Aug 31, 2017

Creating Impact Through A Venture Capital Firm

Joseph Henderson T'18By Joe Henderson T'18

Coming to Tuck from my previous career at a startup, I knew I was interested in exploring the venture capital (VC) space as an opportunity to combine my past experiences and my Tuck education to provide financing and strategic guidance to startups. Through my summer internship at the Maine Venture Fund (MVF) with the support of Tuck GIVES, I was able to both gain experience working with a VC fund, as well as gain operational experience within two of their portfolio companies.

The Maine Venture Fund is small VC fund that invests exclusively in Maine companies that demonstrate a potential for high growth and public benefit. There’s a long-standing relationship between Tuck and MVF—while in Maine I had the chance to meet the very first Tuck-MVF intern, a T’10! Typically, a Tuck intern splits their time working both on projects for the fund, as well as tackling challenges within MVF portfolio companies. Within MVF, my experiences were wide-ranging, spanning presenting at MVF board meetings, sitting in on investment committee discussions, assisting with due diligence on a potential investment, and attending startup events around Portland, Maine. In addition, I spent the bulk of my time working closely with two portfolio companies—R.e.d.d., an energy bar company (whose founder and chairman, Alden Blease, is featured in the image above with my dog, Amos) and Gelato Fiasco, an artisanal gelato manufacturer.  

R.e.d.d. launched nationally in 2016, and I was tasked with three main responsibilities: building a detailed financial model forecasting sales and expenses over the next five years, developing and executing a paid online marketing strategy, and assisting with competitor/market analysis. In such a small company (only three full-time employees), this work gave me a chance to flex all the skills I developed over the course of my first year, as well as make an immediate, tangible impact on the business. It was immensely gratifying to build a financial model, and actually see the CEO using it the next day to model out inventory needs. Or to launch ads on Google, and cheer with the office as new customers began to place orders. They even asked me to make several sales calls to get a better understanding of the brand positioning, value proposition, and customer profiles.

I remember the original Gelato Fiasco shop opening down the road from my college in 2007, so it was a bit serendipitous to find myself working with them over the summer. They’ve grown quite a bit over the last decade from one storefront in Brunswick, ME to having national distribution in over 4,000 grocery stores. With such explosive growth comes growing pains, and I was asked to focus my efforts on streamlining inventory management and warehouse processes. After the first day on-site, I remember emailing Joe Hall, my spring term Operations professor, excitedly telling him that I had the chance to “walk the floor” of the manufacturing operation and had spotted the production bottleneck. Here, again, I found the work immediately impactful and immensely gratifying—spending a day training the warehouse staff on a new process, and seeing that process being executed the very next day.

All in all, I had a fantastic summer with MVF. I had the opportunity to build deep connections to the MVF, R.e.d.d., and Gelato Fiasco teams, as well as to the larger Maine startup community. I confirmed my passion for working with startups on difficult challenges, and my interest in investing in and advising small companies. Plus, I got to do all this while eating more than my fair share of lobster rolls and enjoying a beautiful summer on the Maine coast!