Impact Story: Clarence Wooten

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Clarence Wooten grew up in Walbrook Junction in inner city Baltimore, Maryland.

“Neighborhoods were very rough,” says Clarence, Director and Entrepreneur in Residence at X, Alphabet’s moonshot factory (formerly Google X). “There was no opportunity.”

In elementary school, Clarence was robbed at gunpoint for his sneakers. As a youth, he saw his friends hauled off to juvenile detention centers.

“As a young black male in that environment, I had two choices. I could be a predator or I could be prey,” Clarence says. “When living in hopeless, redlined environments that have been under-resourced for decades, young people resort to the under-economy where the rules are rooted in crime and violence.”

At age 12, his family was able to “escape” the inner city and move to a Baltimore suburb. Now in a middle-class neighborhood, attending school with children of professionals and business owners, a new world of possibilities opened up for Clarence. By age 16, he was a budding entrepreneur who was focused on getting an education and becoming financially successful.  

Clarence achieved those goals. He graduated magna cum laude from Johns Hopkins Carey Business School with a degree in business management. He founded and led two Internet startups, ImageCafe and Progressly, to successful acquisitions by publicly traded companies.  At X, Clarence directs teams to create new technologies to solve some of the world’s most challenging issues. He is also a general partner at Revitalize Venture Studio, which has a mission to change the complexion of tech by building software startups with black founders and diverse teams. Revitalize is also focused on empowering underrepresented and underestimated communities.  Though Clarence left Maryland in 2010 for Palo Alto, California, his start in Walbrook Junction never left him.

“It makes me want to transform places like that across the country,” Clarence says. “If we want to stop mass incarceration and some of the issues that are happening in this country, we have to fix some of the problems that go back to redlining and under-resourcing these communities.”

To help communities like the one he grew up in, Clarence founded Purpose for Profit (PFP). In this interview with Return on Good, Clarence talks about PFP and his desire to do the most good in the world through an innovative use of blockchain technology that enables people to simultaneously do good and do well.  

Return on Good: You’re doing something absolutely incredible with Purpose for Profit, which you describe as a foundation that’s spearheading the purpose economy. Explain how it works.  Clarence: Purpose for Profit is designed to work directly on key issues related to opportunity and social inequality. It is a tokenized endowment fund for environmental, social and governance impact. When you think about what an endowment fund is, most people think about a university’s endowment. You write a check to your university. It goes into the endowment fund and you get a tax deduction. The school uses the money over time, but your gift lasts forever. With Purpose for Profit, what we’ve done is build a blockchain version of that. But instead of writing a check, you contribute Etherium or USDC (a stablecoin cryptocurrency) that’s pegged to the dollar. You contribute that to the Purpose for Profit DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization) endowment fund. You can get a tax deduction or you can receive something of equal value. That would be a new token we’ve created called “Purpose.” You have the ability to nominate projects for funding that fall within certain environmental or social good verticals.  

Return on Good: What’s an example of something that Purpose can impact?  Clarence: Initially, we focused on affordable housing around what we call “prosper in place” communities because we’ve all seen what’s happening in terms of gentrification creating a huge level of homelessness and people having to move out in order to move up. We want to find ways to incentivize developers to create communities that let people do well in the place they live in now. We treat the endowment fund like an impact fund. The Purpose for Profit foundation makes lower-than-market-rate loans on projects that we feel are tied to this vision, and then the returns go back into the endowment fund to keep growing it. During Phase 2, the PFP endowment will expand to back environmental impact projects that require similar funding.  Return on Good: How can people get involved with Purpose for Profit?  Clarence: Go to Right now, it’s by invite only and you can get an invite by filling out one of the contributor forms, whether you’re an institutional investor or an accredited investor.  Return on Good: You could have done a lot of different things with your career. Why do you invest your energy in an economy for good?  Clarence: It really goes back to my career as an entrepreneur. I launched a successful tech company in the late ’90s that was sold and that was transformative for me financially. Someone had told me years ago that at the start of your life, you learn. The second third, you earn. And the last third, you return. So I’ve been following that model. In fact, I believe that you can learn, earn and return simultaneously.  Following George Floyd (an African-American man who was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020), I really wanted to do something in the impact space. Coming from a redline zip code in Baltimore to Manhattan Beach, California, following a decade-long stint in Silicon Valley, I’ve spent a lot of time on both coasts, seeing the homelessness problems. If I don’t do it with the perspective that I have and by leveraging the platform and access that I have inside of companies like Alphabet, etc., then who will? That’s what really drives me today and what was the primary driver behind the creation and launch of Purpose for Profit.

Ready to Do the Most Good?

If you’re a philanthropist with an inspiring story to tell (or know someone who is), contact Return on Good. We may select you for our I Am a Philanthropist initiative.