These Silicon Valley locals reveal the true power of our community: using business and organizational acumen to change lives.
Shelly Kapoor Collins
Silicon Valley isn’t merely the center of the world’s next big ideas, it’s also a place for people to launch values-driven innovation—missions that not only change the planet but make our communities and neighborhoods better places to live. Here’s a snapshot of the people who are driven by the promise of change that carries meaningful impact.
Partner at Sway Ventures, Founder of Shatter Fund
Venture capitalist Shelly Kapoor Collins has witnessed and experienced success at the highest levels of the private sector and government, but the entrepreneur learned early in her career to connect the dots. “Connecting the dots means having a vision, having a network that brings value to others, valuing relationships and paying it forward,” says Collins, who’s a partner at Sway Ventures and was appointed by the Obama administration to the National Women’s Business Council. She’s also served as the national co-chair for technology for Obama’s 2012 campaign and worked as a tech adviser alongside her friend Kamala Harris. “I’ve practiced connecting the dots throughout my career from corporate tech to politics, and, ultimately, to venture capital, which led me to my life’s work of investing in female entrepreneurs.” The manifestation of this is the Shatter Fund, which invests in and supports—via mentoring and offering access to a network of operators and investors—women-led startups.
To ensure a pathway for entrepreneurship among young women, Collins also launched the Shatter Foundation, a nonprofit arm of the fund. “It’s rooted in the belief that women and girls are the pathway to economic success for the United States and economies around the world,” says Collins. “People are not born with an entrepreneur gene, but where they’re born is key to their opportunity. That’s why our foundation is 100% focused on underserved communities, where young girls need a chance to think, create and innovate. We serve them through two tracks: the Shatter Ambassadors program, focused on girls in grades 9 to 12, and our partnership with the University of Maryland College Park—my alma mater—and the Ladies First Initiative, to provide educational tools, grants and mentoring for college-age startup founders.” Collins also points out the direct link between diversity and innovation, with women-founded companies generating 66% greater returns than a nondiverse team. “But the math doesn’t add up. While women entrepreneurs receive 2% of venture capital dollars, women of color receive just 0.2% of those dollars. That’s why I founded the Shatter Foundation. With the help of our sponsors, including Franklin Templeton as our founding sponsor, Bank of America and SAP, among others, we can fulfill the foundation’s mission of connecting girls in underserved communities with access to capital, networks and markets to foster an inclusive economy and equitable entrepreneurship.”
CEO, January AI
Noosheen Hashemi has lived her professional life in chapters, noting that each stage has enjoyed 100% of her focus. She walked into Oracle at age 22 and eventually became the company’s vice president of revenue, as she built one of the most productive sales teams in corporate history, scaling revenue from $26 million when she started to $3 billion when she left 10 years later in 1995.
Hashemi currently guides a family office that includes diverse investments in more than 100 companies and venture capital funds. “In 2013, I began operating roles in our portfolio companies and, in 2017, I decided to take a page out of Larry Ellison’s playbook and invest in myself and start January AI with the goal of helping people understand their health and give them actionable steps to improve it,” says Hashemi, who’s a Harold Pratt associate at the Council on Foreign Relations and serves on the advisory boards of Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and the Ploughshares Fund.
January AI, an app that analyzes blood sugar to help individuals learn which foods to eat and avoid, dovetails brilliantly with Hashemi’s healthcare philosophy. “Instead of treating people as patients, we need to treat them as users, members, consumers—treat them as people,” says Hashemi, noting that more than 120 million Americans have prediabetes or diabetes, and 80 million people remain undiagnosed. “January AI is a platform that uses a continuous glucose monitor (CGM)—a sensor measuring blood glucose—a heart-rate monitor and a proprietary food atlas of 16 million foods to let people know how and why their blood glucose fluctuates. Without these continuous data streams and AI, providing actionable health data would not be possible.” The innovation is indeed a life-saver, which explains why Hashemi and January AI were recently honored by the World Economic Forum as Technology Pioneers.
