May Samali

2015 Cheng Fellow

Problem

With 81% of Americans living in cities, and two-thirds of the world’s population urbanizing by 2050, there are a growing number of challenges facing urban dwellers including – among others – traffic congestion, financial exclusion, homelessness and climate change. These problems are too large and complex for governments and non-profits to solve alone. May believes mission-driven entrepreneurs have the potential to create scalable and sustainable solutions to some of these most pressing issues. However, her experiences have also taught her that these entrepreneurs often lack the requisite financial capital, business expertise, and policy infrastructure to realize their true potential.

Pathway

May’s objective is to strengthen the capacity of the mission-driven business sector to solve tough social, economic, and political problems. To this end, she endeavors to engage in two main lines of work. At a micro-level, she is determined to work as an investor and advisor to mission-driven entrepreneurs—inspiring and empowering them to produce both financial and social returns. She will have the opportunity to engage with such entrepreneurs as part of the investment team at the Urban Innovation Fund, a newly formed seed stage venture firm empowering entrepreneurs to solve hairy city problems. At a macro-level, she will spearhead ecosystem-building activities to enable those businesses to fulfill their potential—through better access to capital and networks, and more supportive legal and regulatory infrastructure. May wants to be a “connector” in the vein of Malcolm Gladwell who once wrote, “by having a foot in so many different worlds, Connectors have the effect of bringing them all together.” She wants to use her experiences as a lawyer, non-profit manager, and early-stage venture investor, to build connections between mission-driven businesses and investors, governments, and civil society.

Person

May’s dream is to bring mission-driven business into the mainstream. This dream stems from her belief that entrepreneurs hold answers to some of our most difficult social, economic and political questions. May is currently an Associate at the Urban Innovation Fund, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm that provides seed capital and regulatory support to entrepreneurs solving our toughest urban challenges – helping them grow into tomorrow’s most valued companies. Previously, May served as a Director at Tumml, an urban ventures accelerator, where she managed the accelerator program and worked closely with the organization’s portfolio companies. Before Tumml, she worked as a strategy consultant at a boutique venture firm in Sydney, as an attorney at an international law firm, and as Deputy CEO at the world’s largest volunteer consultancy.

May is also an Australian John Monash Scholar, a Gleitsman Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Center for Public Leadership, and an Australian American Young Leadership Dialogue delegate. May earned her MPP’16 from the Harvard Kennedy School and her economics and law degrees from the University of Sydney. Her writing on entrepreneurship, urban innovation and impact investing has been featured in numerous press outlets, including TechCrunch, VentureBeat, The Stanford Social Innovation Review, and The San Francisco Chronicle, among others.