Donna Harris is Founder and CEO of Builders + Backers, General Partner of 1776 Ventures, and a Venture Partner at Praxis. She has been an active investor for over 10 years, following a successful career as an entrepreneur.
She has invested in industry-defining companies that include Guild Education, ID.me, Pacasso, NXCR, Twiga and many more.Donna has been recognized by Business Insider in The Seed 25 (best female early-stage investors) in 2021 and 2022 and she was named one of Washington DC’s Power 100 by both Washington Business Journal and Washington Life.
Prior to founding Builders + Backers, Donna was founder of 1776 and Managing Director of the Startup America Partnership during the Obama Administration. She is also a board member of both the Global Entrepreneurship Network and the National Center for Entrepreneurship, an Advisor to the Economic Innovation Group, and a Distinguished Fellow of the Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship at The Busch School. Donna holds a B.S. from Central Michigan University, an M.B.A. from The University Michigan, and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from American University.
Kathleen is an entrepreneur, venture capital fund manager and investor focused on helping to find, incubate, and grow ideas for solving our greatest challenges. In addition to her role with Builders and Backers, She also serves as the Director of Operations for 1776 Ventures, overseeing the fund’s day-to-day activities and portfolio investments.
She actively mentors early-stage entrepreneurs around the world, particularly in children’s consumer goods.Previously Kathleen has founded, grown and sold multiple consumer products companies, including one of the earliest treadmill and standing desks companies in the US. She helped to take these companies from idea to manufacturing, e-commerce and retail success, and licenses with international brands such as Hasbro and Mattel. Prior to launching her first consumer products company, Kathleen was a trial attorney and founder of a law firm.
Jonathan is a serial founder (turned funder) working to increase access to growth resources for post-startup companies, especially the underestimated. He has founded or co-founded 8 companies, 2 non-profits, and invested in over 30 companies (angel + VC).
Kyle Smith was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois and made his way to Tulsa in 2014 to pursue a career in Workforce and Economic Development. He comes to us with an extensive background in sales training and has worked for companies such as Pfizer Inc, Enterprise Rent -a- Car, Dynamic Workforce Solutions, and Grant Associates Inc. Kyle has a proven track record for exceeding expectations and yielding high deliverables for Fortune 100 companies.
Kyle has climbed the corporate ladder of multiple workforce and economic development companies based on high success in supporting business from start to scale.While Kyle enjoys the challenge of results driven work, he believes that success stems from creating an inclusive workplace culture for his team while helping them reach maximum potential as professionals.
Kyle holds a BA from Wilberforce University, the oldest private historically black college and university. He is also a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. You can find him making music, gaming, hanging with his dog Ceasar, and spending time with family and friends whenever possible.
Stephanie Butts is the Executive Assistant at Builders and Backers. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre from Southeast Missouri State University and a Master of Arts in Arts Administration from Castleton University. Prior to joining us, Stephanie worked in the Financial Services industry as an Executive Assistant and an Executive Recruiter. She currently resides in New York City with her husband and daughter.
Gisele is an accomplished entrepreneur, investor, and marketer with a background in comedy. Originally from Georgia, she attended the University of Arizona in Tucson (go Wildcats!) where she double majored in English and Journalism.
Gisele kicked off her advertising career at a Village Voice publication in Phoenix before moving to Chicago to join USA Today. During her time in the Windy City, she also pursued her passion for comedy by attending Second City’s School of Improv.
As the founder and owner of Pink Fern, a marketing company specializing in brand management, social media marketing, and content creation, Gisele brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her clients. Based in Chicago, she lives with her husband and son.
Courtney is an entrepreneur, product manager, business operations automator, and no-code maker. Previously, he has founded and scaled companies in the home automation, residential real estate, and property tech industries. He has also consulted for companies in the restaurant, retail, and wellness industries.
Most recently, Courtney founded Rosy, a software and services company that enables landlords to self-manage their residential rental properties. In addition to his role with Builders and Backers, Courtney runs Sprocket One, a no-code development agency and he serves on the Expert Council for NoCodeOps, where he helps entrepreneurs and small/medium sized businesses automate their sales, marketing, and business operations.
Courtney lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and two children.
Graham is an entrepreneur, community organizer, and general creative based in Iowa City, Iowa. He started his career working on political campaigns to pay his way through college. That led to managing programs for Airbnb, Fiverr, Engine Advocacy, the Kauffman Foundation and Techstars.
He’s launched his own ventures, and has advised many startups, politicians, and entrepreneurs. He holds a BA in Economics from the University of Iowa and an MBA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
When not at work, he enjoys playing guitar, creative writing, travel, and making a difference in his community.
Nick Greco is a native Texan and currently resides in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex with his wife and three small children. Most of Nick's professional career has been spent in and around the startup space as both a founder and an early startup employee.
His startup resume includes being the first employee and VP of Biz Dev at ad tech startup ChatAds, as well as being the first employee and Director of Marketing for MarketScale, a B2B marketing studio. As a founder, Nick is the Managing Director of Greco Energy Partners, a family business with interests in energy deregulation, solar installations, and home services.
Most recently, he founded Hello Honey Do, a real-estate services company, and Homester Home Services, a home services app serving the DFW metro area. In the deep corners of the internet, there is also a Yankee podcast that Nick's wife made him quit doing. After dropping out of college to join his first startup, Nick has since earned a Bachelors in Marketing from Western Governors University and is currently pursuing his MBA there as well.
Through her work in building startup communities and global ecosystems, Marisa Vickers has been a long-term catalyst for innovation. Currently, she is the Director of Global Brand Growth for Builders + Backers as well as the Vice President of Media Relations for Möbius Air, a Formula1 Electric Air Racing Team that focuses on green tech aviation. Additionally, she serves on the Board of Directors as Vice President for the Texas Venture Alliance, a venture advocacy group focused on state capital.
