On Monday political and academic organizations all over the U.S. will celebrate Christopher Columbus by basking in the glory of a day off.
While some recall Christopher Columbus as the person who discovered the fertile lands of North America, I think of him as one of the country’s first entrepreneurs who tickled a queen’s treasury and forever changed the western world.
Recall from your childhood memories a man who lived during a time when Spain was expanding its empire, conquering lands far and wide. It was the late 1400s; society was primitive. The favored modes of global travel were ships and the backs of animals. Armies pillaged foreign lands under the flag of religion. Men routinely traded women to forge alliances between nations and birth heirs. And although that was true for Queen Isabella of Castile, she refused to be relegated into irrelevance.
Enter Christopher Columbus, stage left.
Columbus was a serial entrepreneur who risked lives, limbs, and lovers for the sake of adventure. He aspired to lead men to pure places and build empires in which they could become captains of industry. His new dream was to blaze a trail through uncharted waters, establish new trade routes between countries, and make money—lots and lots of money. He just needed a little bit of capital to kick-start the voyage.
Like so many young techies on Sand Hill Road, he toured the area, pitching his idea and getting rejected. The Portuguese turned him down, as did many others. So he turned to their competitor, the Castilians, and offered them a way to optimize their commercial operations.
Enter Queen Isabella, stage right.
Queen Isabella and her husband Ferdinand were known for providing Series A funding to promising teams of starry-eyed entrepreneurs. She was known as a woman whose beauty made men tremble, a woman who invested in scholars. She also had a competitive streak.
Columbus charmed her with his vision for disrupting the status quo and dazzled her with the promise of a massive return on her investment. Perhaps she thought to herself: “Past winner. Good team. He’s just crazy enough to make this work.” Perhaps she just wanted to dominate the globe and colonize the lands with people who believed in her deity and paid tribute to her.
Either way, her investment in this man helped reveal the great nation in which we live. While the kids sing about Columbus sailing the ocean blue in 1492, let us take a moment of our day off to commemorate Queen Isabella of Castile, the venture capitalist who enabled him to follow his goose bumps.
While it is challenging to truly understand the intent of woman who lived in a time ravaged by the ambitions of men, for most history books were also written by men, I applaud her courage to do more than what society expected her to do. To the women who fuel the voyages of explorers, scholars, and adventurers, I tip my hat.
May more women invest in ideas that change our understanding of the world; and may they be credited for doing so.