A New Model: How MOTHER SUPERIOR’s Jo Marini Is Redesigning VC

The Crunchbase “Female Founder Series,” is a series of stories, Q&As, and thought-leadership pieces from glass-ceiling-smashers who overcame the odds and are now leading successful companies.

Jo Marini is the founder and CEO of MOTHER SUPERIOR, a venture and social purpose foundry that is redefining and redesigning venture capital. Focused on early-stage entrepreneurs, the foundry’s novel approach to VC is designed with exponential success as a feature, and offers founders a full suite of services, operations, funding and long-term support. Founders retain majority equity and generate opportunities for others as values-based investors in future social purpose ventures. 

Marini was raised by an extended community of immigrants who shaped her world view of equity, opportunity and economic agency. She is an eternal optimist who delights in critical inquisition of the status quo.

In this Q&A Marini shares her experience building MOTHER SUPERIOR and encourages others to examine and challenge structural inequality in the VC and startup space.

Q: What were you doing before MOTHER SUPERIOR?

I’ve never been a fan of following straight lines, and the life that led me to founding MOTHER SUPERIOR in 2019 zig-zags accordingly. I graduated from the United States Air Force Academy, learned movement therapy for Cirque du Soleil performers in Las Vegas, worked in innovation roles for mid-sized agencies, and won awards for launching the first sustainable food truck and a day restaurant in Colorado Springs. Each step taught me something that informed the next, all the way until I set foot in a classroom at California College of the Arts. There, I earned a nontraditional MBA in design strategy and, maybe more importantly, learned how broken the world of venture capital is for not only woman founders – but also BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, individuals over 60, and disabled people who barely figure into the stats at all. I focused the remainder of my time in the program working to better understand the complex structures that uphold inequity, and exploring the potential for alternate models of funding, entrepreneurship and sustained support.

Q: In 2019, only 3 percent of venture capital was invested in female-only founded companies. Do you feel welcome and accepted as an underrepresented group in the VC space?

Defining individuals by the perception of our most limiting factor — female, underfunded, underrepresented, etc. — ensures that we continue to be outsiders in this system that wasn’t built for us, and frankly doesn’t want us truly equitably represented.

I can’t spend my time trying to convince the operators of a system that has systemically marginalized women to accept and include me. I’m going to instead spend my time on redesigning that system and investing in generative change in a way that is directly aligned with my purpose. I, and many women like me, wouldn’t get anywhere if we obsessed with being welcomed and liked by those who hold the overwhelming share of power.

Research has found that woman-led teams generate a 35 percent higher return on investment than all-male teams. The 3 percent investment stat doesn’t validate a competency issue. It validates a power issue. The power hasn’t been shared, and now there is a groundswell of brilliant, capable and driven women taking it upon ourselves to create and own our place in VC as investors and founders; and we’re designing intentional new systems for equitable opportunity, power and wealth along the way.

Q: What is your advice for other female founders at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journeys?

Entrepreneurship is an actionable way to solve a problem you see in the world. It empowers you to design your venture in a way that can shape a future of conversation and awareness and drive impact. Here’s my advice for those getting started:

Don’t follow rules. Set new standards.

You see the world, and the problem that you set out to solve, differently than anyone else. How will you use that to your advantage? The future of venture is generous and generative, and it should be available to anyone who wants it and is down to do the work for it.

Q: Do you have a favorite quote or “personal mantra” you use to keep yourself motivated?

I make my own luck.

I don’t come from a wealthy family nor yet have an established network of repeat investors or insider connections. I’m challenging convention in an industry that largely doesn’t want to hear — or believe in — what I have to say. I lead a small but mighty team that believes in the MOTHER SUPERIOR mission to their core and shows up daily, dedicated to growing into our collective, full potential. It’s on us to use every available opportunity and resource to make it happen for ourselves and for our Everyday Founders. 

Q: What challenge are you most proud of overcoming in your career?

Five years ago I blew up my textbook perfect life. I walked away from a secure job, a marriage and an established friend circle.