Prior to Builders and Backers, she has supported diverse founders and females in STEM through MassChallenge, Girls Who Code, Chick Tech, and the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce. Previously, Marisa also served on the Board of Directors for RemoteBase, a software engineering company, and the Board of Directors for the Asian Real Estate Association of Austin.
Marisa holds an M.A in International Relations from Texas State University. In her free time, Marisa's ultimate passion is to travel her way through life and learn more about the people and cultures that surround her.
"If I'm an advocate for anything, it's to move. As far as you can. As much as you can. Across the ocean. Or simply across the river. Walk in someone else's shoes. Or at least eat their food." - Anthony Bourdain
Bryon White is a serial founder in the CPG and Ag space, and has also served as an advisor to tech companies and non-profits. He is the CEO, President, and Co-founder of Yaupon Brothers American Tea, Yazoo Yaupon, and the co-founding Vice Chair of the American Yaupon Association. He has over a decade of experience in CPG, manufacturing, and agriculture.
He received the 2021 Industry Leadership Award from the Specialty Food Association where he served on the Digital Strategy and Regulatory & Legislative committees. Bryon earned a BS in Law from the University of Central Florida and a Master of Science in Criminal Justice from Loyola University New Orleans.
Jane is a marketing professional with a focus in Social Media Management. She’s from Austin, Texas, and earned a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Texas. After graduation, she spent time working in the service industry until she landed her first role, which brought her to Charlotte, North Carolina.
Now, she works as Builders +Backer’s Social Media Manager, with a focus on democratizing access to venture capital and supporting any builder with an idea and a plan of action.
Kyle is a serial consumer packaged goods (CPG) entrepreneur, advisor, and sales executive based in Orlando,FL. Kyle founded Yaupon Brothers American Tea where he was able to bring the first large-scale american grown tea product to the market. He was able to help bring Yaupon Brothers to outlets such as Whole Foods, Walmart, QVC and hundreds of independent retailers. Yaupon Brothers was also a top 10 global trend for Whole Foods in 2023. Yaupon Brothers has been featured in Forbes Magazine, Bon Appetit, The Washington Post and Fast Company.
Kyle also ran the Center for Advanced Entrepreneurship (CFAE) at the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College. The CFAE was centered around helping companies in the second stage ($1m+ in revenue) scale. Kyle advised 200+ founders while he was at the CFAE, and also served on the board of directors of the VenVelo Angel Fund and The Athena Powerlink Women's Entrepreneurship accelerator program.
Kyle holds a degree in Hospitality Management from the renowned Rosen College of Hospitality at the University of Central Florida.
Builders In Residence
Driven and creative digital marketing executive with extensive domestic and global media, advertising, and management consulting experience. A strategic leader with a global mindset, leveraging creativity, market research, analytics, and technology to help businesses achieve their objectives. Her professional experience extends into all genres of production and marketing, working on multicultural projects with USA and international clients. After a career as a top production executive, Botta completed an MBA from Thunderbird in Geneva, Switzerland, receiving her degree in Global Management. As a Fractional CMO, she works with startups, mid-sized businesses, and Fortune 500 companies providing digital marketing strategies for B2B and B2C clients.
Ian is a co-founder and CEO of Sego Innovations, a startup utilizing origami-based engineering technology to increase solar panel versatility, portability, and range of applications. He is also a co-founder of Bloom Surgical, Inc., a medical device startup enabling the adoption of automated minimally invasive surgical procedures by rapidly resolving intraoperative visual disruptions. In 2015, Ian founded a biotechnology startup that developed novel bactericidal agents. He ran the business for six years. Ian oversaw the entire product development process, from early-stage research and development to product launch. Ian also directed the regulatory team interfacing with the FDA on the investigational drug approval process. Ian has raised over $1M in non-dilutive funding in his career. He has experience negotiating university licensing agreements and patent purchases. Ian also has experience in public accounting and as a financial analyst.
Dr. Karima Ladhani is the Founder & CEO of Barakat Bundle, a non-profit that creates life-saving bundles for mothers and newborns in South Asia, and Giving Cradle, a social enterprise that creates safe, sustainable newborn products that give back. As an alumna of numerous startup accelerators including the Harvard iLab and MassChallenge, Dr. Ladhani is committed to giving back and support fellow entrepreneurs on their journeys. She currently serves as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Georgetown University and a mentor at the Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale University. She received her MPH and PhD from Harvard University as well as BMath and BBA degrees from University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada.
I’ve worked at a variety of startups, including Palantir (big data), Workboard (OKR management), Final (fintech), Dark (devtools) in operations and customer facing roles. I also spent some time at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue as a Volunteer & Foster Manager. I most recently spent 2 years working at Y Combinator on the Admissions team. My degree is in Video Game Design & Development from RIT.
Dr. Marquicia Pierce is the Founder and Principal Consultant at Ruby Leaf Media, a science media and communications company. Leading a dedicated team, she empowers tech accelerators and investors to support their portfolio companies in the STEM fields.
She was an early member of a Michigan State University lab tech venture, Hibiskus Biopharma, that matured into a successful acquisition. Driven by a passion for bridging the gap between science and business, she has consulted over 100 science professionals, academics, and entrepreneurs, guiding them through their startup journeys. She has helped these companies secure over $6 million in non-dilutive funding by translating their technological narratives into compelling business stories.
Dr. Pierce holds a PhD in Molecular Physiology & Biophysics and Engineering Management from Vanderbilt University, complemented by an MBA from Northwood University. She kickstarted her academic journey with a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Indiana University - Purdue University, Indianapolis.
She can help with customer discovery questions and techniques.