Breaking into Venture Capital
When the plan is to launch the first and only competition to promote gender parity in the venture capital industry—and award $250,000 to the winner—it takes a village to take that plan from ideation to execution. In the case of the Babson Breakaway Challenge, that village included Margo Layton Cole MBA’15.
After research revealed that women entrepreneurs receive only 2.7 percent of all venture capital funding, Babson’s Center for Women Entrepreneurial Leadership (CWEL) partnered with Breakaway to create the challenge. As a Babson alumna and a member of Breakaway’s investment team, Cole worked closely with CWEL to bring the competition—which recently crowned its winner—to life.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with CWEL to plan all elements of the challenge,” says Cole. “I read hundreds of really interesting applications and met with many of the entrepreneurs.”
The process of evaluating startups is nothing new to Cole. As an associate at Breakaway, she originates deals, screens inbound opportunities, conducts diligence, and assists in deal execution. “In a nutshell, I’m involved with all aspects of the venture process, from the first conversation to a signed term sheet, and beyond.”
The Path to VC
Cole’s path to a career at Breakaway began with a metaphorical tap on the shoulder. John Burns MBA’05, president at Breakaway Ventures, was seeking an intern for his team and Babson’s Graduate Center for Career Development (CCD) notified Cole of the opportunity.
Cole’s background is in finance and entrepreneurship—she founded a variety of businesses growing up—and she hadn’t considered a career in venture capital until that moment. “I knew nothing about Breakaway and wasn’t pursuing any opportunities in venture at the time,” she says. “But, when CCD notified me of the opportunity, it suddenly felt like the perfect fit.”
She soon began interning two days a week. A few months later, she was offered the chance to join the team full time. For Cole, it’s fun to reflect on what she calls her “nonlinear path” to VC, which included founding a shoe business at 16, a belt business at 19, and beginning a career in sales and trading at a big bank after earning her undergraduate degree. It’s that nonlinear path that landed her at Babson in the first place; hoping to throw herself back into entrepreneurship, she pursued a Babson MBA to immerse herself “into an environment buzzing with ideas and startup energy.”
“Looking back, my experiences and interests feel like they are perfectly aligned with a career investing in early-stage consumer businesses,” she says. “But, it wasn’t until my shoulder was essentially tapped that I realized this is exactly what I should be doing.”
It’s a lesson that Cole feels all women, including entrepreneurs, can benefit from: confidence. “I didn’t consider venture because I didn’t think my experience lined up. It was just plain wrong.
“It took someone else having confidence in me to get me here, and I was lucky,” she says. “But, not every woman’s shoulder will be tapped. So, [women] need to believe in themselves and knock on the door.”