VP of Strategic Initiatives

Deven Comen

Our Beam, formerly Edquity, Team Spotlights highlight our team members and the work they do to improve the lives of our partners' communities. In this spotlight, meet Deven Comen, our VP of Strategic Initiatives.
"With Beam, this work is personal, emotional, and worth it."
Deven Comen

What’s your role at the company? Describe what you do, and give us a little insight into a typical day for your position.

As a VP of Strategic Initiatives, I do a little bit of everything. I operate as a chief of staff to the CEO, a marketing and brand czar, and spend the bulk of my time growing our vertical in the state/local government space, helping to power cash assistance programs and support governments in administering benefits such as emergency rental assistance. A typical day might involve planning my daily morning stand-up with our CEO, leading a strategic weekly prioritization call with our leadership team, interviewing a candidate for our business development team, reviewing our social and marketing copy for the week, and building a pitch deck for a prospective Mayor interested in our utility assistance product...and that might be before 1 PM! There is truly never a dull moment, and there is always more to do in a growth-stage company.

Thinking about our mission, values, and overall product, what made you say “yes” to working at Beam, formerly Edquity? What about us resonated with you?

While serving as a political appointee in the Biden-Harris Administration, I attended several briefings with the White House and the U.S. Department of Education where Beam presented insightful data on the basic needs of students benefiting from the American Rescue Plan in the wake of the pandemic. What wowed me then, and continues to impress me now, is that Beam has built cash administration products that center equity. The platform reduces racial bias, inefficiency, compliance risks, and lack of transparency and monitoring to quickly deliver funds to those with the greatest need. I wanted to feel the tangible impact of delivering cash to people in their vulnerable moments, especially in the wake of COVID, inflation, and growing wealth gaps. Beam has built an extraordinary set of tools, and because of our ability to scale up and launch programs quickly, we are doing the work every single day.

Let’s talk about the people. How would you describe the culture at Beam? What’s it like working with your team?

Beam has a lot of intentional, thoughtful people at all levels of the organization. While other similarly sized organizations may emphasize other aspects of a business, Beam is people-centered. Feedback is practiced as a collective, and we’re building inclusive management practices into the organization's DNA. Wellness matters and you see it reflected in our generous benefits package. Growth pathways exist, and transparency is reflected at every performance checkpoint. There is also a culture of excellence and high-quality outputs, partially because what we do impacts the lives of everyday Americans. Many of us, myself included, are Pell grant recipients and first-generation college graduates. We are constructing the social safety net we wish our families and communities could access and benefit from. With Beam, this work is personal, emotional, and worth it.

How have you grown professionally since working here?

In the several months since I joined Beam, I've learned so much about asynchronous work across completely remote teams. Since my background includes working in a large company, a national nonprofit, and the federal government, I was unfamiliar with many tech tools that help teams map dependencies and keep everyone abreast of progress without the need for extraneous meetings. I'm also totally new to using a MacBook and the google suite; to be honest, sometimes I miss Outlook and Excel!

On a more serious note, I have grown my understanding of using technology, built with and for end-users, in reimagining the social safety net. I was serving in the Biden-Harris Administration when the Executive Order on Customer Experience was announced, and to now be on the front lines, building trust in government and getting support to people quickly and equitably has been immensely rewarding. From a content perspective, I'm now immersed in the universe of cash assistance programs, learning the common pitfalls of administering benefit programs and how our product can ease administrative burdens for applicants and case managers alike. As a lifelong educator who started in the classroom, I KNOW the impact of wraparound services like rental assistance, child care subsidies, food assistance, etc., on a student's ability to learn and succeed in school. But now, I get to FEEL the impact every time I look at the volume of dollars we have moved through to hundreds of thousands of families.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone looking to make a career doing impact-driven work in tech?

If you want to work in social impact tech or civic tech, prior experiences outside of the industry can be an asset, even if you are a non-technical hire. I was worried about the learning curve I'd face in making this leap to a tech start-up. However, I've come to learn that my past experiences outside tech are valuable because my superpowers in partnership activation, strategy, and communications support our organization's needs. For example, I care about accessible language that our clients and end-users can understand – from higher education administrators to elected officials. Likewise, my experiences with change management and starting new programs within complex bureaucracies have helped me build robust systems, define key milestones, and bring prioritization and discipline to the "controlled chaos" of a start-up.

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