Suzanne Mckechnie Klahr

CEO and Founder of BUILD


Suzanne was born in London, England and raised in New York City. Her mother, a public high school teacher in Harlem, helped expose Suzanne to the value of education. Her parents divorced and remarried when Suzanne was young, and both sets of parents instilled in her the value of the competitive drive with a compassionate spirit, an equally entrepreneurial and service-oriented mindset.

As an undergraduate at Brown University, Suzanne spent a summer interning at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. While earning her JD at Stanford Law School, Suzanne completed her clinical work at the East Palo Alto Community Law Project.

Suzanne’s experience in East Palo Alto sparked her big idea. The residents of East Palo Alto, then dubbed the ‘murder capital of the US,” were looking for resources to launch their own businesses. Just down the street, Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs and investors were navigating the bubble and burst. Suzanne saw that both communities sought to employ the same skill set to build a better future: the entrepreneurial skill set.

When Suzanne graduated from Stanford, she had an offer from Skadden Arps and was awarded the prestigious Skadden Fellowship to pursue public interest law. With the Fellowship, she started an organization to help low income adult entrepreneurs gain access to capital and networks to start businesses. It was not until four high school students came into Suzanne’s office, looking for capital to start their own business, did Suzanne find the right market for her program.

Suzanne hypothesized that more than just these four students wanted to be successful in business, and that most of these students did not see a high school or college education as the most efficient or relevant means of doing so. She struck a deal with these four students: if they stayed in school and improved their grades, she would help them get their business off the ground. Both parties kept their word, demand for Suzanne’s help grew, and BUILD was born.

Suzanne has earned numerous awards and recognition for her unique work bringing an invaluable skill set to a disadvantaged population, including: Ashoka Fellowship (2006), CBS’s Jefferson Award (2007), San Mateo County’s Women’s Hall of Fame (2008), San Jose Business Times’ Silicon Valley’s Most Influential Women (2008), the Manhattan Institute’s Social Entrepreneurship Award (2012), the Forty Over 40 Award (2015) and the Elfenworks In Harmony with Hope award (2016). Suzanne was also inducted in to the Young President’s Organization in 2014 and serves as a Trustee of the Skadden Fellowship Foundation and on the Advisory Board of One Degree, Daylight Justice, Open Road Learning and Until There is A Cure.

In addition to her role as CEO and Founder of BUILD, Suzanne has served as a Lecturer of Law at Stanford Law School where she pioneered the first ever Law School course on “Social Entrepreneurship” in the United States. She currently teaches Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship at Harvard Law School during winter quarter and frequently lectures at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Suzanne is married to a fellow entrepreneur. Together, they have two children (seven and 12 years old) who may have even more entrepreneurial energy than their parents.