When I started my internship at Hyde Park Venture Partners at the beginning of the summer, I didn’t know what to expect. As a finance major at UIC and someone who hopes to go into private equity, I was really just hoping to get some real-world experience in the world of finance. I didn’t know too much about venture capital or private equity besides what I was told in a classroom.
I can honestly say that in my three months here, I learned a lot. Venture capital is a world of its own and one that I know I’d have to be a part of for years before really understanding everything (if you ever really can) but I am still confident that I’ve learned a lot — about venture capital, about careers, and about myself.
Here are some of my biggest takeaways:
1.VC is more of an art than a science
In my finance classes, we look at companies as if they’re simple machines. Ones where we can get a piece of paper full of numbers and metrics and from there know exactly how much a company should be valued at, if they’re going to be successful, and what a good or bad investment would look like. With this perspective in mind, I expected my internship to be very similar — I imagined myself spending most of my time on excel going through financial models and basing decisions solely on financial performance.
In my time here, I’ve come to realize how inaccurate that is. Yes, we take a deep dive into the numbers, but we also take a deep dive into the people and the team — and much more heavily than I thought. A company can show great numbers, but if the people don’t do a good job at backing them up, if they have a weird attitude or work ethic, or don’t have the right team, then we’ll weigh that just as heavily or more than the metrics.
2. I can stop freaking out about making the exact right career choices at the exact right time
Next week, I’m starting my senior year at UIC. Like most college seniors, I’m in the midst of making what, to me, seem like the biggest decisions of my life.
Should I apply to only one type of job? What are the job options for finance majors? Will I be ruining my future and limiting myself if I choose the wrong one?
After this internship, I feel like I can take a deep breath and relax. I’ve spent a lot of time here talking to different entrepreneurs and investors and through those conversations, realized that some of the people that have the success I want didn’t necessarily take a straight path to get there. I’ve met people in private equity who didn’t take the traditional investment banking route. I’ve met people in venture capital who started in private equity. Founders who were once professional soccer players. Founders who started their own companies before joining venture capital firms themselves.
Hearing so many different versions of success stories, all of which are untraditional, has made me realize that there are more opportunities than I thought and more importantly, there isn’t just one right way to get to the future I want.
3. Networking really is important
The importance of networking is drilled into college students: make sure to go to all the career fairs, become part of every professional group, meet with alumni, etc, etc.
To be honest, I somewhat shrugged that advice off before. To me, it felt important but not that important.
However, after my time at HPVP, my perspective on that has changed completely. I’ve been able to see the real impact and benefits of having a network. Through meetings with people in various careers paths, I learned that a lot of them credit their success to having a good network. Meaning they have mentors who gave them critical advice throughout their careers and have even offered them one of their earlier roles. I’ve also seen how essential a diverse network is for making investment decisions. It would be devastating for someone to miss out on an opportunity simply because they couldn't understand the product or industry. Having a diverse network allows you to reach out to people who might be knowledgeable about a space you don’t know much about and help you gain a better understanding.
4. There’s a lot more to founders than what you can see on a piece of paper
Coming into venture capital, I expected investors to be rigid with the lens they look at founders with. I thought that if a founder was too young, didn’t have an advanced degree, or decades of industry experience, it would automatically be a no.
But as with everything in venture capital, it’s a lot more nuanced than that, and I was surprised with how open-minded investors were about different founder backgrounds. Someone might not have the perfect background on paper, but what they’re actually doing, the work they’re putting in, and the team they’re building can make up for it. There really isn’t one right way to be a founder or one correct founder background.
Overall, I’ve learned a lot through my internship, probably more than I even realize right now. I’ve gotten exposure to really interesting startups, worked on my own thesis, built my network, and more. Thanks to the team for all the help you’ve given me along the way!