Before Will McKelvey arrived to enroll in the full-time MBA program at Berkeley Haas in 2021, he and his college roommate drove cross-country to California. Along the way, McKelvey, who was planning a career in venture capital, met with as many startups as possible—a whopping 43 founders in five days. McKelvey, an Ohio native, even launched a blog sharing his impressions of venture opportunities from Dayton to Detroit to Chicago.
“You can’t dabble in VC,” McKelvey, MBA 23, who became interested in the economic power of startups while working for Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna for four years, said. “If you decide it’s your thing, go all in. It’s not a space for tourists.”
At Haas, McKelvey didn’t let up, interning at multiple venture firms and serving as co-president of the Haas VC Club. Now an investor at early-stage VC fund Lerer Hippeau, McKelvey is among a record number of 2023 Berkeley Haas MBA graduates working in the field of venture capital.
“VC is the second-biggest sector for finance jobs among our MBAs,” said William Rindfuss, a member of the Haas Professional Faculty who leads strategic programs for the finance faculty group and manages financial services recruiting at Haas. “Only investment banking drew more recent grads.”
Fourteen of the 2023 FTMBA graduates accepted employment in venture capital, a record high. Of that group, half work for venture funds, and half have joined venture arms of tech, health care, and financial services companies, Rindfuss said.
Rindfuss attributes the growth to the support of the Berkeley Haas alumni network, comprehensive courses in venture capital, including New Venture Finance, an increase in campus resources for VC, and the school’s Bay Area location.
Proximity to venture firms gives students the ability to explore VC through both in-semester internships and summer internships over the course of the two-year MBA program. Such a portfolio of experiences can lead to full-time offers. But as Rindfuss notes, landing a job in venture capital differs widely from investment banking.
Proximity to venture firms gives students the ability to explore VC through both in-semester internships and summer internships over the course of the two-year MBA program.
That’s where the students’ hard work comes in with landing internships and jobs. While big banks recruit on campus through a structured process, VC firms expect students to get their attention and come to them, which might mean writing whitepapers on emerging subsectors or reaching out to firms with project ideas in order to build their networks.
Just as the Haas Finance Club has long been a major source of support for Haas students pursuing investment banking, the VC Club has grown into a similar resource, Rindfuss said. The club leads an annual VC Speaker Series course, drawing senior partners and associates from Bay Area VC funds, who offer both big picture and tactical advice.
A pivot from tech to VC
For Aparna Chaganty, MBA 23, breaking into venture capital meant landing an internship with Bessemer Venture Partners. An engineer from India with a master’s in information systems (MIS) degree from Carnegie Mellon, Chaganty was a data scientist and product manager at Salesforce when she started exploring a career pivot.
“I really enjoyed building new technology, but I also wanted to know what other paths there were out there,” she said.
Venture capital piqued her interest as a perfect way to combine her tech background with entrepreneurship. “I have always found the growth story of startups extremely inspiring,” she said. “In VC, you can be really close to bringing about change and creating new value in the economy.”
Chaganty ended up accepting a full-time role as an investor at Bessemer Venture Partners in India, an opportunity to return to her home country. Though it hadn’t been her plan at the start, she said she was thrilled by the opportunity to join after Bessemer raised its first India fund. “There is so much entrepreneurship coming out of India,” she said. “Being part of that zero-to-one story is a once-in-a-generation opportunity and being a VC at Bessemer gives me a front-row seat to witness and contribute to that change.”
Crafting your own opportunities
Alex Rohrbach, MBA 23, came to Haas after several years working as a consultant at McKinsey and at an on-demand staffing startup.
He discovered that both experiences were applicable in VC. “Very quickly, I could add value to busy VCs who needed extra help,” he said. By doing projects with multiple VC firms during the school year in his free time, Rohrbach got exposure to various funds and VCs, helping him learn how they think and structure deals.
“Many MBAs don’t realize that they have a lot of skills they can apply on day one with a VC firm,” Rohrbach said. “Aspiring VCs can develop a thesis about an industry, source companies on campus, and help organize events. If you figure out what you’re good at, you can craft your own opportunities.”
Rohrbach graduated with a job at Thomvest Ventures, a 25-year-old San Francisco fund. He spent his summer internship with Thomvest but says it was never a direct path to full-time employment.
“Each fellowship and internship was a stepping stone, but I didn’t know exactly where I would end up,” he said. In his first year at Haas, he got a fellowship at Pear VC, an early-stage venture firm. He also received a Haas Entrepreneurial Finance Fellowship, providing a $5,000 cash award and mentorship with a Haas alum. “Even more valuable than the money was the access to a mentor – in my case, Andrew Krowne at Dolby Family Ventures,” Rohrbach said.
Rohrbach also consulted during his first year with Union Labs, a VC firm that past Haasies worked for.
“I started to build a portfolio of work so that by the time I was interviewing for summer internships, I had a lot I could talk about,” he said.
Rindfuss and others at Haas hope the number of students pursuing venture capital will only continue to grow as Haasies find homes at more VC firms and bring their experience and advice to future students.
“As more of our graduates succeed in venture capital, we are developing a stronger pool of alumni that will support our students,” Rindfuss said. “It’s an exciting time.”