Investing in the Future: My Experiences with Venture Capital

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was a sophomore, and I had joined Cornell Venture Capital. I always wanted to be involved in a more real-world facing organization where I could be with cool people from diverse backgrounds. When I joined, I got that and much more. I got exposed to the world of entrepreneurship, venture capital, and start-ups. Until then, I had thought of entrepreneurship as something that was only meant for the 25-something zealous, creative individual who left her stable job to pursue a crazy but fantastic idea. I got introduced to venture capital and the growth and love that startups need, and I knew at that moment it was something I deeply cared about and could see myself doing. I continued on as a Project Manager for CVC, interned at a VC in California, and competed (recently) at a VC Competition for undergraduates.

At Cornell Venture Capital, we learn cool things about startups in different industries and help some of the leading venture capital firms. I started out by learning about the startup space in Southeast Asia and helped a VC set up a fund (how cool is that?), and this semester I am working on looking at the consumer-driven startup space around the world. In between, I have learned about cyber security, health and fitness, geospatial data, bitcoins, and other industries I would have never come across otherwise. I have been able to expand my horizons well beyond what I would have done in the classroom, and work with people from such diverse backgrounds that my viewpoint is always challenged and I learn a little more about myself with each subsequent project. My favorite part is getting on the phone with the VCs and hearing their thoughts about the industry in question. It is an experience like no other – I learn more in 30 minutes than I do in an entire semester. It’s rewarding to know that work I did has a direct impact on multi-billion dollar venture capitals. I loved the process so much, I decided to find an internship within the space. I found one in California and spent the summer after my sophomore year there.

At this VC, I was one of ten interns working with a team of six venture capitalists to find exciting, high-growth businesses and learning what makes the ideal company to invest in.  My daily routine included a team meeting with my mentor. He had vast amounts of knowledge about every imaginable industry and was always willing to help out in any manner. The team bounced ideas off each other, discussed daily trends in industries of interest, and provided feedback on existing conversations with entrepreneurs. I got to speak with entrepreneurs from around the world and learn about their hard work and passions.

 

A view from my office

At first, I thought this would be a tedious job, but I slowly learned that the people behind a company drove its success. Venture capital, despite being in the finance realm of things, is a lot about building relationships and continuing to construct a rapport with the entrepreneur. At the end of the day, it isn’t about just looking to invest money; it also means investing in the future of a company through advice and a wide network. With each conversation, I learned more and found a passion in the voice of each person I was speaking to; it truly opened my eyes to how tough entrepreneurship is as a job and how much diligence and dedication entrepreneurs required to be where they were. I really liked that aspect of venture capital, which is why I joined E@D – to be able to continue my conversations with entrepreneurs and bring their stories to the rest of the world.

 

More recently, I participated in VCIC: a competition meant to introduce college and MBA level students to being venture capitalists for a day. My team and I traveled to Boston and pretended to be VCs, looking to invest in one of three startups provided to us by the organizers. It was a fast-paced environment where we did due diligence by talking to entrepreneurs and conducting research on the industry the startups were in.

My team following the competition

For many of us, it was a completely new experience – to be judging the hard work of these entrepreneurs as undergraduate students with limited experience felt extremely unnerving.  The competition lasted for 7 hours, but felt more like 2 with the speed we were moving at. We placed 2nd and get to compete in the global finals in a month, but we recognize that we have an extremely steep learning curve ahead of us. We lack the financial expertise that VCs possess and definitely don’t grasp the concept of responsibility VCs carry on their shoulders.

With all my experiences, one of the greatest lessons I learned was how much I love stories. I love to hear what makes people’s eyes sparkle, I like to provide my own resources to build things, and I enjoy being around resilient individuals. My journey with venture capital has only begun, and I hope to be able to bring my unique perspective and skills to the industry one day.

For now, I recognize that it takes experience to be in a position where you can judge someone else’s years of hard work. I want to be able to foray into a role where I would be able to learn quickly and learn a lot from people who have a lot to teach me in surroundings that constantly challenge me. I wish I was able to say the exact moment I knew what I wanted, but much like the process of falling in love, I learned with gradual steps that this was my calling. Hopefully this time I’ll have a better sense of what I’m getting myself into.