With machine learning, Hashemi says January AI can make sense of continuous data and see blips, changes and trends collected over time. “We’re the only AI company in the metabolic health sector, and we can tell you how you might respond to a certain food before you eat it. This is phenomenal. Our goal is to spare people unhappiness and trauma that come from finding out too late that they’re sick. The further sickness progresses, the worse the trade-offs become. By increasing your knowledge of your own health, you can help yourself and society at large.”
Two things come into play when talking to Erik Malmstrom, founder and CEO of SafeTraces: He’s a serious man on a serious mission to make the world a safer place. “Security-focused problems have been the focus of my career—national security, economic security, food security and biosecurity,” says Malmstrom, who’s a combat veteran and graduate of the U.S. Army Ranger and Airborne Schools (he also earned a joint MBA and MPP from Harvard Business and Kennedy Schools). “These problems touch everyone and are often considered intractable. Fundamentally, my motivation comes from helping people and doing things that have never been done before.” Which is why the launch of SafeTraces was the inevitable trajectory of his career. Through a vast diagnostic toolbox, the company ensures the highest safety standards for the air we breathe, the food we eat and the medicines we take—all impacting billions of people worldwide.
“We advance this mission through groundbreaking biotechnology and data technology that enable us to measure, monitor and mitigate everyday safety and security risks in a way that has never been possible before,” he says. For example, diagnostics for indoor air safety are woefully insufficient today (case in point: the coronavirus). “But what if we could measure and visualize indoor air safety in the same way that doctors use medical imaging technology like CT, MRI and PET scans to enhance diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of human health? Essentially, SafeTraces technology delivers this level of diagnostic capability, which is an absolute game-changer for our customers.” Malmstrom, not surprisingly, is on the way to altering how companies and individuals roll through their days—safely. “I’m reminded of Steve Jobs’ famous quote, ‘We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise, why else even be here?’ I couldn’t agree more,” he says.
Partner, Driven Capital
Nick Larson thrives on connecting people. After all, it’s part of his personal and professional DNA. “A friend even called me the Iron Chef of connecting people,” says Larson, a partner with early-stage tech fund Driven Capital. “For example, today I introduced a Super Bowl-winning wide receiver to a Belgian sports-tech company scaling to the United States dubbed LedsReact.” All of this heady bridge-building is in Larson’s blood; he grew up in Silicon Valley, where his mother worked at Apple for 30 years. Over the past two decades, he’s been a serial founder and investor, helping raise funds from angel investors and even Google. He’s scaled two startups, including Willow, to their first millions in revenue. “Those each took three years of 18-hour days, but equally rewarding to me is connecting my community with the right people,” says Larson, who was named last year by PR Newswire as one of the Top 25 Most Influential People in Digital Marketing. For the future of investing, Larson says startups will continue to use artificial intelligence “to productize traditionally human processes—medicine, travel, virtually everything—which is catnip to investors largely because of data and efficiency. I’m hoping the green-tech market will continue to grow. Last year alone, it was an $11 billion market and has become increasingly important to us. Innovation is becoming a better human each day, growing in knowledge and humility,” says Larson. “It’s taking better care of yourself and the people around you.”
Founders, Ladies Who Launch
Executive Director, Ladies Who Launch
When Sarah Friar (CEO of Nextdoor) and Kelly McGonigle (an ocean advocate for NRDC and mega-fundraiser) created Ladies Who Launch, they had no idea the nonprofit’s trailblazing mission would lead to so much success. LWL, which empowers a global community of early-stage women entrepreneurs by providing resources, grants, mentorship and networking opportunities, is now a beacon for the entrepreneurial community. “I’m most excited about Sarah and Kelly’s commitment to fostering systemic change to better support and empower more women and nonbinary entrepreneurs to grow and scale their businesses,” says Jennifer Warren, the LWL executive director. “In the United States, 40% of businesses are owned by women, yet only 25% of all women business owners seek business financing. Additionally, when women do seek funding, they have fewer options, receive less favorable terms and fewer dollars than their male counterparts.”
