Chris Bentley comes from a long line of pioneers.
There’s his mother, who was chair of the math and computer science department at Cheyney University, at a time when women were still the minority in both academia and math and science fields.
She’d always been a role model to young Bentley, and not just because he loved visiting campus, where John Chaney was coaching basketball (before he went on to Temple); he also admired how she’d spend her summers in West Philly, helping soon-to-be freshmen get up-to-speed on their math skills.
Before mom, there was Bentley’s grandfather, an entrepreneur who immigrated to the U.S. at age 19, a refugee from the Armenian Genocide who found his way to run businesses in the Boston area. Bentley’s dad is an engineer, his older sisters are an engineer and an actuary.
So it probably surprised no one when the youngest Bentley pursued engineering at Northeastern University, and got a totally reputable job in the field.
Still, that’s all it felt like to Bentley: a perfectly fine job. Not a mission. Not a calling.
A few years into his tenure, as the startup scene began taking off, Bentley felt a pull to get his MBA, at Temple. And good thing, too, because as a grad student, he started consulting for a Philly-based company called Murex Investments. Unlike any other place he’d worked, Murex is a community development venture fund, focused on job creation: The company invested in companies located in low- and moderate-income areas where employment was a critical issue.
“That was my first insight into, Oh, wow, there’s this sort of model of finance that also has this impact piece associated with it,” Bentley says.
That insight—in 2006, mind you, before “mission” was a buzzword, and B Corps were even on people’s radars—changed Bentley’s trajectory. Now, he’s the founder and Managing Director of De-Carceration Fund, which invests in businesses working to meaningfully dismantle the criminal justice system and its devastating impact on individuals, families, and communities. His team plans on raising $15 to $20 million to invest in 12 to 14 businesses, with institutional investors and high net worth individuals.
Bentley can now say—humbly, and only with enough nudging—that, yes, he’s proud of his work. That, yes, there are quicker ways to make a dollar, but that his job has meaning in a way he hadn’t found previously.
Because with De-Carceration Fund, Bentley’s goal is multifold: Not only is the intent of De-Carceration Fund to help his companies grow and be profitable, but it is also to create a return on investment whose impact is measured in lives, not dollars. This rethinking of the usual way of doing business—and the usual way of doing social activism—is what makes Bentley a natural fit for Generation Change Philly, The Citizen’s new series in partnership with Keepers of the Commons to highlight leaders in Philadelphia who are planting seeds now to impact the future of our city.
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