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Home  > Article

Rising Stars: Socially Responsible Venture Capital

By Lucas Laursen

Realizing that her first job at the Fed wasn't right for her, Maura now works for a socially responsible venture capital fund, evaluating what companies her fund should invest in.

 
Name: Maura McCarthy
School: Georgetown
Major: Economics
Years Out of College: 2-5
Title: Associate
Company: Ironwood Equity Fund
 
First Steps

When Maura was in college she planned to do a Ph.D. in economics or maybe go to law school. As she puts it, "About 20 percent of Georgetown graduates get law degrees. There's a lot of interest in law. But I got really interested in economics and decided to go to the two-year Federal Reserve research analyst program, instead." There, Maura began working on interest-rate forecasting.

But she found that the researchers she worked with there weren't necessarily the best managers. "The Fed doesn't have the background for the training programs that a business might."

From Then to Now

At the end of the two year program, Maura realized she "didn't just want to be a cog in the interest rate forecasting process. The work that I did didn't have a visible impact on anything. I wanted a little more social impact."

So she began working with the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, a non-profit research company in Boston, the brainchild of a Harvard Business School professor. The company does research on industry success stories in the inner city. While Maura was there, she realized she might want to get involved in a socially responsible venture capital fund and began networking.

"I sort of approached it opportunistically. I was networking to get with a fund, but at the same time applying to business school. I think it's good to be opportunistic."

Challenges Faced

At first, Maura was caught a little off guard by the lack of college-style exams and feedback in the venture capital world. "You're not being evaluated all the time, and a lot of times people don't give you feedback until review. By then it's too late, for you and for them. I think it's really important to ask for feedback. Venture capital is like an apprenticeship. There are so many soft skills."

She also learned about the dangers of getting too wrapped up in the first company you research: "It's also easy to look at one company and say, 'Oh this company is fantastic!' One of my co-workers has a saying, 'Don't fall in love with companies.' A young person like I was has to learn to be restrained. It's easy to fall for one company and then discover that seven other companies are doing the same thing. Do your homework, see what the other companies are doing."

My Experience

"Monday mornings are almost always partner calls. The partnership gets together and discusses portfolio companies. Some days you go travel to visit companies. Other days you do financial analysis of those companies you've been visiting."

In Maura's current position, as an associate, her goal is to research new deals. "So I should be on the phone a lot, visiting companies, and attending conferences."

The independence her job allows her is one of the perks: "I find I really like that I am allowed leeway in choosing what companies I'm researching. We probably research over a hundred companies and fund a few new ones each year. Recently I've been investigating a lot of clean energy production companies. It gives me a chance to follow my interests."

Next Steps

Maura points out that there are limited opportunities to move up vertically. "In some companies you can move vertically, but it's rare." Instead, many people move laterally or go to some kind of graduate school. "I think business school makes you well-rounded and you approach management challenges more creatively."

She also places a lot of importance on industry experience. "The top funds have people who know how to manage people because they ran some huge company, or they worked their way up. Founding companies is definitely the way to go!"

Did I Ever Think I'd End Up Here?

Maura says: "I don't think I even knew what venture capital was in college! But I knew I wanted to be doing something I liked a lot. And I like it a lot. If you love learning, venture capital is the place to be. You're always learning about new industries. You do something different every day. I don't see why anyone wouldn't want to do it!"

Advice for Others

"Well, first something that's not specific to venture capital: almost all jobs come from relationships we have. [Before moving from ICIC to Ironwood] I talked to people I knew at The Kraft Group, at Goldman Sachs, and other socially-involved VC funds. But one of the ICIC board members got involved at Ironwood, and I was able to follow. Ultimately, informed networking helps."

"As for getting into venture capital: I'd recommend majoring in biological or computer sciences. Something where you get a BS really helps. In venture capital, you do need to have some quantitative background."







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