During COVID, the nonprofit created the LWL Launch Program, which provides cash grants, mentorship and advisory support for women and nonbinary business owners with gross revenue between $20,000 and $2 million. In 2022, Warren says LWL will continue the program and, in March, it will host the organization’s annual Summit, where entrepreneurs and small-business owners convene for inspiration, learning and community building. “Innovation is about defying preconceived notions or expectations around who you can be, where you can go and what you can achieve,” says Warren. “We’re uniquely positioned to combine best practices—from nonprofit, tech and finance, among others—to build programs that will become the proof case for future systems change. LWL is all about innovating to achieve impact, and we have big dreams and goals for our collective future.”
Founders, Swenson Foundation
Greg Lippman, CEO of ACE Charter School
When Case and Lisa Swenson launched their eponymous foundation, it was instinctual—they represented the fourth generation of philanthropy in the family. The foundation supports the underserved, mentally and physically challenged and at-risk youth in Santa Clara. “We believe at-risk and underserved children need advocates today more than ever—not only for their mental health but to help provide them with a path to education,” says Lisa. “The Swenson Foundation is helping address these needs by supporting organizations like ACE Charter Schools and Uplift Family services, which are tackling these issues head on. Their commitment to our children is inspiring, which is why we’re so honored to support these amazing organizations.” ACE Charter, which is led by CEO Greg Lippman, adheres to the idea that all children have extraordinary potential. Since it opened in 2008, ACE has grown exponentially, with four schools (three middle and one high), more than 1,200 students and more than 100 alumni in college. It’s this type of commitment to scholastic innovation that continues to attract the Swenson Foundation’s support, and it’s another example of investing in the Valley’s next generation of leaders.
CPA and a Partner, Petrinovich Pugh & Company
Jie Zhu, who relocated to the United States from Beijing in 1996, believes innovation is all about making changes. “We cannot change the world—well, maybe we can—but we can make changes that directly or indirectly impact ourselves, our clients, our industry and many more. Changes can come from our own beliefs, both personally and professionally,” says Zhu. Her role at Petrinovich Pugh & Company, a full-service accounting firm serving Silicon Valley and clients worldwide for more than 65 years, has grown impressively since she started two decades ago. She’s now chair of the firm’s international department and the education committee, and Zhu is a business mentor for SVI Academy and US Market Access, a member of Parisi House on the Hill Finance Committee and a board member of the American Alliance of International Arts, Culture & Education. “I’m exploring new ways to enable our firm to have a much broader range of resources for labor shortages than what the industry currently [supports],” she says. It comes back to Zhu’s mantra of believing in change. “Change can bring better experiences and efficiencies and enable people to have more freedom to do things they love.”
Founders, Archer Aviation
A prototype of an all-electric aircraft from Archer Aviation
Ever need to get to the airport in a hurry—knowing it’s a mere 5 miles away—but get stuck in a traffic jam for an hour or more? Brett Adcock and Adam Goldstein have an answer to the conundrum: all-electric aircraft. As the founders of Palo Alto-based Archer Aviation, the duo is working to build one of the world’s leading electric vertical takeoff and landing, or eVTOL, companies. These are small vehicles that pop up to the skies (and cruise at roughly 500 to 2,000 feet) like helicopters but without the noise and hundreds of moving parts. The company, which has already begun testing its demonstrator eVTOL aircraft at the company's flight test facility in California, wants to move people throughout congested cities in a quick, safe, sustainable and cost-effective manner. The aircraft can travel up to 150 miles per hour for up to 60 miles; each aircraft will have a trained and certified pilot and up to four passengers. Urban air mobility is real, and it’s coming quickly; the company’s owners say they are working with the FAA and hope to be certified by the end of 2024. The company also has entered an agreement with the U.S. Air Force to collaborate on flight testing. And Archer already has big corporate partnerships. One is with United Airlines, which is an investor and is helping with operations, certification and maintenance programs—it also has ordered $1 billion worth of aircraft. Another partner, REEF, answers the question about where all of these vehicles will take off and land; the company owns 5,000 parking locations across North America and Europe—some atop buildings perfect for urban air mobility. Archer Aviation plans to operate the vehicles (not simply sell them), which will number 500 by the end of 2026 and 5,000 by the end of the decade.
Brett Adcock (left) and Adam Goldstein, founders of Archer Aviation.