The lightning bolt of “knowing” hit me out of the blue on an ordinary Tuesday afternoon. There was something I was being called to do. I didn’t know what it was yet – only that it couldn’t wait and that I couldn’t compromise.

I am most proud of having the courage to overcome my own fears and inertia. It unlocked the potential for me to create a whole damn life that I love with a fully supportive network and exponential possibilities for the future. It allowed me to create space to explore, understand and shape my perspective: To build the foundations for a business that is doing important work in creating new standards and making space for conversations about real social equity and wealth redistribution. 

Q: How have you integrated your values and mission into your own company structure?

MOTHER SUPERIOR’s model is built on an uncompromising foundation of social purpose. It started by questioning everything held as convention in the venture and funding arena – nothing was taken for granted. Six months were spent interviewing entrepreneurs and investors across industries and influence. There was an examination of who was included and benefited from, as well as who was excluded and marginalized by the impact of existing prevalent models.

As a result, this work aims to redefine venture possibilities through redefining what investment means to founders, and to create a social purpose engine that helps founders build, retain and invest their wealth to create an uplifting, exponential impact in their communities. We do this through actionable, integrated and measurable commitments across every touch point of our own business and for each new venture that we fund and grow alongside Everyday Founders. 

One example of this is through each founder committing to an annual 1 percent profit return to the Everyday Founders Fund. Another is in our Common Good Agreement – it ensures that founders, vendors, investors and other stakeholders across our ecosystem are clearly aligned on what we owe each other and sets the foundation for collaborative, honest and purposeful work toward a common North Star goal.

I can quite literally talk about this topic all day. I’m happy to connect with anyone who wants to talk about emerging models that prioritize social purpose alongside profit.

Q: How did you know you were choosing the right investors? What have they brought to the company?

A central thesis of MOTHER SUPERIOR is that simply allocating more dollars in funding to founders outside the margins of traditional VC, including women, is a critical but incomplete solution to bridge the funding gap.

Our investors become our collaborators in designing new models of funding and return for regenerative ecosystems of venture. They are value aligned in that they see their role as one that extends beyond investment and returns. They understand that they are part of the systemic solution, and they engage in the work with us and our founders through contributing their time and resources.

This is a way forward together: To have a hand in building new generative models of equitable venture capital and an opportunity to prove that VC can be a catalyst to create real opportunity, wealth and economic agency to meaningfully move the tides of change.

Q: What qualities do you possess that you think have contributed most to your success?

There’s a piece of art by John Baldessari that has been the lock screen on my iPhone for years. In black letters on a white background it simply says, “Something like this but not this.”

This sentiment is a prevalent theme throughout my life, where I rarely am introduced to something — from a device to a new lifestyle brand — and buy into the hype at face value.

I’m a designer of systems and structures that challenge the status quo first and foremost. I see the world as a futurist: I understand things as they are, but also with optimism and curiosity for their potential. 

In a space where I’m leading a team dedicated to challenging convention around who gets funded and how, I delight in the design of new systems and structures that push our way of interacting with the world forward and create opportunities to expand others’ thinking around what’s possible or why something exists in the way it does. 

Jo Marini  CEO & Founder   LinkedIn   Jo has a Bachelor of Science from the US Air Force Academy, a near-decade career in Pilates and Gyrotonic therapy, and is an award-winning local food restaurateur-turned innovation and experience designer-turned MBA in design strategy-turned founder and CEO of Mother Superior.  She spent her first three decades of life certain that she was destined for an existence of wild career pivots until she understood that her work has been a life-long immersion into exploring systemic solutions for the thing that universally unites us – an authentic desire to be physically, emotionally and socially well.  Mother Superior is the deliberate manifestation of that work.  Jo was raised by an extended community of immigrants who shaped her world view of equity, opportunity and economic agency. She is an eternal optimist that delights in critical inquisition of the status quo.   Founding Story

Jo Marini is the founder and CEO of Mother Superior, a venture and social purpose foundry that is redefining and redesigning venture capital. Focused on early-stage entrepreneurs, the foundry’s novel approach to VC is designed with exponential success as a feature and offers founders a full suite of services, operations, funding and long-term support.

  • Originally published May 12, 2021