Welcome to Q3 and a new WIIP post! In this post we interview WIIP co-presidents Julia and Kushal to discuss the highlights of their summer internships and how WIIP prepared them for working in the social impact sector.
Where was your internship and who was it with?
Julia: This summer I interned for the Palladium Group’s Impact Investments team. While Palladium is a strategy consulting firm with an international footprint, I was supporting a 5-person team of investment professionals based in London and DC focused on initially investing in West Africa with a focus on agribusiness, education, energy, and water and sanitation. After wrapping up with Palladium, I did a short-term consultancy for a fintech start-up in Uruguay and Argentina to dip my toe into the financial inclusion space.
Kushal: I interned at Reach Capital this summer as an MBA Summer Associate. Reach is a Palo Alto-based venture capital / impact investing firm that primarily focuses on education technology solutions targeting the early childhood, K-12, and higher ed markets. The team was small, extremely diverse (majority women, majority people of color), and commanded a strong skill-set as former teachers, entrepreneurs, product managers, and bankers. Most importantly, I loved their empathy, humility, and confidence.
What were your roles and daily responsibilities?
Julia: Most of my day to day work resembled that of a traditional Investment Associate at any VC- sourcing deals, conducting due diligence, and preparing for an end of summer Investment Committee. I’d also assist my team with ad hoc research on private equity in emerging markets, preparing decks for potential co-investors, and analyzing our deal origination through a segmentation exercise. One hallmark project of the summer was assisting a report for the IFC that considered innovative financing models in health and education. This project allowed me to draw from my prior experience as an international development professional and exercise my financial acumen from Wharton.
Kushal: I wore many hats at Reach, but they can be broken down into four buckets. A significant portion of my time was spent on program management for an ed tech blog (BlendED) one of the Partners had recently launched in partnership with a portfolio company founder. Responsibilities ranged from content generation to editorial, publishing, and promotion across the global ed tech ecosystem. Next, because the firm was fundraising, I helped build market intelligence on M&A activity, fund performance benchmarks, key early-stage deals, and institutional LPs active in the space. Third, I was involved in the screening and diligence efforts for inbound opportunities and participated in investment committee meetings. And lastly, I advised the sales efforts of a portfolio company, drawing significantly on my consulting background and Wharton classes.
How did WIIP prepare you for the internship?
Julia: The investment cycle that all WIIP 1Ys go through mirrored the process I experienced at Palladium. The biggest difference was the investments Palladium considers are based across West Africa, so the level of due diligence is even higher and in-person visits to Ghana, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, etc are crucial to understanding our entrepreneurs’ business models, needs, and motivations. I actually found Palladium through my Wharton Social Impact Initiative (WSII) fellowship, which I was competitive for because of my WIIP experience. One thing tends to lead to another.
Kushal: WIIP helped build upon my prior experience in venture philanthropy and allowed me to hit the ground running quickly. WIIP’s trainings taught me general diligence and valuation techniques, exposure to other like-minded associates taught me the breadth of different viewpoints on “impact” and “impact investing”, and conversations with founders taught me appreciation for the nuances in running a successful, sustainable business. These learnings directly fed into my roles this summer. By chance, Reach also happened to have a WIIP alum as part of their core team.
Can you provide a specific example of something new that you learned about impact investment?
Julia: Additionality is a concept I focused on when reviewing deals for Palladium. Even if you stumble upon an excellent business opportunity, if the additionality piece isn’t there- and your organization can’t uniquely add value to an investment- then you should pass. I often asked myself why an entrepreneur shouldn’t be requesting funding from a traditional PE firm or nonprofit- did they occupy the hybrid space that Palladium seeks to fill? Fit is everything.
Kushal: One of the key questions in impact investing is “how do you balance impact with economic sustainability?” The answer differs based on whoever you ask, but I was lucky enough to refine my own viewpoint on it while developing this piece. Ultimately, I’m in the camp that impact and economic sustainability can go hand-in-hand, but the key is for founders to actively focus on ensuring their product/service adds value to the user and has the potential for a far-reaching user base. Without these two foci (quality and scale), the company will miss out on monetization and significant value capture.
Highlight of the summer?
Julia: Participating in my team’s August IC. It was very cool to see the world of WIIP translated to my real-world professional life. I also loved shifting my perspective by 180-degrees at the end of the summer through my work supporting a fintech entrepreneur and seeing his real day to day implementation and fundraising challenges.
Kushal: Every Monday was a highlight for me. Reach has an incredibly strong and supportive culture, and part of it is due to its emphasis on work-life balance. Every Monday morning, team members sent over “MIT” (Most Important Task) e-mails to the rest of the team. These e-mails covered not only tasks from the previous week and upcoming week (a great way to keep others in the loop), but also snapshots of people’s weekends and the lives they lived outside the office.
Do you have any advice for current students considering internships/careers in impact investing?
Julia: It’s never too early to start building your network. Some of my best connections originated outside of traditional networking happy hours through helping to organize panels for Wharton Africa Business Forum and a research fellowship with WSII. Even though you’re navigating an unstructured process, inject rigor to your impact investing job search by using carefully tailored emails, preparing for interviews thoroughly, tracking your contacts and priority jobs closely, and being realistic that the internship quest may not result in an offer until April.
Kushal: I’m all for planning as much as possible, but serendipity is largely under-appreciated in the world of impact investing. My best recommendation for you is be genuine towards others, help them out when you can (part of this is understanding your skill-set well and how you can add value to their org), and you will start seeing opportunities in the places you least expect. Additionally, note that there are several paths to impact investing, and only you know which one is the right one for you. Some folks will recommend you start as an entrepreneur, others as an investor, and still others as something else. Choose the path that’s the best fit for your personal needs.