“Our goal is to save people lots of time, as we’re focused on trips that normally take 60 to 90 minutes via cars, buses or trains,” says Goldstein. “And we want to be able to offer a service that’s affordable to the masses. There’s been a tremendous advancement in electric power systems—particularly batteries and motors—and the underlying technology has been advanced by the auto industry. This allows us to create aircraft using lithium ion batteries and electric motors.” Goldstein further explains the switch to electric offers benefits like lower costs, increased safety and reduced noise. Regarding the latter, the vehicles are designed and built to have noise levels inaudible to people on the ground. “So, instead of having one giant rotor on a helicopter, our aircraft have 12—they’re smaller and spin at different speeds and designed to be quiet.” Over time, the cost to experience urban air mobility—initially $3 to $4 per passenger mile—also will decrease. It’s a brave new world of getting from point A to B while reducing our collective carbon footprint.
Co-Founder & CEO, Generate Capital
For Scott Jacobs, innovation means breaking more than a few rules. Since 2014, when he co-founded Generate Capital (generatecapital.com), his company has completely reimagined cleantech and infrastructure projects and how to supply sustainable energy to clients worldwide. It’s a formula that has made Generate Capital, fresh from raising $2 billion this fall (in addition to the $1 billion it raised in February), the most profitable clean energy company in history, according to Morgan Stanley. The company now has 2,000 worldwide assets, and its clients include municipalities, schools and companies. “We innovated the business model of financing and operating infrastructure,” says Jacobs, who notes that Silicon Valley’s previous model for solving global issues didn’t involve building roads, bridges and energy infrastructure. Jacobs’ company actually does those very difficult things. “My whole thesis for solving climate change is that you’re talking about a $1 trillion-a-year problem, so you need to move markets to mobilize money to address the scale of the problem,” he says. “Walmart doesn’t want to build a power plant, so someone has to sit between them and new innovations in clean technology. We figured we’d become that utility. So, instead of PGE supplying power to Walmart, we can—and it can be modular and sustainable. Walmart can pay less each month with no risk.”
Generate Capital has used a similar mindset with school districts in New York City and Tampa, where the company takes the risks of installing cost-saving and green utilities, and the schools reap the benefits of more affordable bills while saving the planet by using renewable energy. “What we’re doing isn’t rocket science, or, as my business partner says, it’s simple but not easy,” says Jacobs with a laugh. “You have to be bold enough to build the company the way we have—a permanently capitalized, balance-sheet business like Berkshire Hathaway, and we have a time horizon that’s forever, which matches that of our assets, our customers and our stakeholders. We’re building assets today that will serve people who aren’t yet born. Think about how you have to change your business to serve those kinds of stakeholders.” It’s called the future of humanity, and Jacobs is already serving them well.
Board Chairperson & Acting Executive Director, The Riekes Center
How does a nonprofit like the Menlo Park-based Riekes Center continue to innovate and lead after five decades? It simply follows the community’s lead. The center’s mission is to provide each student with opportunities to define and accomplish individual goals, build character and learn life skills via arts, fitness and nature. It’s always been a no-judgment zone that abides by mutual respect, and the opportunities to thrive here are given regardless of a person’s ability to pay. Since 1974, the organization has had 7,000 participants annually and has 100,000 alumni. Some of those alumni—including Super Bowl champions like Tom Brady and Julian Edelman, and WNBA and NBA champions like Sue Bird and Pau Gasol—sought help at Riekes because of its exceptional track record.
Riekes teams lead countless educational programs like gardening.
“Now, more than ever, we’re seeing the importance of human connection as the foundation of our mental and emotional health, both as individuals and as deeply social beings who rely on each other to survive and thrive,” says Caroline McNally, who touts the superstars on the Riekes staff like Lex Ebbink, Jeremy Hartje, Juan Pablo Reggiardo and Steven Toyoji. “When we were asked to shelter in place—and even today as we adapt to reopening—finding meaningful ways to develop and sustain healthy relationships has become an important global conversation.” The year ahead also promises growth for the center.
