I’ve been lucky enough to have worked at the AmFam Institute since its inception in 2019. Being part of the founding team has given me a front row seat to the evolution of the organization and more specifically, its impact venture fund. We’ve navigated a lot over the past three years, but I’m proud to say one thing has remained consistent despite the changes. The AmFam Institute values authentic impact more than anything else. From the meetings where we established our mission statement, to our one-on-one interactions with founders, we strive everyday to be authentic as a team and an organization.

As the world began to reopen and 2021 came to a close, our fund had invested in 23 startups and had a strong desire to build community among our growing portfolio of mission-driven founders. Throughout the pandemic, we tried hosting virtual get-togethers and workshops, but it was clear an in-person meeting was needed to kick-start true connections, so we decided to host our first-ever Founder Summit.

From the earliest stages of planning, I knew we needed to embed authenticity into every facet of the event. We began by setting a tone for the summit. One of our newest portfolio services promotes founder mental health and wellness. We provide a stipend to our founders for coaching to prevent burnout, to take care of themselves as well as to provide opportunities for drop-in coaching (you can read more about why we believe this is important here).

During the summit, we wanted to deepen our commitment to wellness for our founders in an authentic way so we chose this as our guiding theme.

What does it look like to authentically care about the mental health and wellness of our portfolio? To us, it meant:

  • Inviting our founders to bring their support systems. Significant others, children, and/or a supportive friend of our founders’ choice were invited to join us for the summit and thankfully, many accepted the invite! This allowed us to get to know our founders on a more personal level and took some of the stress out of having to leave support systems behind for a few days during the week.
  • Hosting multiple workshops on mental health and wellness. We dedicated several hours of our summit to sessions on building mental fitness, discussing how to have tough conversations with employees, and making tough decisions. Plus, we hosted onsite 1:1 drop-in coaching with our partners at Pilea.
  • Listening to our founders. Instead of guessing what our founders wanted, we surveyed them beforehand to learn what topics were most pressing, talked with them about our ideas, and adjusted the event based on their feedback. We found more tactical topics like building culture in a hybrid environment, managing boards, and fundraising were highly requested.
  • Having fun. We’ve spent so much time, working, stressing and staring at our screens over the past year that we wanted to make sure we had time to relax and simply enjoy getting to know each other on a more personal level. We think this is where our community was really built.

Now, some might think we’re a little crazy to invite families and children to a summit (I admit I was a little nervous about this too because there’s not exactly a playbook for kid-friendly business conferences) or think we’re spending too much time on mental health and wellness than a venture fund should. Some may think having fun on a dinner cruise or going out for late-night pizza and drinks is a waste of time and money that could have been better spent working on a business and improving a bottom line, but from what I saw, I know that’s not the case.

I heard from one of our founders that her biggest fear in starting her business was the time it would take away from quality time with her son, but that this summit was proof it didn’t have to be that way. I saw that our highest-rated sessions were the ones specifically focused on mental health and transparent discussions about how tough it is to be a founder. I watched relationships and friendships blossom over meals and drinks over the three days and watched the liveliness of conversation increase exponentially by the final day of the summit.

This taught me that while showing up authentically requires a great deal of intentionality, planning, and some courage, it pays off ten-fold in the community you build and impact you create. I’m really looking forward to our next Founder Summit and seeing our community of founders closing equity gaps continue to grow for many years to come.

If you’ve attended a great founder summit or hosted one yourself, what went well? Did it feel authentic? How did the community grow after the event? All thoughts and feedback are welcome as we continue to look for new ways to authentically support our amazing founders in the years to come.