NextGen Collective spotlights Base Ventures Venture Partner Jessica Leon. Read on about her favorite career lessons, her parents as inspiration, and more.
Where are you from?
I was born in Twin Falls, Idaho, but my roots stem from my Mexican heritage. My parents are from Sinaloa and Durango, Mexico, and growing up, we would travel and live in both countries for years at a time. Although I currently reside in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I am preparing for an upcoming move to Los Angeles. So, to answer your question, I come from a blend of different places – “Ni de aquí, ni de allá.”
What do you do today?
I am a venture capitalist. My official title is venture partner at Base Ventures, an early stage venture capital firm in Silicon Valley.
Who inspired you the most in your life growing up?
Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have two incredibly inspiring individuals in my life – my parents. My father worked tirelessly as a farmworker, and my mother dedicated herself to being a homemaker. Yet, despite their challenges, they worked hard day in and day out to provide my siblings and me with a better life.
Their unwavering commitment to our family and their tireless work ethic taught me the true meaning of hard work and resilience. They taught me to dream big and to be prepared to take advantage of any opportunity that came my way. They instilled a sense of self-discipline and inspired me to believe in myself and to have the courage to take risks, even when the odds were stacked against me.
What lesson did you learn early in your career that still serves you today?
Firstly, the importance of being tenacious and resilient. When faced with setbacks or obstacles, it’s important to stay focused on the end goal and push forward, even when it seems impossible. This mindset has helped me overcome many challenges and achieve things I never thought possible.
Also, listen more and speak less. As a result, I have gained valuable insights and built stronger relationships with my colleagues and clients by truly listening to others. In addition, listening has helped me to be a more effective communicator and problem-solver.
Finally, having a growth mindset and staying curious. In today’s fast-paced world, things are constantly changing, and staying adaptable and open to learning new things is crucial. By approaching challenges with a growth mindset, I have embraced new opportunities and continue to grow personally and professionally.
What are some of the biggest challenges you see for Latino professionals early in their careers?
One of the biggest challenges is the pervasive feeling of not belonging in a country where discrimination is still all too common. Overcoming this sense of exclusion and embracing our Latinidad is crucial for success. By recognizing the strength and pride inherent in our cultural heritage, we can tap into a powerful source of motivation that drives us forward in our careers.
Another challenge is a scarcity mindset from growing up in low-income households (applicable to some of us, not all). This can lead us to settle for less than we deserve and hesitate to take risks. Our scarcity mindset also leads us to be reluctant to ask for help. Breaking through barriers is challenging, but it’s impossible to do alone. Building a strong network and reaching out for support can help us unlock our full potential.
Finally, sometimes we become so focused on working hard that we need to remember to seek out opportunities to contribute at a larger scale. By observing and proactively seeking out such opportunities and recognizing the value we bring to the table, we can achieve our goals and make a meaningful impact in our careers.
What is part of your daily routine that you look forward to every day?
Going to the gym. While I didn’t always prioritize my physical health in the past, I’ve realized that taking care of yourself is crucial, especially as you grow older, and your career becomes more demanding. Going to the gym is enjoyable and rewarding and allows me to invest in my most valuable asset – me.
What behavior or personality traits do you attribute to your success?
My persistent nature has allowed me to never give up on my dreams, no matter the obstacles. Overcoming challenges has taught me that determination and perseverance are critical to achieving success, and I am not afraid to put in the hard work necessary to achieve my goals.
My commitment to honesty has helped me build strong relationships in my personal and professional life. However, I am also aware that honesty can be a double-edged sword, and I use it judiciously and sensitively to others’ feelings. Knowing when and how to use my honesty is a skill that has served me well and has helped me navigate difficult situations with integrity.
Which causes are you passionate about?
I am deeply passionate about creating equitable access and opportunities for marginalized communities, especially those in the Latinx and Black communities from lower socio-economic backgrounds. One particular cause I am actively involved in is advancing Latinx leaders in business through co-founding of Latinx MBA. Our organization is dedicated to developing and empowering Latinx professionals to succeed in their careers. In addition, I am committed to supporting other organizations that share my vision of creating a more inclusive and diverse world.
With my background in Wall Street and Venture Capital, I have seen the need for greater representation of our community. That’s why I’m working towards creating a more equitable venture capital ecosystem. I believe everyone deserves an equal chance to succeed, and I will continue to advocate for equity and diversity in all aspects of society.
When you get a new idea, what’s the first thing you do with it?
Every time I get a new idea, I need to write it down immediately in my journal because I am afraid to forget it.
What is one non-work related goal that you would like to achieve in the next five years?
One of my non-work-related goals is to coach and mentor individuals from underrepresented communities, particularly Latinx professionals, to help them develop the skills and confidence needed to thrive personally and professionally. Through my involvement with Latinx MBA, my community volunteering efforts, and my upcoming coaching practice, I aim to impact the lives of at least 1,000 individuals and help them discover their full potential.
What’s one thing we’d never be able to guess from your LinkedIn profile?
I was a certified nursing assistant.