Jan 06, 2023

Tuck GIVES: Pursuing a Passion for Impact in Maine

By Emilie Litsas T’23

In August 2021, the week before Tuck classes started, I joined a pre-orientation trip and sailed along Maine’s coastline. My boatmates and I woke up every day at 5:00 am for a swim, learned to row and sail in sunny and rainy weather, and slept under the stars. This was a daunting trip for me to embark on; after one year of working from home, I was nervous about entering the business school community and taking on the physical challenge of the excursion. I got through the sailing adventure thanks to the exceptional teammates I found among Tuckies, and gained close friends, an admiration for New England’s stunning nature, and a renewed spirit of confidence in exploring areas of interest during business school.

It’s fitting that my first year at Tuck culminated with a return to Maine and an internship opportunity in a sector that is entirely new to me: impact-focused venture capital.

How did I secure an internship with a venture capital firm? I came to business school without any prior experience or coursework in finance; I honestly didn’t think an impact investing fund would have a job for me, but I was curious about the sector.

After four and half years of consulting for U.S. federal, state, and non-profit organizations, I chose to go to business school to learn how to design and manage great public services. Venture capital creates access to significant financial resources that could fuel social-mission-driven organizations.

My curiosity about the sector spun into many questions: How do you decide which start-ups to invest in? How do you ensure your investments are sustainable from a financial, environmental, and community perspective? How do you measure the impact achieved by company investments? Tuck brought dozens of speakers and organizations to campus that presented their approaches to these subjects. When I spoke with the team at Maine Venture Fund—a state-backed venture capital group that supports an inclusive economic development agenda through investments in start-ups—I immediately knew this was an organization I wanted to learn from as a summer intern.

Tuck’s first-year curriculum gave me exposure to core concepts in strategy, organizational management, and impact investing that prepared me to recruit for the internship, Tuck’s alumni introduced me to the organization, and the Center for Business, Government and Society offered me a Tuck GIVES scholarship that made my MVF internship possible.

Sunset in Portland.

What was it like to be an intern at Maine Venture Fund? Maine Venture Fund (MVF)’s location is in Portland, Maine (which if you haven’t visited yet, should be at the top of your list of places to see in the Northeast). Every day, I biked to work with a view of the ocean, took in the smell of salt air from the front steps of the office, and met individuals who were generous with their time and energy to introduce me to Maine’s thriving start-up economy.

MVF’s team hosted twice weekly workshops to teach me and my co-intern, Eda, the basics of the industry. We spent hours discussing deal terms and their meanings, conducting due diligence on potential investments, analyzing the social impact metrics of companies, presenting content to the MVF Board, and diving into topics of interest for me and Eda to gain a well-rounded view of the industry. When we weren’t working, we enjoyed lunches at Portland’s many foodie destinations and swapped stories about playing watersports and hiking over the weekends.

In addition to offering an introduction to venture capital, MVF invited me to spend two-thirds of my time working directly with a portfolio company. I had the opportunity to work on product strategy with MEDRhythms, a Series B digital therapeutics group that helps individuals with neurological injuries learn to walk again through music therapy technology.

Over the 10-week internship, I met with people across the start-up with expertise in software engineering, user experience, medical device regulation, product commercialization, clinical music therapy, and applied research in cognitive sciences to learn from their perspectives on product strategy. I had the unique chance to observe a therapy session for a stroke patient who was walking with the aid of a MEDRhythms music therapist, and I tested MEDRhythms’ prototype devices before they hit the market.

After weeks of conversations and brainstorming sessions, I pitched a product line extension strategy to MEDRhythms’ leadership. I was proud of the final work and exhilarated by the process of developing a business strategy—opening the door to a new potential career interest post-Tuck.

Taking the ferry to Peaks Island with colleague Sarah

What did I gain from this internship? I ended the summer with a more expansive understanding of the venture capital industry, state economic development, the work of start-ups, and a great love for the city of Portland and state of Maine.

This internship taught me that my curiosity and fresh eyes are welcome assets to the workplace, including in a sector that’s new to me. The teams I joined at MVF and MEDRhythms made me feel comfortable bringing my whole self to work and calling Maine home. Between afternoon trips to get ice cream, morning bike rides to local coffee roasteries and lighthouses, pick-up basketball games, team hikes along waterfront trails, and a community theatre outing, I made memories with my colleagues in Portland that I’ll continue to treasure.

I’m excited about what I’ll learn by bringing these new experiences with me to my second year of the Tuck MBA program. I can’t wait for my next visit to Maine, to catch up with former colleagues and new friends about the growing opportunities in the start-up ecosystem in Portland, and to continue pursuing my passion for social impact in new and interesting ways.

Bike ride and coffee with MEDRhythms colleagues