Mentoring Matters with Marcus Whitney

Marcus Whitney has a knack for entrepreneurship. As a self-taught, highly successful entrepreneur and founder of a multi-million-dollar venture capital firm, Marcus has a wealth of knowledge to share about entrepreneurship, venture funding, and what it takes to be successful in any business endeavor. He recognizes the importance of mentorship and shares how it has impacted his journey in this inspiring conversation.

Marcus Whitney went from college dropout and waiter to self-taught, successful entrepreneur. He is the founding partner of Jumpstart Health Investors, the most active venture capital firm in America focused on innovative healthcare companies with a portfolio of over 100 companies. He recently launched Jumpstart Nova, the first Black healthcare venture fund in America. 

Marcus is also co-founder and minority owner of Major League Soccer team, Nashville Soccer Club. He has been listed in the Power 100 by Nashville Business Journal, and has been featured by Inc., CNBC, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and The Atlantic. 

Marcus is the author of the bestselling book Create and Orchestrate about claiming your Creative Power through entrepreneurship. Marcus is also the producer and host of The Creative Power Podcast. He is a member of the board of the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum, the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation, Instruction Partners and Launch Tennessee. 

As a guest mentor at our upcoming Mentoring Matters event on September 22, Marcus’s discussion will be centered around focus in a distracting world. To join Marcus for this discussion virtually, click here.

We sat down with Marcus to gain insight into his career, how mentorship has impacted him, and learn more about his discussion topic.

Can you give us an idea of your responsibilities on a day-to-day basis?

Professionally, I wear two hats. One, I’m in the process of forming a new fund called Jumpstart Nova. It’s a $50 million fund investing in innovative healthcare companies with Black founders at seed and series A stages. So I’m putting that together now, and it takes a lot of time to work on the formation of that. And then I’m also chief strategy officer for Jumpstart Health Investors, which is the parent company of that fund as well as Jumpstart Foundry and Jumpstart Capital. So I’m working on our investment themes and our roadmap of our fund operating system and just generally the strategy of our overall business. So that’s my day to day.

You have a very inspiring story: You are a college dropout turned self-taught entrepreneur. What was the turning point for you? When did you start to find your footing on the path you’re on now?

For me, the footing was developing the skill of software development. So becoming a programmer and then being able to go from being a waiter, which was an incredible foundation for being able to earn money. I think we all learned during this pandemic when we couldn’t go to restaurants that the entire hospitality industry really struggled. And so, had I arrived in Nashville in the middle of a pandemic, I’d have been in a lot of trouble. Honestly, waiting tables was a blessing, but I would say things really stabilized for me when I learned how to write code. And that allowed me to go from day-to-day getting cash to a salary and benefits that created a baseline for me to start to envision what a brighter future could look like, as well as to start gaining more day-to-day experience in the enterprise, just seeing what is industry, what is technology, where is the world headed.

How has mentorship impacted your journey?

Well, a lot of what I do is around mentorship just as an investor, and my pathway into being an investor was a lot of the work that I did at the Entrepreneur Center. And also the early days of Jumpstart Foundry from 2009 to 2014, which was an accelerator. That was all around mentorship. And so, I’ve just found, at least in the business world, that mentorship is just an incredibly important aspect of developing talent. It is very difficult to have to go through all of the experiences on your own. You don’t want to have to run through all the brick walls on your own. You want to be able to stand on the shoulders of other people’s experiences.

And so it’s always been important for me to participate in mentorship. And I would also say there’ve been a select few people that have been really, really pivotal in my own life and have been sustaining mentors for me both here in Nashville and just in general, in terms of developing as an adult. Mentorship is really important, and I think it just feels good to feel like somebody is invested in you as a human being, you know.

What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has given you and why?

My grandfather was my biggest mentor and he passed five years ago. He was a gynecologist at Meharry for 40 years. He birthed every person in North Nashville. I couldn’t go into a grocery store without someone mentioning that when they had given birth, he was their doctor. He gave me a lot of advice growing up about finances, real estate, faith and all sorts of things. The biggest thing that I’ll always keep in mind is him telling me, “Don’t get slick.”

