Amelia De Paola: Reflections from Female Investor Track

Amelia De Paola at MIT Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts in August 2021. Courtesy of Amelia De Paola.

This summer, I had the opportunity to participate in Dorm Room Fund’s First-Ever Female Investors Track (FIT), a three-week masterclass that empowers the next generation of women and non-binary investors. FIT couldn’t have happened at a better time for me: I’m about to start my MBA at the MIT Sloan School of Management and am fortunate to have some time before the school year starts to reflect on the type of impact I want to make with my future career in venture capital. Below, I’m sharing the two pieces of advice I received during FIT that most informed this effort for my fellow MBAs who — like me — need guidance on how to begin their journey as an investor:

Learn to tell your story and assess the storytelling skills of founders. The importance of storytelling was a refrain I heard throughout the three weeks of FIT and admittedly, I was surprised to hear how critical of a skill it was for a venture capitalist. In our last FIT session (which we shared with the amazing Blueprint Investor Track cohort), Taj Eldridge, co-founder of Include Venture Partners, said it best: Whether you are raising a fund as a general partner or startup founder, the ability to cultivate emotions around what excites you and the world you are trying to build can help you reach the right investors, customers, and employees. Telling authentic stories — not the ones you think people want to hear — is one of the best ways to establish credibility and create a community in venture. Articulating your personal story can help you identify the issues you’re best positioned to address as an investor.

Find operating experiences that build your investment thesis. During FIT, we were all assigned an industry mentor. Mine was Sooah Cho, an investor at Underscore VC and former product manager at CVS Health and Devoted Health. In a discussion about impactful ways to spend summer internships or school-year consulting projects, Sooah challenged me to think about the core problems I wanted to invest in, where there were gaps in the market, and where founders built companies that solved those pain points. She also encouraged me to reframe my perspective on operating experience and internship selection to be both a market research and thesis-building effort. I think any MBA curious about venture capital or the startup ecosystem can benefit from this same advice: Start with the problems that inspire you and back into the experiences that will enable you to make the most impact on them, whether it’s as an entrepreneur or investor.

During this conversation, Sooah also nudged me to think about the “plumbing” of our healthcare system and to be open-minded to how enterprise investing might align with the type of change I want to make on systemic issues. I had never considered this type of an investment focus before but quickly realized that I had lived through many of the problems I saw in healthcare that got at the “plumbing” Sooah mentioned. I didn’t grow up knowing what a venture capitalist was or thinking I might want to be one; I always dreamt of being a physician, but my professional experiences as an EMT and a community health organizer opened my eyes to systemic issues and misaligned incentives that I couldn’t un-see. Experiences with my own chronic illnesses further informed my perspective on the shortcomings of American healthcare: I was navigating a system fraught with “medical gaslighting,” complicated and surprising bills, inefficient diagnostics, and confusing protocols and without realizing it, developing conviction that technological solutions could solve these same issues (and maybe drive policy changes along the way). FIT helped me realize that my investment thesis is this story, and that’s one where I’m passionate about making healthcare more accessible and effective for women and underserved communities by funding and scaling new ventures.

Amelia De Paola is a former EMT, global development professional, and sex-ed teacher. She is an MBA candidate at the MIT Sloan School of Management and part of the inaugural Female Investor Track.

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