This new series focuses on successful women in VC and rising stars who are making a big impact as investors and who are making a making positive impact on the venture ecosystem. For this edition, we spoke with Carmen Palafox, Managing Partner at MiLA Capital. Carmen shares details on her VC career, her work with All Raise and Latinx VC, and more!
Tell us about your career journey into venture capital.
At Berkeley-Haas I was immersed in the Bay Area tech ecosystem soon after starting the Executive MBA program in 2012. Early on we had off-the-record meetings with founders of startups such as Quantum Scape, CloudFlare, and The RealReal. We went inside Facebook, Google, and Airbnb, and learned about the job from pioneering venture capitalists. I was blown away by the potential for exponential impact and the fast pace of business.
Venture capital was fairly new to me in 2012. The ecosystem in Los Angeles at that time was nascent. Snap Chat and the Honest Company were less than one year old but public and private interest in supporting startups was building. In 2015, after graduating from Haas I wanted to break into Los Angeles venture and help develop the ecosystem. I joined the founding team of MiLA Capital to put LA on the map for hardware tech. Our team invested in 22 hardware companies across many industries including LA-based Dash Systems, Emerge, FitGuard, Rufus, Thesis, Acqubit, and more.
What are you most proud of so far in your career as a VC investor? (e.g., big investment/exit, notable meeting/public appearance, etc.)
I’m most proud of bringing two venture capital firms to life in Los Angeles. With MiLA we were filling a gap in funding for early-stage hardware startups. And with 2045 ventures, my new firm, I’m motivated to prove out the Fund’s thesis, which is centered around human capital. Stay tuned for more.
What’s a company/sector/technology you’re particularly excited about?
I’ve invested very early, sometimes at day zero, so I get excited to partner with mission-driven founding teams. In terms of verticals, I’m a generalist investor but like fintech, health tech, and climate tech for many reasons. I’m particularly interested in climate tech and sustainability considering the convergence of economic, market and consumer forces, which is illustrated by a record-breaking year for both global investment in this space and the number of US climate disasters costing upwards of $22 billion. At MiLA we invested in energy-related startups Caban Systems and Amped Innovation. Both companies received investment from corporate strategic investors early on and entered the market fast with solutions that were ready for commercialization. Caban systems also received scaleup grants to manufacture and create jobs in the United States. I’m very optimistic that we will hit our climate goals in some cases ahead of target dates.
What piece of advice would you give yourself when you first entered the VC industry?
Embrace uncertainty and overemphasize values alignment.
What advice have you received from mentors?
The best investors are flexible on industry and sector. This makes sense to me because success is tied closely with timing
What challenges or barriers have you experienced or seen when it comes to recruiting, retaining, and promoting female investors?
The challenge is having to manage the barriers, so it is important to have allies that can help shoulder the lift.
You’ve been an influential leader with LatinxVC and All Raise. What are some of either organization’s recent accomplishments and what are your goals for 2021? How can other VCs support and get involved?
Our industry will thrive with more representation, which is why I dedicate time to LatinxVC and All Raise. It’s hard to imagine the landscape sans these organizations but neither existed in 2015 when I first entered venture capital. Within LatinxVC I focus on increasing funding to founding General Partners. Latina General Partners represent 0.1% of women General Partners starting firms. In 2021 our goals are to create opportunities for Limited Partners to meet LatinxVC General Partners in intimate sessions as well as through Fund showcases.
The All Raise LA chapter launched shortly before the pandemic moved us online so I am excited about building on the strong foundation that Dana Settle, Eva Ho, and Kara Nortman paved before us. My goals for 2021 align with the mission of All Raise, which is to create a tech culture where women are leading, shaping, and funding the future. I’m looking forward to collaborating with the National team and the other Chapter leaders across the US to amplify female founders and funders. Locally I can’t wait to engage with All Raise members that have relocated to LA and help them discover the awesomeness of SoCal.
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