My summer with the UNICEF Innovation Fund has been deeply fulfilling. Heading into the summer, I searched for experience within the venture capital and investing world. Coupled with my First Year Project with a Venture Capital firm focused on creating a social impact mandate for their new impact investing focused fund, the opportunity to work with UNICEF in their Innovation Ventures Fund was the perfect opportunity for my interests.
I initially was struck by the diversity and depth of innovation of the fund team. From the founder and head of the ventures fund, a lifelong technologist focused on providing solutions to societal problems facing children to the data scientists, software developers and experts in learning and education, drones, virtual and augmented reality, blockchain and artificial intelligence, the team is as accomplished as it is diverse. Working within a United Nations program, the team not only had such a diverse set of professional and academic backgrounds but also was composed of 10+ different nationalities.
My main responsibility within the Innovation fund was to assist in the investment selection process for technology startups from developing markets that are working on open source solutions to improve children’s lives. With the focus on frontier technologies, I quickly had to get smart on concepts related to blockchain, drones, data science, artificial intelligence and virtual /augmented reality. Responsibilities included performing due diligence on startups by analyzing their business plan, partnerships, team capabilities, robustness of prototype and potential for growth. The goal being to defend the merits of high potential startups in front of the broader fund team so that the Innovation Fund would then perform a formal startup analysis and diligence.
My other main project revolved around support of Innovation fund portfolio companies. As the UNICEF Innovation fund focuses on early stage startups, once the portfolio companies end their investment period with the UNICEF, there does not exist a formal follow on funding process to further continued company growth. I helped begin to formalize a “portfolio company follow-on funding” process through conversations with investors. The end goal of the Portfolio Roll Up Process is to combine UNICEF resources with equity-ready portfolio companies to generate equity-based interest and investment from the wider investment community.
I have gained a deep appreciation for the venture capital, innovation and accelerator space. What struck me most has been the depth and passion of innovation from entrepreneurs of developing countries. There is so much untapped talent that is just waiting to be discovered and given the opportunity. Many of the opportunities we are afforded at Tuck, we sometimes take for granted. To see an entrepreneur from a developing country with few socioeconomic and human development opportunities pitch with such conviction a blockchain application platform to digitize service-delivery claims and tokenize impact data to register children truly inspires you.