2017 Tillman Scholar

Harold Penson

University of Chicago

“I want to use the opportunity afforded to me to give better options to others through investing.”

Harold’s call to serve came two years after he graduated from Stanford University and started a finance career. At the time, the Global War on Terror was turning out to be an enduring effort. Harold grew uncomfortable knowing others risked their lives for his safety. Additionally, being a former collegiate wrestler, he wanted to be challenged mentally and physically. So in 2005, he enlisted in the U.S. Army to serve as a Green Beret medic and help eliminate America’s enemies while providing medical aid to injured soldiers.

As a Green Beret, Harold witnessed the difficult circumstances that caused some people to pick up arms. Once, he treated a former-Taliban member who was mortally wounded by the Taliban for joining a U.S.-backed security force. Prior to the war, this man farmed for a living. When conflict eroded the economics of farming, he joined the Taliban to feed his family and keep them safe. When U.S. forces gained ground, he quit the Taliban and joined the local security force. To Harold, this man was not truly evil; he merely had to make difficult decisions given a set of bad options.

Experiences such as this taught Harold that people in fragile states need real economic opportunities. As he pursues an MBA at the University of Chicago, his goal is to become a socially-impactful venture capitalist, bringing startup funding and managerial expertise to businesses in emerging markets and underserved communities that most investors avoid.