As part of our Venture Capital Series (check out post #1 here!), Wharton Women interviewed two Wharton graduates who dared to follow a different career path and are now at the top of the game in the venture capital industry.
Ramya is an investor at Advantage Capital, where she deploys seed through growth-stage equity capital toward high-growth, US-based businesses that significantly impact on their communities.
- WW: You have extensive background in venture capital, specifically in the media, information and telecommunications industries. Why did you decide to switch to impact investing and how is it different from your previous experiences?
Ramya: I spent a long time in traditional middle-market private equity, but when I went back to school to get my MBA at Wharton, I wanted to learn about early-stage companies, not necessarily focused on impact. Advantage Capital had done an investment together with the fund where I previously worked, so I applied and eventually started working there. Advantage is not specifically focused on social ventures, but on areas that are underserved and typically don’t get access to venture capital. The opportunity is unique because I get to travel and visit the communities themselves. For example, I was recently in Nebraska and Arkansas, and I’ve conducted extensive due-diligence in the Southeast and Midwest—which ultimately translates into further economic growth for the country.
- WW: How do you see technology affecting the companies you invest in?
Ramya: Companies fall into two buckets: early-stage (ones that typically apply more advanced technology, like Internet Of Things and Artificial Intelligence), and companies that are already established and are looking to scale (ones that can be made more efficient through technology—for example, construction and shipping). I believe there’s opportunity to be found in both.
- WW: What has your favorite investment been so far?
Ramya: A “Gov-Tech” company in Nebraska called Beehive. It manages infrastructure for local governments using sophisticated software. For instance, a municipality can use Beehive to keep track of its maintenance schedule. I see huge potential in it because of the essential role that the government plays in the economy.
Sarah is an Investment Associate at City Light Capital, where she focuses on early-stage investments in education, energy, environment, and safety and security.
- WW: Could you tell us a little bit more about your background and your path to City Light Capital?
Sarah: I was a Spanish and International Relations major as an undergrad. After graduation, I worked in stock market research in NYC. Simultaneously, I was teaching English and doing a lot of community service. Two years out of undergrad, I decided I wanted to use my knowledge of market movements to create market-based solutions to assess social issues. Eventually, this led me to explore more of the impact investing world. I read biographies of people who were in the industry and soon realized I needed technical skills beyond broker finance. Through the Lauder program at Penn (basically the graduate equivalent of the Huntsman program), I learned these skills. I interned in Mexico and did partial work for a fund, which got me the nickname of “The Impact Investing Person at Wharton”. I leveraged a lot of my schoolwork to network: through my thesis in “VC Management for Emerging Markets,” I met several people with whom I still maintain contact. After graduation, I joined a non-profit in San Francisco that eventually led me to City Light Capital.
- WW: How has your concentration in Latin America at the Lauder program, as well as your experience in Mexico, shaped the way you look at investments?
Sarah: Although City Light doesn’t invest outside of the United States, I have noticed that in Latin America there is a lower bar for educational technology and fin-tech. In Latin America, the question isn’t “how do we get people in blockchain?”, but rather “how do we get people to open bank accounts?”. One exception to this is perhaps environmental technology. In countries like Mexico there is no unifying electric grid, which allows for all solutions to be put to work immediately. Right now, even though I invest nationally, I am trying to find a way to mentor international entrepreneurs.
- WW: What has your favorite investment been so far?
Sarah: SVAcademy—a company dedicated to training minorities and underrepresented groups to become business executives in the tech sector, by getting students into well-paying jobs.
Overall, both Sarah and Ramya gave us valuable advice for Penn undergraduates who might want to go into tech/Venture Capital:
- Get investment exposure early on by interning as much as possible while you are in school. Put yourself out there for free or heavily discounted work. VCs want people who work in their portfolio companies, and tech firms/startups themselves always appreciate an extra hand. It can be an amazing experience and will help you determine whether you enjoy the industry.
- Don’t get sucked into the investment banking recruiting cycle. Nobody wants to talk about not having a job—but the majority of us don’t when we graduate.
Written by Lydia Chen (W’ 19), Eugenia Carmona Aristeguiet (W’ 20), and Margaux Carré (W’ 21).