In college, knowing I had a sports management major and finance minor, he would send me these Wall Street articles about these white-collar crooks that were going to jail cause he was worried about me getting into the same trouble due to the big temptation for folks in my industry. He told me to do things the hard way and appreciate the journey of the struggle to get to where you want to be. It’s something that I always tell young bankers, when I say, “Don’t get slick,” it’s also about not cutting corners, taking your time and enjoying the process to get to your ultimate goal.

How do you approach mentorship?

I think I have been a mentor to several people—I’m generally always managing one or two relationships at any given point in time, either through some official organization or just through life. I did find at a certain time in Nashville, when I got to be pretty visible, the inbound requests got pretty tough, and that was when I decided to write a book. And it’s been great to scale the mentorship a little bit through writing about my own story and my philosophy, and getting that out through the form of a book. And the thing is, being a fund manager, part of what you’re doing is you’re there to mentor the portfolio company leaders. You’re also there to sort of govern their actions, but there’s certainly a responsibility to encourage them and to support them through mentorship. And so I’ve got a lot of formal, structured mentorship in my life right now.

What is the best piece of advice a mentor has given you?

Oh, wow, that’s a super hard question. I think the best mentors are reflecting back to their mentees. Generally speaking, what the best mentors have done for me is given me the encouragement to believe in myself, to keep going, to strive to achieve the goals that I had in mind for myself. When I really think about it, did they tell me anything that was super pivotal that I hadn’t really thought of before? No, but, you know, it helps when someone who has been there before and has achieved some of the things you’re looking to achieve looks at you and tells you, you can do it and believe in yourself. That’s really valuable to be able to quiet that debate in your head through an external source. So if I had to think about what’s the one most meaningful thing, it was probably something really simple like that.

What would you tell your younger self?

I think for me that’s pretty clear. I would have told my younger self to take better care of myself. The thing that has become obvious to me now at 45, which is not terribly old, but it’s getting there, is that there’s nothing more important than your overall health. It really plays this massive role into everything else. And when you’re young, if you’re young and healthy, you take your health for granted. I would’ve just said, don’t take it for granted—make the connection between your health and your wellbeing in your performance. You can ignore it and just hero through moments, but you could be performing so much better if you were actually paying attention to getting good sleep, eating good foods, and exercising.

Lastly, I want to touch on the topic you’re going to talk about for Mentoring Matters: Focus in a Distracting World. Why did you choose this topic?

I think it’s important for people to understand that we’re living in a completely unprecedented time, and I’m not so much referring to what’s happening out there in the world, but to the unprecedented level of distractions, like the iPhone and social media. This stuff is not even two decades old yet. And so we do not have rule books for how to manage this stuff, and you have to be vigilant with your time management. You have to be really clear on what you want to accomplish. You need to have a really strong level of commitment to the things you say are important to you.

And then probably the biggest thing is just understanding that there’s a competition for narratives out there in the world. As humans, we’re the one species of animals that are moved, motivated by and susceptible to narratives, right? Narratives are also how we’ve created everything we’ve created—it’s how we’ve created the world, it’s how we’ve created nations, how we’ve created a social structure, companies, all these things, but it’s also how we capture other people’s attention and energy. The real question is, what’s your narrative? And if you don’t know what yours is, then that’s probably where you need to start. You probably need to start working on your narrative and then you build the things that matter to you into that narrative, and then you commit to it. And that’ll give you a little bit of a force field to deflect all the things that are coming at you on a daily basis and put them through the filter of, what can I really do about this? The truth is, the vast majority of the world is outside of our control and always was, and so you need to focus on the things you can actually control.

Marcus Whitney is serving as a Guest Mentor at our upcoming Mentoring Matters event, a professional group mentoring and networking event taking place virtually on September 22 from 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. At this event, you’ll have the unique opportunity to spend an hour with Marcus or another influential leader of your choice. All proceeds go to supporting Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee’s programs and services.

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