How Devon Gethers co-founded Meridian Ventures
The Founder Series is a column by and about Utah founders and how they got to where they are today. Click here to read past articles in the series.
Ibelieve that humans are a product of their actions rather than a product of their environment. I was born in Tacoma, Washington, otherwise known as “Tacompton.” Each day I stepped outside of my home was pure survival. During the 1990s and early 2000s, the crack epidemic was introduced to the community. The power of gangs became increasingly influential and crime rates were more than double the national average.
When my mother turned 13, she became a victim of this drug epidemic. She ran away from her home and lived underneath the Wapato Park slide. She met my biological father when she was 14 and had three children, including myself, all by the age of 18. Neither my mother nor my father graduated high school, and they separated shortly after I was born.
My mother worked tirelessly to meet our family’s basic needs and educate her children, but her meager salary often fell short. Shortly after the Great Recession of 2008, my mother lost two of her three jobs on the same day. She tearfully told me, “You are a man now, and your mother needs your help.”
At age 11, I began purchasing assorted chocolates from the local dollar store. I developed a sales pitch and walked miles knocking doors, pitching my script and selling candy at a profit. For months, these profits helped our family survive. In hindsight, these experiences fueled me with a desire to improve my circumstances, to act rather than to be acted upon and to develop the capacity to create meaningful and lasting positive results in my life and the lives of those I have opportunities to serve.
When I turned 13, my mother was no longer able to financially afford to care for all of her children, so she sent me to Utah to be raised by my grandparents. I lacked awareness of the possibilities of life and had no meaningful mentors to guide me. I had been the victim of vicious bullying at school and felt I did not fit in anywhere.
Starting a new life in Utah
Upon arriving in Utah, I decided to shift my focus from academics to basketball. No one in my family or circle of influence had ever graduated from high school, and at the time, I did not understand the importance of education. I just knew I was tired of being an outcast and a target for bullying. I had been a straight-A student, but I stopped caring about my studies and channeled all of my energy into athletics.
On May 3, 2014, I suffered a severe injury, and everything changed in the blink of an eye. My scholarships and future opportunities vanished. I was devastated. I graduated high school with a disappointing 2.9 GPA. I felt I had failed and realized I had severely limited my future opportunities.
Shortly after graduation, my grandmother was diagnosed with brain cancer and was no longer able to offer me a place to live. I found myself living out of my car at age 18 with full responsibility for my own life and care. I realized if I wanted a different life, it was up to me to create it. Although I felt a deep desire to better my life, improve my circumstances and maximize my potential as a human being, I had no firm understanding of where to begin.
During this time, I met the woman of my dreams who is now my beautiful wife, Lauren Gethers. As our relationship progressed, she expressed to me that she was unwilling to fully invest in “us” because she was committed to marrying a partner who prioritized higher education. This was a pivotal moment in my life where I realized I could be more than who I was then.
Motivated to maintain a serious relationship with Lauren, I enrolled at Utah Valley University, an open-enrollment institution that afforded me a second chance at life. At first, feelings of insecurity began to emerge. I was unsure if I had the capability to compete academically, but when I learned that my father-in-law, Dallin Anderson, had grown up in similar disadvantaged conditions and risen above them, I was deeply inspired.
The mentorship that changed my life
I began to listen, observe and accept mentoring from Dallin. He was the first positive role model in my life. His mentorship taught me how to envision the possibilities of the future and how to channel and focus my energy toward the creation of my dreams. I listened as he explained how to lead effectively, to choose to be leaders in whatever they chose to do and to serve society. Dallin credits his Harvard Business School experience as not only transformational but the greatest leadership laboratory in the world.
I set my sights high and focused on those guiding principles. Upon enrolling in college, I knew I was at a disadvantage and was well behind my peers in my level of preparation. I began by taking entry-level classes and feeling intense self-doubt and frustration that I was lagging behind my classmates.
It was humbling, but I decided I would not allow my high school failures to define my future. I developed a thirst and curiosity for learning and fully committed myself to accomplishing my dreams. I sought additional mentorship and leadership opportunities, and I built long-lasting relationships with students, professors and administrators at the university.
In addition to a full course load in college, I had to work full-time to support myself and my family. I was enjoying a successful career at Young Living Essential Oils, a billion-dollar multinational consumer product company, and was developing myself as a leader in the United States. I used my talents and effort to help Young Living’s customer service department deliver a world-class experience to its clients.
Given this success, I was asked to lead a turnaround project in Southeast Asia as a regional operations manager, where I was responsible for the direct performance of 150 employees and their direct supervisors.
By the time I turned 20 years old, I was making over six figures and determining if I was going to continue to prioritize my professional career over my academic studies. A key mentor of mine at Young Living told me that if I wanted to continue to climb the corporate ladder and be a force of nature in corporate America, I needed to improve my business acumen.
Fond of his advice, I moved back to the States in 2017, transferred to the University of Utah, and majored in finance. In 2020, I graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in finance and behavioral science.
Inspired to continue to grow my network and acquire a tier-one education, I decided to apply to Harvard Business School via the deferred admission program, a program that would allow a college senior to be admitted and gain 2-4 years of professional work experience before matriculating to the full-time program. I was fortunate to be admitted.
Through my business school application process, I experienced three primary challenges:
- The majority of legacy admission consultants did not offer deferred MBA services.
