Image courtesy of The Jopwell Collection
If you don’t have connections, it can be extremely difficult to break into the world of venture capital. Traditional VC firms rarely advertise openings and, frankly, there are few available opportunities, so roles generally go to experienced, well-connected candidates, like former top investment banking analysts, premier consulting analysts, and those who’ve already launched successful tech companies.
So, where does that leave us?
If you, like me, are a college student without connections to the industry, those entry-level positions aren't easy to come by. But that doesn't mean they are impossible to land, either.
I spent the summer interning at Intel Capital, the venture arm of Intel Corporation. I love the work I’m doing, and I am eager to share my newfound understanding of the industry — including how you, too, can get your foot in the door.
Internships are an imperative part of the undergraduate experience. During my time at Morgan State University, I’ve interned at JPMorgan Chase, Verizon, and NASA. I’m confident that this background — in particular exposure to investment banking and technology-focused institutions small and large — impressed Intel Capital. Each experience has taught me new skills, helped me build connections, and given me insight into myself and my professional journey.
I recently gave my final presentation at Intel Capital, and I used my previous internship experiences to prepare. In addition, having held software engineering roles gave me an advantage when evaluating potential investments, since I could rely on firsthand experience when assessing technological claims.
My first project at Intel Capital was software-focused — it involved consolidating information about our portfolio company’s employees so as to minimize research time for our associates and investment managers. However, after I completed the project early, I asked to work on the due diligence, market research, and deal sourcing side of the firm. I am so glad I did, because it gave me an opportunity to use and improve both my technical background and soft skills. Both are crucial to gain an entrepreneur’s confidence and trust when sourcing deals.
Even if you’re not in a typical VC role, you can (and should) express your curiosity. Once you’ve proven yourself at your internship or entry-level job, ask for responsibilities in unfamiliar terrain.
I spent my first two summers at Morgan State interning in India and Brazil. These countries are expected to grow in influence and economic development over the next few decades, so I thought it was important to gain exposure to those markets. Through a combination of grant and internship opportunities from the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and my university, I was able to learn Hindi-Urdu while conducting economic and technology research in Jaipur, India. Then, this past winter, Ampyou, a startup based in Uberlandia, Brazil, brought me into help build new features for its artist-sourcing platform.
I believe all students should seek internships abroad. In addition to enabling me to learn multiple languages, mine gave me a new perspective and cultural understanding. They also expanded my network internationally, which I suspect will pay dividends down the road.
Before coming to Intel Capital, I had no exposure to venture capital from an employment standpoint. So, in order to break in, I had to teach myself a lot of new information. I studied financial modeling and read relevant content (from CBInsights and venture capital Medium blogs to TechCrunch). This gave me a better understanding of the field and prepared me for my work.
In this industry, you need to be proactive. Keep your eye on the news. When a firm raises money, recruitment opportunities follow. Then, once you’ve identified an opportunity, don’t be afraid to reach out. Go to job fairs, contact employees through LinkedIn, and leverage your network to ask for a warm introduction to the recruiter and/or hiring manager for a company’s venture team. When Intel was recruiting at my school, I marched in and handed my resume to the person who turned out to be my hiring manager. Take a deep breath, muster up your confidence, and make a move.
You can also gain exposure to the VC industry by working in a technical or sales role at a startup. This will allow you to build a strong network within the startup community and witness the challenges of a company that is rapidly attempting to scale, essentially gathering knowledge that will benefit you as a venture capitalist working with a portfolio company.
New to the game? Don’t be afraid to cold call local startups to see if they’re looking for help. I once cold-called a company and offered my assistance with developing a diverse engineering talent pipeline in exchange for free use of the startup’s services. Do your research, see where the gaps are, and think about where you can make an impact.
The technology sector as a whole isn’t particularly diverse. It’s a relationship-driven field, so there is a vicious cycle. We, as minorities, aren’t forming relationships, so we aren’t exposed to the field, so we aren’t forming relationships… and so on. But, even though it may seem like the deck is stacked against us, know that there are real efforts to embrace diversity.
Intel has made it a goal to change the ecosystem internally, at the portfolio companies it owns, and through the investments it makes. (The company recently created the Diversity Fund, which holds $125 million for diverse entrepreneurs.) Plus, my intern team at Intel Capital is majority African American, a new experience for me. As you apply to internships, seek out companies that champion representation and make it a priority. A place that understands the importance of diversity is willing to make the necessary culture push that will enable you thrive at work.
Image courtesy of The Jopwell Collection