Note from NVCA: As part of NVCA’s VentureForward initiative, this ‘Spotlight on Rising Stars in VC’ blog series showcases individuals in the venture industry from different backgrounds and across the workforce to share experiences, spotlight their journeys and successes, and educate the next generation of people considering a career in venture capital.
Spotlight on Rising Stars in VC: Carmen Palafox
Name: Carmen Palafox
Location: California is home from SoCal to the Bay Area. I was born and raised in San Diego and moved to LA to attend USC for undergrad. I went to Berkeley-Haas for grad school. I live in LA. #longLA.
I currently work at Make in LA “MiLA.vc”. We are based in Los Angeles, California, and invest in pre-seed and seed stage hardware tech startups.
Years of VC experience: I have three years’ experience working in VC.
Position description: I’m an Investment Partner and focus on coaching entrepreneurs in finance and strategic planning. I also manage venture fund operations and lead our fundraising efforts.
Q. Who are a few of the individuals in the industry that have been the most critical to your professional journey?
Thank you Mark Mullen, Shahin Farshchi, Charles Hudson, and Kate Mitchell…
I met Mark Mullen my first day as a VC. He was speaking at an LA tech conference. I was taking notes as he spoke and felt I could learn so much more from him. I stood in line to speak with him and when my turn came I asked for guidance. He welcomed me into the community and has helped me tackle unfamiliar fund issues.
A grad school classmate introduced me to Shahin and I met Charles at the Raise conference. I’ve reached out to them many times for advice on fundraising, and thoughts on industry trends. I feel blessed that they have always responded. And finally, I aspire to follow in Kate’s footsteps. She is a principled leader, active in diverse communities, and a voice for the industry. I’ve watched her speak with legislators on topics that impact startups and venture capital; she does a great job of delivering her message in a way that resonates with stakeholders.
Q. When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
From farming to accounting…
My grandparents owned a coffee and sugar cane hacienda in Peru, which I traveled to on school breaks. My grandparents were successful business people and community builders. My grandfather held leadership positions in their small town and donated land for an elementary school. He also showed me how to play cards. When I was young I wanted to grow up and be like them. Then in fifth grade I took a career assessment test that listed a bunch of professions. Accounting was at the top of that list. From then on until my freshman year at USC I wanted to be an accountant, ha!
Q. Which jobs, internships, or classes gave you the experience you needed for your current job in venture capital?
My responsibilities at MiLA are focused on venture fund administration, investments and fundraising strategy. Fund operations includes legal, accounting, regulatory and investor relations. My former job as VP of investment operations at Dimensional prepared me to oversee this. Berkeley-Haas is where I learned the mechanics and culture of venture capital. Toby Stuart led a Silicon Valley immersion course that put me in front of thought leaders. We learned pitfalls thru case studies, off the record chats, and role play. I took classes crafted by Maura O’Neill that focused on finance, investment and corporate structure. She was an entrepreneur and created curriculum that she wished she had learned in business school. I also took a class at Haas on building trust-based relationships that I pull from every day.
I participate in professional development about twice a year. Last year I took Opportunity Recognition from Drew Isaacs and learned frameworks for evaluating new ventures. This July, I audited a Red Team class at Haas and learned tools for stress testing strategic plans. While at Haas, I did freelance work for startups primarily focused on growth and fundraising.
Q. What career advice would you give to your younger self?
Professor Maura O’Neill advised our class to pick one or two issues that we care deeply about and lean in. This practice has helped me make more meaningful contributions to matters I care about and helped me from spreading myself too thin.
Q. What’s on the top of your bucket list?
I want to heliboard. Let’s go!
I learned to snowboard my first year out of undergrad. My roommate at the time was willing to teach me. She grew up at the base of Lake Arrowhead and during the winter we’d drive from Hermosa Beach to Big Bear every weekend to snowboard. I consider Mammoth my home mountain. I’ve traveled to many countries to snowboard including Chile and Austria. I’ve also explored US resorts in Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming. But, I haven’t gone heliboarding yet and I’d love to experience that with my snow buddies.
Q. What impact do you hope to make on the venture capital industry?
I want to build bridges and connect dots domestically and internationally…
Domestically that means providing access to VC to folks that have not historically participated in it. I want to see more women on the cap table and more diverse investors. I have an interest in policy and want to build bridges between government and startups. Technology is moving fast, new markets are created daily, and regulations should evolve. That means more trips to Sacramento and DC.
Internationally, I want to create partnerships that nurture innovation and feel that the export of goods and services is key to our nation’s prosperity. We are hosting an event led by the Global Situation Room on September 27th at Make in LA that will provide startups and small business with programming on how to successfully go global. Stay tuned to the NCVA events page for more info.