- Admission consultants were charging rates north of $250 per hour, which were unaffordable to low-income students.
- There was a lack of diversity in admission consultants.
After understanding the importance of serving those who are disadvantaged, I launched an EdTech startup to address these challenges. In 2020, I founded EarlyAdmit with a mission to provide affordable and highly effective strategies to support prospective, nontraditional applicants through the most prestigious graduate-level deferred MBA application processes and professional recruiting processes.
"My advice to other entrepreneurs is to believe wholeheartedly in yourself, identify capable business partners who are aligned with your vision—because you can achieve more with other people than you can alone—and when you think you are working hard, work even harder. In the United States of America, a successful entrepreneur doesn’t have to be the smartest person, the most well-networked person or the person who has inherited wealth. Successful entrepreneurs are the ones who persist when hearing the word “no” and drive forward to make their dream become a reality."
I recruited a team of diverse admission consultants who had secured admission to top-tier MBA programs, including Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT and more. Since its inception, EarlyAdmit has scaled its operations and maintained its position as the value leader in the industry, employing more than 75 consultants, onboarding 75 campus ambassadors across the globe and helping over 300 diverse college seniors gain admission to tier-one deferred MBA programs. In 2023, EarlyAdmit was acquired by TEQUIRE, a private-equity firm specializing in acquiring cutting-edge e-commerce, content and online marketplace businesses.
Having successfully founded, scaled and exited a hyper-growth technology startup and acquiring several years of finance industry experience at firms such as Goldman Sachs, Capital Group and Mercato Partners, I was uniquely equipped with insights, disproportionate access to deal flow, a network and a skill set to empower high-quality entrepreneurs to reach their undiscovered heights and generate outsized returns.
After operating in the private equity industry for several years, I knew what it was like to often feel different. The majority of the investment world did not look like me or speak like me, resulting in conformity and downstream effects on capital deployment, culture and the face of entrepreneurship.
I realized that in order to enact change, I needed to make the entrepreneurial leap of faith. I was not going to wait until I was 50 years old to “prove” that I was capable of building and scaling a long-term institutionalized investment platform focused on investing in the world’s most talented entrepreneurs.
I had already demonstrated early evidence that I could build a successful firm and a powerful network of over 10 thousand LinkedIn founders and tier-one investors. I was closer to the solution and to the median age of unicorn-generating entrepreneurs now.
Launching Meridian Ventures
While venture capital experienced an explosion of capital entering the capitalization table for emerging managers and companies in 2021 and 2022, it was self-evident this type of behavior would not sustain itself and would soon discontinue.
Consequently, I launched Meridian Ventures (formerly known as SectionX Capital) in 2023, Utah’s first native Black-owned seed-stage venture fund with Karlton Haney, a Harvard Business School classmate whom I had known for three years, focused on backing audacious entrepreneurs in the technology sector.
We marketed the fund in the most challenging fundraising market in history. However, Karlton and I hypothesized that entrepreneurial talent would become abundant in an economic downturn, yielding layoffs at big tech firms. Valuations would precipitously compress, founder psychology would shift to a cost-efficient and ROI mentality, and competition in enterprise software would decrease.
Our core belief was that now was the time to invest in venture capital when others were licking their wounds. We believe early-stage venture is where the gross dollar profits are made, and if you overlay that with rising interest rates and regress that 40-60 years across every economic downturn, you will find top decile VC fund performance. Therefore, Karlton and I were determined to pave a life of impact. We worked even harder. We sent over 100,000 fundraising messages, we were told “no” over 1,000 times. We conducted hundreds of meetings with investors and didn’t take “no” for an answer.
As a Black emerging manager, I believe that we need more diversity in key capital allocator seats to drive change into underserved communities. Of the 19 startups that Meridian has funded so far, 40 percent are led by Black, Latino or female founders and 42 percent are located in an underserved geography.
Raising the capital
We successfully raised a $2.5M proof-of-concept vehicle that we closed in June 2023 before setting out to raise a formalized Fund I in 2024. Our LP base is comprised of HBS Alumni, founders, high-profile executives and previous senior investors from our previous funds (Mercato Partners and The Stephens Group). We have also co-invested alongside some of the world’s most renowned investment firms, such as Sequoia, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Kleiner Perkins, Bessemer Venture Partners, Accel, Initialized, Y Combinator and others. These investments are a demonstration of our ability to find, fund and support the most talented entrepreneurs.
The obstacles in my path have been numerous, and the odds have been against me. Friends and family have scoffed at my ambition and told me my dreams were impossible. But I believe in myself, and I will not accept the limitations of the life I was born into. Rather, I am creating a new legacy and upward trajectory for myself and my family. Above all, I am inspired by the opportunity to break through and transcend the multi-generational negative patterns of my ancestry and make a meaningful difference in the lives of those with whom I interact.
My advice to other entrepreneurs is to believe wholeheartedly in yourself, identify capable business partners who are aligned with your vision—because you can achieve more with other people than you can alone—and when you think you are working hard, work even harder. In the United States of America, a successful entrepreneur doesn’t have to be the smartest person, the most well-networked person or the person who has inherited wealth. Successful entrepreneurs are the ones who persist when hearing the word “no” and drive forward to make their dream become a reality.