Growing up, I was fascinated by sustainability and how climate change affects society. My actions started out small, from ensuring my family strictly followed local recycling guidelines to launching my high school’s recycling program. This interest grew into a passion, but one that I was uncertain how to channel into a career. I pursued a career as a CPA in the investment management industry with the idea that I could gain hard skills and shift into sustainability later on. As a CPA, I developed key strengths—attention to detail, taking initiative, skill with numbers and relationship building. Where would my skills fit into the sustainability landscape and add value to climate solutions?
This question led me to the Erb Institute at the University of Michigan. I was drawn to the dual-degree program, where I could gain hard sustainability skills while rounding out my business acumen. Plus, every alumnus I spoke to was sincere and inspiring.
In my first year of school, a few Erb experiences ignited my passion for climate tech venture capital. In the fall, I self-sourced an impact project, supported by the Erb Institute, with Future Fit Foods. Future Fit Foods is a startup on a mission to build a social enterprise focused on providing tasty food that doesn’t harm the environment. I worked with the co-founders and built a value creation model to capture the financial, social and circularity impact of their product and business. This experience showed me firsthand how a company can be a social for-profit enterprise. It also showed me how forward-thinking and inspiring founders could be and gave me a glimpse of the value I could add in this space.
I also participated in the Michigan Investment Challenge hosted by the Zell Lurie Institute at Ross with a team of other Erbers. We dove into all things venture capital and learned how to build rapport with founders, create term sheets and defend our investment decision to venture capital partners. I gained both hard and soft skills, such as how to value a startup and then defend that valuation (with conviction) to the investment committee. It also showed me that I could work in a role that brought me so much joy that the work did not feel like work. That’s the dream, right?
A few courses have been key in my journey. Professor Andy Hoffman’s course Strategies for Sustainable Development is focused on sustainable business strategy. Through case discussions, lectures and readings, we got to the heart of how to drive sustainable impact in traditional business settings. Two needs consistently came through these debates: the need for more government regulation and the need for more finance professionals with sustainability goals. I also value the lessons learned in Professor Lindy Greer’s course Psychology of Startup Teams, which focused on how startups can handle people problems, given the alarming statistic that nine out ten startups fail, mainly due to people problems.
Through these experiences and courses, it became clear that I can leverage my background to help founders who are creating solutions to climate change succeed, as an investor.
Coming to this conclusion was the easy part. Finding internships in this space is a different story. Venture capital is a tough profession to break into because so few job openings exist, and climate tech venture capital has even fewer. Taking full advantage of the fact that professionals are pretty great about taking informational interview calls, I started looking for an internship, which became a full-time job. I leaned on current and recently graduated Erbers and Ross students to make introductions and help me prepare for case interviews. The support that the Erb and Ross community gave me was truly unparalleled.
I ended the school year with two venture capital internship offers and accepted one with Buoyant Ventures, an early-stage climate tech venture capital fund focused on scaling digital solutions for climate risk. Buoyant invests across energy, agriculture and water, mobility and the built environment to mitigate carbon emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change. Buoyant is amazing for a few reasons. First, it’s one of the few women-founded climate tech venture capital firms. Second, it focuses on both mitigation and adaptation to build a more resilient future, when most firms focus solely on mitigation. Third, the partners are extremely open, honest and encouraging. I am incredibly grateful for my time spent with the team.
Reflecting on this experience, the Erb community’s support was instrumental in my securing an internship for a firm I am proud of in a field I am passionate about. And I finally learned where I can use my strengths to push the needle on climate change. Further, the following became clear: There is no silver bullet; there is no best solution. Many talented and smart people are needed across every sector to mitigate emissions and adapt to climate change impacts. Being surrounded by the Erb, SEAS and Ross communities, I’ve never been more hopeful for that future.