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Meet Jessica Salinas of Stat Zero in West LA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jessica Salinas.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
My story begins in Los Angeles, as the first in my big Mexican immigrant family to be born in the United States. In 1993, shortly after the Rodney King Riots, my family moved to Houston, Texas. As a low-income, ESL student raised in an unorthodox religion in a majority-white town in Texas, I came to realize that that there were a lot of aspects of my life that were seeing as “other.” It became clear that the spaces and the environment that I was surrounded by were not meant for people that looked like me, talked like me, or believed the things that I did. I took that knowledge with me to Palo Alto, California, as I became the first in my family to attend university. My four years at Stanford University were nothing short of transformative, as it is when I learned that the ‘law’ was not a universal, objective truth. It was subjective, and it was applied differently if at all, depending on race, ability, education, and socioeconomic status.

Since then, I’ve been merging the worlds of social impact, technology, and business in my career. While I was at the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative (SLEI), I co-authored the largest statistically significant national research report on the State of US Latino Entrepreneurship. As the Founding Director of SLEI’s executive education program, I partnered with Stanford Graduate School of Business professors to develop a comprehensive program for Latinx entrepreneurs to scale their businesses through education, mentorship and access to capital resources.

My experience there led me back to Los Angeles to USC’s Marshall School of Business, where I received a Master’s in Social Entrepreneurship. While at USC, I joined Headspace, where I was part of the founding enterprise team, built out their initial customer success program, and informed the Headspace for Work product. But my biggest accomplishment at Headspace was successfully advocating for the creation of the Social Impact team and organization-wide DEI initiatives. As Headspace’s first Social Impact Lead, I developed the strategy to make mindfulness affordable, accessible and relevant by integrating meditation in K-12 institutions, nonprofits and global organizations serving marginalized communities in a sustainable, scalable manner.

Now, I’m Founding Partner and Vice President of Venture Operations & New Media at Stat Zero, a public sector VC fund working towards achieving zero: zero poverty, zero disease and zero pollution. In an industry where fewer than 1% of VC partners are Latinas, I am proud to be leading investments in emerging technologies, impactful social enterprises, and underrepresented founders. I also serve on the Board of Words Uncaged, which provides programming for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals in LA.

Has it been a smooth road?
Oh, the road has been anything but smooth.

I think that’s a natural byproduct of navigating a system that wasn’t designed for you. What does that look like? That looks like relying on a TV show (One Tree Hill) to choose the college you’re applying to because you are one of almost 1,000 students in your high school class, and your counselors don’t have the bandwidth. That looks like going to university without the support of your family because as immigrants, they don’t understand why you would need to leave your family to go to another state for school. That looks like passing up unpaid internships and opportunities because you (and your family) quite literally can’t afford to go without income. That looks like taking guardianship of your younger brother while in undergrad because that’s the unspoken responsibility that comes with being the elder sister in a Mexican immigrant family. That looks like feeling like you’re almost always “falling into” the next opportunity because you don’t have a blueprint, and it feels like you’re eternally learning as you go. That looks like having your life fall apart when your brother is arrested but having to keep it together because you’ve just started business school, have a job to do, and are now financially and practically responsible for overseeing his legal case. That looks like being called “intense” in the workplace because you constantly surface diversity, equity and inclusion issues during meetings. That looks like having to fight for the humanity of Black and brown people because those around you only view them as “philanthropy” opportunities.

I’ve learned to find value in each of these situations, and the only thing I’m certain of as I look towards the future is that the road will continue to have its bumps. It’s definitely made for an interesting journey!

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Stat Zero is a global public sector R&D group and impacts VC fund that consults GovTech investors to de-risk, solution, integrate and scale digital transformation projects worldwide. In addition to the investments we make into bold entrepreneurs, innovative R&D ideas, and micro funds, we have a digital platform- Club Zero- that brings together governments, investors, and startups.

Throughout my career, I’ve become known for my work in social impact, radical transformation, and consistently centering and advocating for Black and brown people. With that in mind, I was initially brought in to build out the impact methodology by which Stat Zero assesses its investments for potential return on impact, in the same way that we assess for potential financial returns. Since then, I’ve taken on the role of Vice President of Venture Operations and New Media. In that role, I oversee the entire investment process, as well as our Emerging Impact Investor Program, which trains the next generation of impact investors via a digital curriculum and investment experience. I’m also excited to continue developing our strategy on how to creatively leverage digital media to do good and to do well.

I hope that what will continue setting us apart is the intentionality with which we drive forward. As an executive team all from underrepresented backgrounds, we operate with full awareness of the structural and systemic inequalities that exist. We know that our ability to achieve our vision of zero poverty, zero disease, and zero pollution depends on making uncomfortable, radical changes in the roles of business, government and community. That is reflected in our organizational structure, our hiring practices, the global geographies we prioritize, the founders and ideas we invest in, the services we offer, and the ecosystem partners we work with. For that, I am proud to be a part of Stat Zero.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
It might not be the first location that comes to mind when speaking of venture capital, but I think that’s what makes it a great place for this industry. What I’ve found in Los Angeles is that the VC community is not bound to the same stringent ideologies that have come to dominate the industry, which allows for creativity, collaboration and change. And if you’re trying to achieve radical transformation, even economically, that’s the type of environment that is required.

What I appreciate about the industry in LA is the support that the local government is placing behind venture capital and impact, with initiatives like PledgeLA (to diversify tech and VC) or its allocation of funds towards the entrepreneurial ecosystem all over the city. There are wonderful resource groups for those who want to network and learn about the ecosystem (Women in VC, Startup Starter), and I’ve found that most everyone is generally willing to talk and help. I hope that as more investors come to this geography, they’ll enter with the same mindset and with the desire to do good.

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