Entrepreneur Spotlight: Seke Ballard is Growing Wealth for Everyone
Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse stories with the mission to inspire kids and youth around the world to become entrepreneurs with empathy. This series features interviews of LGBT founders by a character named Spiffy to help young readers observe Pride Month with a renewed commitment to building a more equitable world for all.
Hi everybody, I'm Spiffy, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth. Today, I am delighted to interview Seke Ballard, Founder of Good Tree Capital.
SPIFFY: Good Morning, Seke! :) What is the problem you're up against? And how are you solving it?
Seke: Great to be with you, Spiffy! The traditional banking system is broken. Minorities and women are 2.7x more likely to be denied fair access to loans – and consequently the ability to build wealth. Systemic discriminatory lending practices are the root cause of the problem. So we built a solution – a proprietary algorithm that assesses credit risk using only predictive factors and determines the likelihood of default with significantly more accuracy, speed, and at a lower cost than traditional lenders to provide loans to licensed cannabis companies. We are the future of banking.
SPIFFY: What gets you up in the morning to keep solving such a widespread problem?
Seke: The current health, economic, and social upheaval that we're experiencing as a nation is deeply motivating. Never has there been a better time to think big about our ambitions and the unique role Good Tree Capital can play in charting a new path for the nation's lenders, even as a humble start-up. We have both the obligation and opportunity to leverage our technological strength to expand fair access to capital for all.
SPIFFY: What are you doing to make sure fair access to capital results in a more equitable world?
Seke: Since issuing our first loan in 2017, we have used our technology to identify qualified borrowers and provide them with the critical funds necessary to grow their licensed cannabis businesses. The diversity of our approved applicants and our borrowers' low default rates validate our approach. So much so, that we are expanding the scope of our business to include a broader array of financial services. We intend to lead the march toward a reimagined, inclusive approach to banking.
In a recent profile, Forbes said that “the results of (our) technology and hard work have been astounding" and that we were “revolutionizing cannabis investing.” These accolades, however, would be meaningless without the testimonials we have gotten from people like Illinois social equity applicant Torica Clegg after she attended our Application Hackathon in December.
SPIFFY: Is there another milestone that you’ve hit recently?
Seke: We have been very involved in the cannabis legalization process in Illinois. It concerns us that the very people who have been negatively impacted by the war on drugs are not the ones reaping the benefits of the booming cannabis industry. And because capital is the #1 barrier preventing them from acquiring licenses, we successfully advocated for the state to create a $30 million fund to provide them with both the financial and technical support to pursue a license.
SPIFFY: What’s a failure that you’ve learned from in the past?
Seke: I ran for class president on a platform to give students more say in how they used their free period and, importantly, to wrest control of senior prom planning from the administration. What self-respecting senior wants to have prom in the school cafeteria under the stench of sloppy joes? I went on to lose that race, so I wrote a letter to the administration. It worked. The lesson: “If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again (but with different tactics).” – Aaliyah
SPIFFY: I can see how your determination shines through no matter where you are! What’s something you learned?
Seke: I rely heavily on public transportation to get around Chicago and I often find myself just missing the train. Weeks ago, I was hastily running up the steps to catch the red line, pleading for them to hold the train as I mounted the platform. Of course, in typical fashion, the train proceeded without me. Witnessing this, a CTA worker let me in on a secret: "If you yell 'Operator, hold the train' they will hold it for you. ‘Operator’ is the keyword." Incredibly, I haven’t missed a train since.
SPIFFY: That’s useful info for everyone, you’re the gift that keeps giving. Thank you for everything, Seke.
Seke: Of course, Spiffy, I try my best to lift others up wherever I go!
Seke Ballard is Founder & CEO of Good Tree Capital – granting loans to licensed cannabis companies. After college, Seke joined the Peace Corps supporting small businesses in the Republic of Georgia. Afterward, he earned an MBA from Harvard and worked for P&G and Amazon. In 2015, Seke founded Good Tree Capital. (Nominated by: Out In Tech)
© 2020 Ladderworks LLC. Follow Spiffy’s stories of founders building a more equitable world at www.ladderworks.co/blogs/spiffys-blog
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.