Heartland Ventures
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Heartland Ventures

Why I joined Heartland Ventures

I was born at the Ohio State Medical Center and spent the first 18 years of my life within 15 miles of that hospital. The Midwest is an incredible place to grow up, but it was generally accepted that you had to get out — to New York, LA, San Francisco — if you wanted any real opportunity to be successful. Geographic FOMO. This “success” was never really defined, but it was clear that many people thought the coastal metropolises were somehow superior to a city like Columbus.

I now know I was wrong, and yet I fear the perceived disparities between places like Silicon Valley and the Rust Belt have only increased since my childhood. I am grateful to have spent the past eight years in Boston working and learning about public policy for sustainable development, albeit 800 miles from my hometown. I have also learned to be less willing to blindly accept the notion that access to opportunity should be determined by proximity to an ocean. The idea that there are “right” and “wrong” places is both untrue and absurd. Now more than ever, the Midwest cannot be overlooked.

In the late 1960s, early computer programmers defined Conway’s Law, stating, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” I appreciate this adage for two reasons. First, the logic is simply unimpeachable. More importantly, it empowers us to take increased responsibility for the outcomes we see in the world around us that are unfair, inefficient, or unsustainable.

I was drawn to Heartland Ventures because the firm offers a different approach, oriented towards collective responsibility for future prosperity. Heartland connects legacy businesses in the Midwest with technologies necessary to be resilient in an interdependent global economy. As such, Heartland’s mission fundamentally rejects the notion that success must be won by way of another’s defeat as a necessary condition of our economic system. It rejects a system with zero-sum thinking that sees the thousands of miles between the coasts as merely an inconvenience adding to flight durations. A system designed to produce an ultimate result in which tens of millions of Americans in the “wrong” places are deprived of opportunity because regions and communities are forced to compete against each other, and those at the top are incentivized to continue to widen the gap.

My work at Heartland will be focused on three areas:

  1. Forming partnerships with policymakers and local stakeholders to support investment in sustainable development and technological adoption in Midwest industry;
  2. Creating the necessary conditions for high levels of opportunity and mobility in Midwestern cities; and
  3. Leveraging and expanding Heartland’s network of corporate partners, investors, and industry leaders to make Midwestern cities the best places to live and work for everyone.

Mitigating the structural forces that have undercut economic inclusion will require inventive means of creating value, including new models of public-private partnerships. We typically think about government work and technological innovation as completely antithetical: tech entrepreneurs move quickly and break things while bureaucrats move slowly and despise risk. There is some truth in this paradigm. Public rifts between technology companies and local governments in coastal states haven’t helped. And yet, while the modes of operation look quite different, I believe policymakers and innovators are motivated by the same fundamental drive to transform the world around them in some way — and make things better.

Every policy, from a municipal parking ordinance to a multinational trade agreement, is an assertion about how society should function. Any law, regulation, or standard is enacted because a policymaker believes it will bend behavior in a way that will bring a community closer to some ideal form. Technologies are developed basically for the same reason. In this way, policymakers and technologists alike are keen to understand how the world works and why it has been molded that way. In the best case scenario, they also see this through a fundamentally optimistic lens that is both action- and future-oriented. We work at the intersection of many of these trends.

When I met the team at Heartland Ventures, it was immediately clear that I had encountered a group of people who are tenaciously committed to building a better future in the broadest way possible. No utopianist promises about tech “making the world a better place,” but rather, thoughtful and practical action to move the needle little by little, relentlessly true to Midwestern roots and hard work. I am excited and deeply grateful for the chance to work with a team that is so passionate about creating opportunity and innovating to design a more inclusive system in a region I love so much.

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Hannah Wexner

Hannah Wexner

Associate Director Community Development Heartland Ventures