Second Annual Women Who Launch Symposium centers on representation in venture capital

Sunday, January 26, 2020 - 9:24pm

Panelists speak during the Women Who Launch symposium at the Ross School of Business Friday morning.

Panelists speak during the Women Who Launch symposium at the Ross School of Business Friday morning. Buy this photo
Alexis Rankin/Daily

The second annual Women Who Launch symposium, held Friday morning in the Ross School of Business, focused on women working in venture capital who have founded their own successful companies. 

Women Who Launch is an organization founded at the Business School that focuses on equal gender representation and promoting an equitable environment at the University of Michigan, particularly for those who have moved into their own business fields. 

The symposium was comprised of several events with the second half of the day featuring four female venture capitalists. 

The first to speak was Natalie Fratto, vice president of firmwide strategy at Goldman Sachs. She also delivered a prominent TED Talk on the importance of adaptability in July 2019. 

Fratto is in the process of building the organization “Launch with GS,” Goldman Sachs’s $500 million investment strategy which aims to create success through diversity.

“Through Launch With GS, Goldman Sachs aims to increase access to capital and facilitate connections for women, Blacks, Latinos and other diverse entrepreneurs and investors,” Fratto said.

Fratto said founders should be able to stand out when describing their company and pitching it to others. 

“I think great founders have the ability to have an answer and get their talking points out no matter what the question is,” Fratto said.

Venture capitalist Samara Mejia Hernandez delivered her address next. Hernandez is a Founding Partner of Chingona Ventures, which she says roughly translates to “Badass Women Ventures.” Hernandez focuses on investments in technology and technology-enabled companies. She also works with underrepresented groups interested in STEM education, venture capital and entrepreneurship. 

Hernandez said venture capitalism grabbed her attention early on in her career.

“I fell in love with the early stage of investing,” Hernandez said. “It was so unstructured. I like to build things from the ground up.”

Sonia Nagar, a partner at Pritzker Group Venture Capital spoke about joining the group. In her current position, Nagar is responsible for sourcing, diligence and oversight for the firm’s investments in consumer, enterprise and emerging technologies. 

When asked about the culture of different companies, Nagar stressed the range of business strategies across firms.

“Every firm is so different and there’s very little oversight,” Nagar said. "There’s a really strong culture of partnership, community, teamwork.” 

Speaking last on what makes a successful fund, entrepreneur Stephanie Thomas discussed the diversity existing across different businesses.

Thomas joined Impact America Fund in the hopes of combining years of transactional experience with a passion to drive more equitable capital in venture. According to Thomas, the key to working in a fund is understanding the unique qualities that exist in every business.

“When it comes to working in a fund, it’s really about the heartbeat of each team with a different pulse and certain pace,” Thomas said. “You want to be able to join that team and continue to integrate into the rhythm and flow.”

Business sophomore Katherine Yang explained the importance of having people with a range of experiences making decisions in a business atmosphere. 

“Having a diverse range of decision makers, whether that be in gender or ethnicity, having a diverse team that is making decisions has better results than having the same type of thought, just because you have such a greater variety of opinions, a greater variety of experiences,” Yang said. “When the things being pitched are trying to solve problems that might not necessarily pertain to a white cis male, then it’s really important to have these people who could be impacted.”