From the field: May Samali, John Monash Scholar & Impact Investor.
2014 NSW Premier's John Monash Scholar May Samali (pictured below) completed her Master in Public Policy at Harvard, focusing on financing Social Enterprises. In 2017 May was an associate at the Urban Innovation Fund, an exciting venture capital firm supporting entrepreneurs solving challenges faced by urban communities. Read about May’s journey from Harvard to the Urban Innovation Fund below.
I often used to ask myself: “What would it look like to work with socially-minded entrepreneurs?” This curiosity led me to the Harvard Kennedy School, where I immersed myself in the world of tech policy, entrepreneurship and social impact. >From organizing the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference to writing a thesis on financing social enterprises, I embraced every opportunity to better understand how startups could transform cities, communities and economies.
Along the way, I stumbled upon an urban ventures accelerator called Tumml. “What in the world is ‘Tumml’?” I remember asking myself. A quick Google search revealed Tumml is a Yiddish word meaning ‘shakeup’ (and its entrepreneurs are shaking up city living!). I ended up interning there during my summer, and after graduating in 2016, I moved to San Francisco to run the organization. My first project was to help our clean energy portfolio companies with commercializing technologies they'd developed in the lab.
As serendipity would have it, the founders of Tumml recently launched the Urban Innovation Fund and asked me to join this exciting new chapter. As a newly established venture capital firm, we provide seed capital and regulatory support to entrepreneurs creating scalable solutions to tough urban challenges. I’ve had the opportunity to lead investments in companies ranging from a mobile election voting platform using blockchain technology to a smart water management system for commercial and industrial buildings. More than 60% of the companies we’ve supported have a woman or person of colour on the founding team.
Building a fund from the ground up has been a fantastic adventure. There’s no “typical day” in the office, but I spend most weeks meeting with new companies and investors, conducting market research and customer interviews, judging startup pitch competitions, and helping our nine portfolio companies with hiring and other strategic questions. I’m constantly inspired by the energy, innovation and ingenuity of startup founders who are striving to solve entrenched problems. I look forward to continuing to become a more effective investor, mentor, and advisor to socially-minded entrepreneurs – both in the US and at home in Australia. I’m also passionate about improving the funding ecosystem for underserved and marginalized entrepreneurs across both countries.
I am extremely grateful to the John Monash Foundation for its support over the years. When I left sunny Sydney for Boston in 2014, I didn't fully appreciate that life would never be the same again. The Foundation has provided not just financial help, but a family. From Claudia Newman-Martin’s 2013 email proclaiming “YOU MUST DO THE MPP!”, to Steph Pow’s warmth during Boston winters, to Anna Rakoczy’s advice on pivoting from law to entrepreneurship, to Jill Kilby and Sarah Lux-Lee’s wisdom on life and love, Monash siblings have offered insight and encouragement every step of the way. Thank you to everyone at the Foundation – the Board, the management team, the interviewing panels, and past and present scholars. The Monash Scholarship truly changed my life.
About May Samali
May Samali has a Bachelor of Economic and Social Sciences (1st Class Hons, University Medal), and LLB (1st Class Hons) from the University of Sydney. She was President of the Sydney University Law Society, and was Deputy CEO of 180 Degrees Consulting. Her study for a Master in Public Policy at Harvard focused on financing of social enterprises. As a part of her MPP May worked at Tumml in San Francisco; Tumml is a start up hub for urban technology. She joined them as a Director in San Francisco after her degree, and has since moved to the Urban Innovation Fund, a new venture capital firm that invests in early-stage urban impact entrepreneurs.