Working with youths in the community
“In response to the health concerns and social restrictions [from COVID], this year we brought all of our summer camps in fitness, arts and nature outside to our partners at the 654-acre Filoli gardens—to huge success. We’re planning to scale those programs to meet demand in the coming years, including looking into purchasing modes of transport to support our scholarship students and also our veteran and elder populations.”
Founder & CEO, Long Game
As more entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley aim to solve problems, Lindsay Holden has addressed the nation’s penchant for not saving money—specifically mobile-first Gen-Z and millennials. Her innovation, Long Game, transforms how customers engage with banks by using gaming to motivate wise financial behavior. It’s a risk-free layer on top of any bank’s platform, increasing customer engagement, savings and financial IQ. “Long Game came from the idea of a behavioral economics mechanism called prize-linked savings, popularized by premium bonds in the U.K.,” says Holden. “The idea is to offer a savings product where a portion of the interest earned on savings deposits is distributed as prizes based on chance—like a lottery. Instead of earning a few dollars in interest, you earn chances to win a large amount of money. Ask yourself—which is more motivating for you to increase your savings: a few pennies or a few chances to win a million bucks? Inspired by this concept, we set out to make prize-linked savings accessible to everyone by building a mobile application centered around this concept to help people save more and find financial independence.”
To say this innovation is necessary is a vast understatement. Most Americans have less than $500 in savings. “It’s no surprise that personal finances are emotionally fraught for most people,” says Holden. “We seek to change this by using games and behavioral economics to build a savings app that people love to use, which drives more savings and financial education. We have a unique approach that considers how we interact with mobile products. Today, in Long Game, you can win cash, crypto and NFTs in more than 50 minigames. Innovation is being open and aware of how the world is changing and creating new opportunities based on what you’re learning. I think it’s important to challenge the status quo, go outside your comfort zone at times and iterate as you get feedback.”
President and Principal, KT Urban
For Cupertino-based developer and builder KT Urban, Silicon Valley’s growth is personal—the family-owned company now boasts its third generation of leadership and vision for the region. Ken and Mark Tersini, president and principal, respectively, are committed to developing award-winning projects by leveraging their partners’ collective resources and forming collaborative relationships with public agencies and the community. Part of this mission has been manifested in transforming downtown San Jose into a vibrant 24/7 community. Standout projects have included One South Market, Silvery Towers and the planned Greyhound bus station located in the heart of downtown. The latter will physically connect San Pedro Square with Park Center Plaza and will be the largest project (by unit count) ever proposed for the central business district. Another innovation has been the company’s approach to the silver tsunami—the wave of aging boomers who will soon need senior housing. The company also continues to devise ways to keep up with the need for residential space for all age groups and economic strata. “A large number of housing units of all types are desperately needed for the continued vibrancy of Silicon Valley,” says Mark. “KT Urban is seeking creative uses of existing sites to meet the pent-up demand for housing.” The best part? Residents can be sure that their homes were conceived with a forward-thinking approach to living in the Valley.
Executive Director, Palo Alto Community Fund
COVID changed the world, of course. But the acuteness of this change truly took place among nonprofits, as some leaders of these organizations had to rethink their mission—or, at the very least, recalibrate. “In the past, a nonprofit might have simply been contributing to an afterschool program for kids. And during COVID? The same program was feeding entire families. That’s the type of change we’re talking about,” says Lisa Van Dusen, executive director of the Palo Alto Community Fund, or PACF. For decades, the nonprofit has focused on the unique needs of the community by channeling the charitable giving of donors to improve the quality of life in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park.
Van Dusen views the current challenges facing nonprofits differently. “This is actually an exciting time to be doing what we do,” she says. “The innovation happening with community-based organizations right now is amazing to see. We’ve pivoted to get food to families, and many have even changed their nonprofits. It’s important to be nimble and close to the ground.” A recent example is the Buena Vista Homework Club, which is a vital resource for families living in a mobile home park in south Palo Alto. The program reopened—with tables, iPads, books, printers, COVID personal protective equipment and volunteers—thanks to a grant provided by the PACF. “Nonprofits shouldn’t merely think about big global programs but really focus on what’s happening on a local level,” says Van Dusen. “We’ve been a great example of that philosophy, and individual donors have responded.”
