More than just financial capital: How (and why) Prota invests holistically in early stage founders

Will Little
Prota Ventures is an early stage operator-investor group that has achieved extraordinary success by investing multiple forms of capital (financial, knowledge, social, etc..) in technology startups. If you are a founder, investor, or talented specialist, scroll to the bottom and join us on our mission to promote human flourishing via venture building and investing.

In Q1 2018, a small group of experienced founders, investors, and software engineers met in Chicago to discuss blockchains and Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). Rather than ride the bandwagon and launch an ICO of our own, we discussed how this new technology could help humans flourish and what problems could be addressed to create a better Internet for everyone. 

We decided to double-down on providing infrastructure for Proof-of-Stake blockchain ecosystems that ushered in a new era of decentralization and self-sovereign digital ownership. That venture became and went on to raise its Series C in Q4 2021 at a $1.4B valuation. 

What was important in those early days was not just that Prota was Figment’s first investor, but that the co-founders met at the event (which we now call Spark Summits) and Prota’s team provided early operational support. 

In other words, Prota invested knowledge capital and social capital in addition to financial capital. 

Since then we have repeated this process with dozens of startups. 

From start to finish, our full process consists of the following:

  • We begin with relationships - our trust network of founders, investors, and talent has been foundational to our success and the growth of our portfolio companies. 
  • Relationships in our network then turn inevitably into meandering conversations about technology and potential ventures at conferences and events. 
  • These conversations then turn into more focused meetings - most notably our formalized Spark Summits around specific venture ideas and founders - which take place in conference rooms in an afternoon followed by nearby restaurants for dinner.
  • These conversations bring together co-founders, build teams, investors, subject-matter experts, and - perhaps most importantly - customer decision-makers to ensure a rock-solid start to a new venture.
  • After sufficient demand testing and idea validation, these ventures are then funded with financial capital from one or more of our VC funds and investment partners. 
  • We collectively then continue to invest multiple forms of capital as a startup grows. 

What is absolutely essential to this process is our core values and people - i.e. the Generosity, Empathy, Excellence, and Kindness (GEEK) of our network of Founders, Investors, and Talent (FIT). We like to joke internally that we strive to be FIT GEEKs. :) 

We have specific calls-to-action for everyone we work with: 

Founders - no matter what stage you might be in within the above process, we’d like you to fill out this form and get to know us. Assuming it’s a good mutual fit, we’ll invite you to our internal app, Slack group, and events so you can get to know our investors, talent, and potential co-founders you may need. 

Investors - if you invest time and/or capital into early stage startups in exchange for equity (or future equity) we invite you to also fill out this form and - if it’s a good fit - we’ll loop you into our internal app to share deal flow as well as our Slack group and events. 

Talent - if you are a freelancer growth specialist, software engineer, sales guru, designer, etc.. and/or if you are looking for a full-time position as a co-founder or employee within a future or existing startup in our portfolio, we’d love to hear from you and also invite you into our network applications and events (similar to Founders and Investors above).

We are extremely excited about the next season of Prota. Our second fund is actively deploying financial capital into startups and our partners are diving in to help operationally as needed. We would very much enjoy meeting you and learning how we can best serve and partner with you. 

Last but not least, our purpose statement at Prota is to promote human flourishing by investing holistically in entrepreneurs. While we are not explicitly an impact fund - we do look for ways that tangibly increase Happiness and Life Satisfaction, Mental and Physical Health, Meaning and Purpose, Character and Virtue, Close Social Relationships, and Financial and Material Stability (which - as a measurement matrix - we borrow explicitly from Harvard University’s Human Flourishing Program).

If you are a founder, investor, or startup operator (talent) looking on a similar mission, we’d love to work with you. Join our newsletter here, follow us on socials (LinkedIn, YouTube), and reach out to us to begin a conversation.

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