Jason Towns: Creating Inclusive Startup Communities - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine Summer 2019 Issue

BE Modern Man: Jason Towns

Startup investor/adviser, entrepreneurship ecosystem architect; 40; Managing Partner, Groundwork Ventures

Twitter: @jhtdc; Instagram: @jhtdc

Over the last decade, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to help build stronger and more inclusive local entrepreneurship ecosystems across the country and around the globe. I find great value in working with leaders to identify and connect the various components to create stronger, more inclusive startup communities. I also spend a lot of time working with founders to access the capital and connections needed to scale early-stage startups. This work has led to millions in capital raised and hundreds of jobs created, opening doors for black innovation around the globe.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN LIFE?

I’ve worked with, invested in, and advised some of the most brilliant black entrepreneurs around the world. Being able to recognize something special in a founder or team and nurture that is something I’m really proud of. While it’s been incredibly gratifying to help companies grow from one or two co-founders to dozens of employees or more, the most fulfilling and most memorable moments of building startup communities have been less obvious. It’s recognizing something special in a founder or team before anyone else is willing to take the risk. It’s getting an investor update from a founder who you’ve helped navigate through a tough chapter and reading about how they’ve turned things around. It’s walking through the airport and seeing friends that you believe in on the covers of magazines. It’s seeing founders exit and begin to back the next wave of entrepreneurs creating more opportunities for others. As Nipsey [Hu$$le] said, the marathon continues.

HOW HAVE YOU TURNED STRUGGLE INTO SUCCESS?

Doing this work over the last several years has been the most challenging thing I’ve ever embarked on, professionally. I’m proud of the wins but I’ve made plenty of mistakes and been forced to grow in ways I never expected to. I’ve struggled with fundraising, leadership, and finding the balance between my work and personal life. However, it’s been through these struggles that I have learned to prioritize what’s truly important. It’s forced me to be even more strategic in my support of founders, startup communities, and the broader ecosystem. It’s forced me to hold myself and those around me accountable, allowing for growth and new insights. Your struggles are often the foundation on which your growth will be built upon if you’re willing to be vulnerable and recognize it.

WHO WAS YOUR GREATEST MALE ROLE MODEL AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM HIM?

My father has always been my biggest role model. He left this Earth earlier than I would have wanted but God makes no mistakes. The values that guided his life were evident to everyone he interacted with. People still tell me about how he’s impacted them decades after his passing. I strive to live by the same values and for that to be evident in my actions and interactions with others. He was intelligent, humble, and viewed strength as the ability to uplift others. I’m hoping to live in a way that would make him proud.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE MANHOOD?

I believe that manhood is a journey rather than a state of being. It’s more about how you respond to your circumstances and how you lift up others around you. So, I can only speak to the values that guide my journey, as a man working to be the best human being I can be.

Here they are:

  • Maintain a teachable spirit and learn from my mistakes.
  • Leverage my privilege and access to open doors for others.
  • Strive to empower and protect the women in my life.
  • Commit to inner peace and spiritual discipline.
  • Be willing to fight for the people and ideas I truly believe in.
  • Extend empathy and love to friends, family, and community.

WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?

“Be the person you needed in life.” A lot of the work I do is inspired by things I wish I had as a first time entrepreneur many years ago.

HOW ARE YOU PAYING IT FORWARD TO SUPPORT OTHER BLACK MALES?

Mentorship, volunteering, board service, and philanthropy.

It’s our responsibility to kick open these doors for those coming behind us. If we don’t, who will?

WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT BEING A BLACK MAN?

There’s a certain brilliance, resourcefulness, and strength that’s born out of our unique experience navigating America and the world.

WHAT PRACTICES, TOOLS, BOOKS, ETC. DO YOU RELY ON FOR YOUR SUCCESS?

When I’m home, my mornings usually start with the same five steps after my shower:

1. 15 minutes of meditation. I use the Headspace app for guided meditation.

2. Make a kale smoothie in the blender.

3. 30 minutes of reading or watching a TED Talk on YouTube.

4. 10 minutes of stretching.

5. Review calendar, to-do list, and my “daily note.” Each night, I write a short note to my tomorrow self that I read before getting to work each day.

Speaking as a believer in the potential of startup communities, this goes out to the hustlers out there pushing hard to make their dreams come true: It’s gonna be hard. There’s no way around that. Don’t ever be too tough on yourself when your journey doesn’t look like anyone else’s. Embrace that. Feel empowered to take breaks from social media when you need to. Social media can be such a powerful community/communications tool but can be pretty toxic as well. Solve problems that you have and hopefully, other people appreciate and need your solution as well. Prioritize giving. If you view life in that way and optimize for learning, rather than for accolades, I guarantee that you’ll be more impactful, more successful and feel more fulfilled in the long run.

BE Modern Man is an online and social media campaign designed to celebrate black men making valuable contributions in every profession, industry, community, and area of endeavor. Each year, we solicit nominations in order to select men of color for inclusion in the 100 Black Enterprise Modern Men of Distinction. Our goal is to recognize men who epitomize the BEMM credo “Extraordinary is our normal” in their day-to-day lives, presenting authentic examples of the typical black man rarely seen in mainstream media. The BE Modern Men of Distinction are celebrated annually at Black Men XCEL (www.blackenterprise.com/blackmenxcel/). Click this link to submit a nomination for BE Modern Man: https://www.blackenterprise.com/nominate/. Follow BE Modern Man on Twitter: @bemodernman and Instagram: @be_modernman.