Executive Coach & Design Strategist
Nadia Mufti, who has become a strategic soothsayer for some of the most important executives in Silicon Valley, says innovation is creating new ways of seeing or doing things and then exploring how they impact the world. “Innovative ideas often come to us when we’re relaxed, in flow and mind-wandering, like when we’re driving, meditating or in the shower having lots of unrelated ideas,” says Mufti, a Stanford grad. “We then put these ideas together in a new way. Your greatest challenge is your greatest gift.” Talk to Mufti for a few minutes, and it quickly becomes apparent that she operates on another level of personal and professional coaching; she not only listens but also processes and synthesizes. Mufti also incorporates a different approach to coaching—she takes clients outside of the office, sometimes going on a hike and discussing a client’s work and personal life. “I once had a client scream a secret at the top of his lungs in the forest. After that, he began to embody himself, his truth and his power more fully. One of my greatest hopes is for people to feel free to be themselves, to express and explore. In the stillness and silence of nature, it’s easier for us to listen, free of societal expectations,” she says.
As a strategic thinker and artist—Mufti also is an abstract expressionist painter—she loves incorporating both strategy and creativity into the coaching process. She asks clients to create a Cartography of Self, a comprehensive 15- to 20-page report detailing their insights, vision and goals and next steps. “They also leave with a piece of art or artifact they’ve created by using their own creative genius. This might be a cartography—or map—of their life, a visionary poem, a comprehensive Excel spreadsheet or a pep talk to themselves, which captures their essence and their motivation for the work. Many tell me they refer back to the report and artifact often—reconnecting with themselves, their goals and greater purpose.”
Founder & CEO, HeartRithm
The first thing Nick Sullivan will mention about his purpose—or dharma, to use his phrase—is to help define the boundaries between humanity and technology. Over more than 20 years of engineering leadership, Sullivan has launched successful products at seven companies (including ChangeTip, which sold to Airbnb, and Krux, which sold to SalesForce). His latest venture as founder and CEO is HeartRithm, a crypto quant fund with a social impact mission. The company applies artificial intelligence algorithms to the global trade of digital currency and redistributes capital to philanthropic causes and social-impact projects—accelerating the growth of a heart-centered culture (50% of its performance fees go toward world-changing causes). Simply put, Sullivan believes it’s an investment in the future of technology and humanity.
“I truly adhere to the idea that technology can be a force for good,” says Sullivan. “I’ve seen how hard it is to fundraise for nonprofits. The value proposition is radically different from a startup business here in Silicon Valley, because you have to show investors how they’re going to make a profit. So, I sought to build a regenerative engine for social good. This is the best time I’ve ever seen in my career to turn code into money. And on the other side of that coin, it’s the best time to turn that money into good. We have the worst socioeconomic inequality issues I’ve seen in my lifetime, and I’m ready to rewrite the story of abundance—from a culture that exploits others and takes resources in order to get ahead to one that is led by responsible stewards of capital and puts that money to great work.”
Photography by: FROM TOP: PHOTO BY BRENDAN MAININI; PHOTO BY BRENDAN MAININI; PHOTO: COURTESY OF SAFE TRACES; PHOTO: COURTESY OF NICK LARSON; PHOTO: BY GABRIELA HASBUN; PHOTO: AD PHOTOGRAPHY; PHOTO BY DAPHNE YOUREE; PHOTO COURTESY OF: ACE CHARTER SCHOOL; PHOTO: COURTESY OF JIE ZHU; PHOTO COURTESY OF ARCHER AVIATION; PHOTO COURTESY OF ARCHER AVIATION; PHOTO COURTESY OF GENERATE CAPITAL; PHOTO COURTESY OF THE RIEKES CENTER; PHOTO COURTESY OF THE RIEKES CENTER; PHOTO COURTESY OF THE RIEKES CENTER; PHOTO COURTESY OF: LONG GAME; PHOTO COURTESY OF: KT URBAN; PHOTO COURTESY OF THE PALO ALTO COMMUNITY FUND; PHOTO COURTESY OF THE PALO ALTO COMMUNITY FUND; PHOTO: COURTESY OF NADIA MUFTI; PHOTO BY MATT NAGER