How Lauren Gilbert values operator experience in venture capital

Lauren Gilbert poses for a picture in Houston in July 2020 to announce her admission into the Wharton School's MBA program. Courtesy of Lauren Gilbert.

Lauren Gilbert attends The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She’s part of the Blueprint Investor Track aimed at Black, LatinX, and indigenous students. 

How did you become interested in startups?

I went to the University of Texas at Austin for undergrad where I majored in supply chain management and Business Honors Program. Right after graduation, I went to work for a downstream oil and gas company called Phillips 66. I entered through their procurement early rotational program and did about five different roles during my eight years with the company. I learned a lot during my tenure there, but after so much time I felt like I hit a plateau. After researching different roles,  I became interested in a career pivot into product management. This summer, I landed my first product management internship at American Express.

At Wharton, I’m an entrepreneurship and innovation major. I became interested in entrepreneurship because I wanted to provide solutions for problems that directly affect me. I’m currently working on two startups, one around food allergies because I personally am gluten free, lactose intolerant, and also follow a vegan diet. The second idea I’m working on with a classmate is centered around making the protective styling experience (i.e braids and twists) easier and more time efficient for Black women. 

What’s the value of operator experience in venture capital?

I actually knew nothing about venture capital prior to two years ago. Nobody in my family is involved in entrepreneurship or venture capital. My mom is a nurse, and she now works in medical consulting. My dad works for Southwest Airlines doing the luggage movements. My grandma is a retired teacher. Wharton exposed me to these different functions, and from there, I started doing more research around venture capital because it seemed like a hot button topic. 

If you want to go into venture capital, the operator experience is important, including learning how to bring a product to life, how to raise money for your startup, and what key elements that venture capitalists are looking for. After working as an operator, I can leverage this experience when I enter the venture capital space because I will know what to look for in choosing viable startups for funding.

What’s the best advice you have received in Blueprint?

I think a very important piece of information I received was from Lo Toney, who is a managing partner at Plexo Capital. Before going into venture capital, he worked as a product manager and also as an operator at various startups. He said that the operator experience is very valuable for a venture capital career, which I didn’t know before. I thought venture capitalists mainly came from the finance world. This piece of information helped me to realize that I’m on the right track with pursuing product management and entrepreneurship.

As for my career goals, I want to explore product management and entrepreneurship first, but down the road, I want to pursue venture capital in order to pay it forward. I want to use my position to invest in Black and minority owned businesses that historically get very little venture capital funding.

What hobbies have you picked up during the pandemic?

I played the flute from sixth grade through my senior year of high school and I was also in the marching band. But I dropped it after graduating high school. During the pandemic, I randomly picked it up again because I was bored. I started experimenting with different songs using sheet music that I found on the internet. It was very nostalgic and it took me back to my band days.

Other than that, I’ve picked up working out again. Pre-pandemic, I was never a runner, but I started doing it to get some fresh air and exercise. I bought some new running shoes and started running around my apartment’s neighborhood when I was still in Texas, even though it was super hot. When I came to Wharton, a couple of classmates started a Nike Run Challenge, so I started running in Philly as well. It’s a great way to destress and explore the city.

Written by DRF head of content, Anne Wen. Reach her at Get more updates on TwitterMedium, and newsletter. Ready to take your startup to the next level? Apply here for an investment from Dorm Room Fund. Until next time! 🚀

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