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 first edition, we spoke with Kathryn Weinmann, Senior Associate at Norwest Venture Partners and a recipient of the 2021 NVCA Rising Star award. Kathryn shares details on her VC career, her work with the Emerging Venture Capital Association (EVCA), and more!
Tell us about your career journey into venture capital.
Like many, I joined venture somewhat unexpectedly. While in management consulting, I spent significant time with big banks and major retailers. Both faced increasing structural headwinds and struggled to serve the next generation of consumers. I was particularly moved by an experience I had while working in the anti-money laundering group within a major bank. Due to the cost of meeting regulatory requirements, the bank was firing hundreds of customers because the cost to serve them was “just not worth the risk.” Many of those impacted were hardworking, small business owners who didn’t understand the implications of their cash deposit patterns. I had worked on international microfinance initiatives in college, but this was a powerful moment of witnessing financial exclusion at home. To learn more, I reached out to a Google Impact Challenge finalist nonprofit in the fintech space, Mission Asset Fund, to see how I could help. Over five years later, I’m still working with them and could not be more proud of the access they provide to clients. I joined NerdWallet before business school to support financial inclusion across all of life’s financial decisions. It was a powerful experience to be a part of a tech company scaling quickly, particularly within such a high-impact consumer space.
I came to Stanford with the goal of exploring specific consumer pain points within fintech. I thought I would do so as an founder, but increasingly my joy came from partnering with founders tackling hard consumer problems. I realized that many of the lessons of financial services innovation were highly applicable to other categories. At the end of the day, consumers want value, convenience, and transparency. I was fortunate to meet Jeff Crowe as a guest speaker in class. Jeff was paired with a founder he had never met before for a live pitch and asked to pause the founder periodically to tell us what he was thinking. It was my first window into the black box of VC decision making, and reflected the blend of structured and creative thinking that I so highly value. I joined Norwest for a summer internship, and I haven’t left since!
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.)
Our investment in Memphis Meat’s Series B last year was a reminder of what I got into venture in the first place. Amid a deep dive into the future of food, we realized cell-based meat addressed two huge challenges: food security and sustainability. It was also the first time I’ve (nearly literally!) pounded the table for a deal I sourced. At that time, many firms shied away from the space, given the significant uncertainty around cost reduction, regulatory frameworks, and consumer acceptance. Our team knew that while plant based meat was an important step forward, many consumers craved the real thing. The next phase of growth will be exciting in manifesting this thesis and creating a healthier world.
What’s a sector you’re particularly excited about?
I’m spending a lot of time thinking about connected health – how we quantify how we feel and understand the building blocks of our long term wellness. Companies focused on metabolic health are particularly compelling because they address head on a growing health crisis in the US that has historically been dominated by fad diets. Of course, other factors like sleep and mental wellness play huge roles as well and must be combined for an integrated view of holistic health. Ultimately, I believe we can support a healthier population and contribute to significant reduction in healthcare costs by proactively measuring more of the inputs of daily life.
What piece of advice would you give yourself when you first entered the VC industry?
There is no one right way to do venture. Learn from as many people as possible and build in opportunities for reflection on time allocation. There is a lot of ambiguity inherent in this industry, which in many ways I love. That said, it can be tough to know at the end of any given day how optimally you managed your time. I would remind myself to be intentional about managing deal sprints, thesis building, portfolio support, and time to recharge.
What barriers have you experienced or seen as a female investor?
Many of us are familiar with the research that outlines how women are often penalized for ambition, consciously or otherwise. There are frequent (and often mixed) messages about how women ‘should’ be. Coming into my second year in venture, I interviewed coaches who could support my growth. When hearing my goals, one well-established candidate advised me to be careful not to be perceived as a “young woman in a hurry.” The advice was unsettling. Comments like that also make many women hesitant to share accomplishments. That said, I’ve been so impressed by women who step in to amplify each other’s successes. Venture capital has a reputation for being more of an individual vs. team sport, but the female investors and founders I work with have become an irreplaceable part of my community. When I was recognized with an award, a female founder in our portfolio, Wendy Wen, posted about it on LinkedIn. She told me that many of her female friends didn’t feel comfortable with self-promotion, so she wanted to help. That’s the kind of support that gives me a ton of optimism about where we are headed.
You’ve been an influential leader with EVCA. What are some of EVCA’s recent accomplishments and what are your goals for 2021? How can other VCs support and get involved?
EVCA’s mission since inception in 2017 has been to provide community and resources to junior investors. We currently have over 750 members across 7 geographic chapters, representing the largest community of pre-partner venture capital investors in the US. I’m most proud of how 50+ members have stepped up to take on volunteer leadership roles within our community, creating programming and opportunities for their peers in a career that is notoriously difficult to navigate.
In 2021, our focus is on fostering growth, both of our members within venture and through stronger ties to those interested in the broader venture and startup communities. For example, we launched a fellowship program with 30 undergraduate students across the US who are interested in venture capital. We built a forum for the pre-director LP community (across endowments, pension funds, and family offices) to connect with our members, which has already facilitated investment into a top decile fund. We also provide mentorship and resources to social impact startups as well as to members who leave to pursue entrepreneurship. We recognize that at the pre-partner level, venture may be a career or a waystation. In either case, our goal is for EVCA to be a powerful part of that journey.
For any pre-partner investors (analyst, associate, VP, or principal) at an institutional venture firm or CVC interested in joining the community or others looking to engage with our work, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.