Aunnie Patton Power is an academic, advisor, and angel investor who centres her career around questions about how to better design funding for positive social and environmental impact and how to optimally allocate resources to maximize efficiency for social impact projects. Her work has taken on the form of a ‘portfolio’ career, recognizing the myriad ways in which Aunnie’s research and knowledge can inform the impact space. She teaches at several Universities, including the University of Oxford, advises on many boards, and is involved in angel investing on the side. She has also just completed her first book, ‘Adventure Finance’ with Macmillan Publishers, which will be available in the near future. June 2021
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I started out in investment banking, as it seemed like that’s what people did in the 2000’s if you were smart and ambitious. I always liked finance. Although I had a liberal arts education, I and knew I was going to work in the finance space. After several years working in investment banking, I received a gift for my birthday from some friends, the book ‘A World Without Poverty’ by Muhammad Yunus. Reading this book was my “Aha” moment. I was so inspired to learn about finance being able to play a part in making the world a better place, that I decided to leave my current job which seemed more just about making the rich people richer. Shortly after, I sold all of my stuff and travelled to India spent 14 months travelling which was supposed to be for a six week trip. During that time, one of the places that really stood out to me was India. So I decided to return and take a role with I ended up staying six months and then afterwards, for almost two years. While in India, I worked for a social investment banking bank, and for Unitus Capital. It was the first time that I really got to see close up and understand micro-finance, and was enlightened to how crucial the role of capital is for in purpose driven impact projects. From this, I was hooked. It’s intoxicating to be around social entrepreneurship and rewarding to be able to put my highly technical financial skills to work in the service of something meaningful and social-need driven. In India, I was witnessing projects such as renewable energy, telemedicine for rural communities- these deeply important endeavours that needed funding. It was there that I got the idea and the motivation to switch gears entirely.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship, to me, is about building. It’s about taking an idea and building it into something real. In many ways, we are shepherding this idea from the ephemeral notion it initially is, into something tangible and real that can create actionable change.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Tenacity, creativity & imagination, and passion. Tenacity is essential as it is the willingness to keep going, especially when it’s hard. We can also speak about it as ‘grit’; the willingness to sacrifice and accept that things aren’t going to go your way all the time, that we are not ‘owed’ anything. It is precisely this quality of perseverance that makes entrepreneurship possible. Second, creativity and imagination are key. So much of this is about innovation and being a pioneer, so it does require real creativity and imagination to generate ideas and solutions to challenging problems. Third, passion is necessary to weave the above two qualities together. Without the passion behind what you’re doing, there isn’t the motivation to truly pull through. It is often in seeing the need, and solving that need, that the passion to continue is ignited and sustained.
What is your favourite part of supporting entrepreneurs?
Seeing what they build, what they’ve done, seeing the impact they create. I relish in and live vicariously through them.
What entrepreneurial individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
Ha! This is a tough one. I think I can honestly say Taylor Swift. She continues to create this persona and to take on legacy institutions. She really embraces her femininity and who she is and uses her platform for social change. I also love her music… She’s constantly being told she needs to ‘be quiet’, but she remains vocal, telling corporations what they should and shouldn’t do, etc. She really uses her voice in a way that I think is admirable. I also love her music…
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I’d probably get right into something practical, such as doing a joint venture together, something which could help other female entrepreneurs, or get her involved somehow in angel investing. On a personal note, I’d be curious to hear about how she maintains her balance in life and looks after her mental well-being with the myriad pressures and expectations she faces daily.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment while supporting entrepreneurs?
There have been many along the way, but truly, I think with this upcoming release of my first book, ‘Adventure Finance’, this feels like a very substantial culmination of my work in this field so far and the pinnacle of a lot of years of a specific type of work.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned while supporting entrepreneurs?Well, there were many along the way, especially early on in my career. This was such a new space, so in many ways we were experimenting. I think some of the primary challenges and mistakes early on centred around a lack of information- projects that I advised without having adequate or ample information or historical data to back up predictions. I have definitely told entrepreneurs to pursue business models that didn’t in the end work out, or made promises to help with long-scale implementation of business plans before realizing I was really more of an early- stage ideation person. I had to develop a sense of my own strengths and knowledge, and also of the quickly evolving landscape of social impact. I think another ‘mistake’ early on was potentially not focusing enough on the ‘impact’ case, or not making it strong enough. We certainly, at points, got a little off track on the impact side of things. Another ‘mistake’ I can identify would be having ideas or projects that were just too early for the market. I think there is an inevitable element of timing inherent in all this, and sometimes knowing when the time is right is just as important as the quality of the idea or product itself.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?The auto-reply to my e-mail generates a list of resources for different kinds of entrepreneurs. The list includes a link I just posted on LinkedIn about raising funds, and also separate links tailored to who you are and what kind of resources you are looking Additionally, I teach a free course on MOOC about innovative finance. There are also resources at the Skoll Centre at the Said Business School and the Oxford Entrepreneurship centre. Additionally, if you’re a student, there are several business school competitions that provide good opportunities to engage with this field and get feedback. And of course, my upcoming book.
Any last words of advice?
I think my advice would be that you may not find the “perfect role or the “perfect funder”, but that you may have to build it. The path may not necessarily be so straight-forward or as linear as you may have envisioned, but if you’re willing to get out there and hustle, it’s definitely possible.
EnSpire Oxford is a University of Oxford initiative to help connect people to the entrepreneurship resources they need, and to promote entrepreneurship across Oxfordshire.
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