Purpose Driven: Advice for Startups from Founder-Turned-Investor Miles Lasater

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estimated read time: 3½ minutes

Purpose Driven by Davina van Buren

Unlike many American kids, Miles Lasater’s parents taught him about money at a young age. Hooked, the self-proclaimed bookworm sought out personal finance books on his own. At Yale University, he co-founded the Yale Entrepreneurial Society and the institution’s first business plan competition, which included a special category for social entrepreneurship. While still an undergraduate, in 2000 he co-founded Higher One, a disbursement and payment solutions company that offers student banking services, growing the company to over $200 milion in revenue, 750-plus employees, an initial public offering (IPO) and multiple acquisitions. He went on to launch two other venture-backed startups. More than 20 years after Higher One’s founding, Lasater funds tech startups with a social mission as the founding partner of Purpose Built Ventures and advises startups in their earliest stages. We caught up with Lasater to learn how aspiring entrepreneurs can access capital and precisely what investors are looking for in a business plan.




Start. You can only steer once you are in motion. If you start doing something, you will already be setting yourself apart from so many ventures that cease to go beyond the idea stage.

EleVate Magazine

May 2021, Issue 1



How do you define social entrepreneurship?

You’ll hear social entrepreneurship used in two contexts: One, using the process and tools of capitalism to achieve ends broader than making money. In other words, starting up in order to create positive externalities. And two, using the startup founder mindset to start a nonprofit organization.

What do investors initially want to see from a startup?

The fundraising materials an investor expects will depend on the type of fundraising, investor, and your relationship with them. Banks generally like written business plans. Friends and family may only require you to talk to them. Angels generally want a pitch deck. Venture capitalists usually want a pitch deck and, for later stages, some financial projections. Consider your business’s capital needs and goals carefully before assuming that a bank loan or a venture capitalist is the best route.

What do you look for in a business plan? What sets a strong business plan apart from an average one?

At the early stage, most investors are looking for: 1. A team that works well together and has relevant skills, knowledge and contacts. 2. A large and/or growing market. 3. A product or service customers want. I like to see that the company has built and/or sold something already. And for me, I’m looking for a mission-driven thrust to business that is helping customers be healthier or wealthier. A stellar plan will have all that, plus a convincing answer to how the company will build a long-term competitive advantage.

How can entrepreneurs—particularly those from historically underserved demographics—increase access to capital?

Building relationships with other entrepreneurs in similar situations can help you get practical information about fundraising and emotional support to keep going. I recommend forming an informal or formal group of founders and talking regularly. Alternatively, there are an increasing number of organizations for founders from different demographic groups. If you don’t want to start a small group, you may be able to join a larger, existing one.


What advice do you have for entrepreneurs trying to overcome institutional barriers and/or socioeconomic disadvantages?

When I have felt dismissed for my age or other demographic reason, it has been so upsetting. I can only imagine the feeling of experiencing these types of barriers regularly. First, a bit of encouragement that demographics and attitudes are shifting, so I’m hopeful things are changing for the better. Perhaps not fast enough. Second, a bit of practical advice: When fundraising, research shows that potential investors ask female founders more often about downside risks. Avoid that trap by proactively talking about the upside.

Any last, unexpected piece of advice?

I recommend every startup have a vision of failure. Everyone knows about having a vision of success, but do you know when you would stop working on your venture? If you are clear on when you would stop, then you know if you haven’t met that criteria, you should still keep going.


May 2021, Issue 1

EleVate Magazine



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