Shoe Tones.” Credit: garlandcannon

January 23, 2018; Bangor Daily News

Yesterday, NPQ covered the story of Venture Hall, a nonprofit in Portland, Maine, that closed suddenly just days after the award of a large and prestigious grant from the Kauffman Foundation. (NPQ was contacted by a spokesperson from Kauffman to report that the issuance of the grant had been cancelled.) Venture Hall was not only a startup itself, but its mission was to aid other startups through training and support. On the surface, it looked like the classic “doctor, heal thyself” conundrum, and perhaps there is still some element of that at play. But, later in the day, it emerged through press reports that one of the two co-founders, Jess Knox, who resigned, sparking the shutdown, had acknowledged his inappropriate behavior toward at least two female colleagues.

This is not the first nonprofit shoe to drop amid the recent widespread outing of sexual abuse and harassment in fields including politics, film, and athletics. Yesterday, NPQ discussed the horrifically destructive, enabling environment that gymnasts reported had been established by two high profile nonprofits in the USAG and USOC. NPQ expects that over the next few months, we will see much more “outing” of these dynamics in our own sector.

As for Knox, he addressed and confirmed his wrongdoing in an email to the Bangor Daily News.

Two women that I am aware of have stepped forward and accused me of inappropriate behavior. They are correct. I put them both in uncomfortable situations that I deeply regret.

About a year ago, I exchanged inappropriate text messages with a colleague at Venture Hall and was reprimanded at the time. On another occasion, I also made a colleague uncomfortable during a business trip. None of this should have happened, and none of this type of behavior should ever happen.

“My behavior has hurt friends, co-workers, and my family,” Knox writes, “and I’m deeply sorry.”

Stephanie Brock, who originally complained to the Venture Hall board and got a response she described as “swift,” is the general manager of Red Thread, a Portland company that helps create office space. She told the Bangor Daily News that Knox’s behavior was not confined to single uncharacteristic incidents. “I’ve been in corporate America more than 20 years and stuff like this happens repeatedly, from off-hand comments to solicitation. You become numb to it,” she said. “What prompted me to step out [this time] is I heard it was happening to other women.”

On Facebook, Brock wrote, “The fact remains that I am one of several women that have had to maneuver and manage our way through our relationship with Jess because of the position he’s taken in Maine’s small business ecosystem. This pattern of behavior needed to be addressed regardless of the reasons, flaws or even successes. This is simply not tolerable, not acceptable and can’t be what we envision for the leadership of our community.”—Ruth McCambridge