
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 408(09)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Academic Conference
4/24/2019
Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs
Haberlin Hall 219
Open to the Public
See More >>


Academic Conference
4/24/2019
Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs
O'Neil Hall 112
Open to the Public
See More >>


Academic Conference
4/24/2019
Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs
Smith Laboratories 154
Open to the Public
See More >>


Academic Conference
4/24/2019
Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs
Smith Laboratories 155
Open to the Public
See More >>


175th Anniversary Scavenger Hunt
4/25/2019
Featured Employee
Outdoor starting at Hogan
This Scavenger Hunt is being put on by the Mission and Identity Subcommittee...
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Perkins Human Services Agency Info Table
4/25/2019
Center for Career Development Categories: Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
Stop by the Perkins Info Table to learn more about this agency...
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H-CLEF Concert
4/26/2019
Music
Brooks Music Center CONCERT HA
Join the Holy Cross Laptop Ensemble Federation for an evening of silent...
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MID Club
4/26/2019
Classics
Fenwick Hall 420
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Holy Cross College Choir Concert
4/27/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
Giacomo Carissimi was the first great composer of oratorios,...
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Chapel Artist Series Organ Concert - Pavel Kohout
4/28/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
Pavel Kohout, OrganistInternational Concert Organist, Prague,...
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MPE Meeting
4/29/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(09)
Open to the Public
See More >>


Dance Concert
5/1/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Dance ConcertMay 1 at 7:00 PM and 9:00 PMFenwick Theatre – 2nd...
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Romantic Exile and Transnational Celebrity
5/2/2019
English
Dinand Library Levis Browsing Room
Omar Miranda, assistant professor of English at the University of...
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Food Truck Festival
5/3/2019
Featured
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Outdoor Oval
Join the Office of Student Involvement for a Friday Night...
See More >>


MID Club
5/3/2019
Classics
Fenwick Hall 420
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Sanctae Crucis Selection Committee Meeting
5/9/2019
The Sanctae Crucis Awards
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


MID Club
5/10/2019
Classics
Fenwick Hall 420
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>

See All