Jessica Straus, Vice President of Development for the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), talked with us about the path that led her to this position and her experience as a woman in the venture capital (VC) world.
What led you to where you are now? What interests and previous jobs shaped your professional path to VC?
As far as I can remember, I’ve always had in interest in creativity and also civic engagement/impact. Those are the things that at first in my college days led me to the art market – I was interested in bridging my passion for art and how it is bought and sold in private markets. I eventually wanted something that had more civic engagement and impact, so I moved to D.C. and spent five years on Capitol Hill where I worked with Eric Cantor. I was able to work on a bill called the JOBS (Jumpstart our Business Startups) Act, a landmark piece of legislation that impacts startups and venture capital investors. My interest in markets and creativity was always in mind, which ultimately led me to leave the Capitol and work for a social media technology startup as head of communications. From there, I consulted for different startups independently and became very interested in the VC side of things. I liked how VCs see the whole landscape of the industry in which they’re investing and wanted to expand my network, so I found this job at the NVCA online and that was my door.
Can you describe what your job as VP of Development entails?
I focus on growing our membership, making sure that we have all the VC community as a part of our community. On a typical day, it is really important that I am always connecting with all our members – to understand what their challenges are as industry players. I usually have two or three half hour phone calls with different venture capitalists (we work with all kinds) every day. I also manage a few different programs for our members, including our diversity initiative, for which we develop solutions and research to advance women and minorities in the venture capitalist ecosystem. I again work on connecting with our members to invite them to help us participate in our diversity initiatives. In addition, I spend a lot of time building events that will serve the venture community, including building a narrative for an event, building partnerships to support the event, and securing space. I do a lot of writing whether that’s writing the mission statement for or doing the document drafting for different programs. I manage our sales force database, continually ensuring that our data is clean, accurate, and up-to-date. In a nut shell, what I do prolongs the mission of NVCA: to advocate for public policies that serve the venture ecosystem ensuring that VC investors continue to make high risk, long-term investments that are critical to our economy.
What are some key lessons you have learned along your professional journey that are applicable to your work today?
One of the main things I learned is, and I’m still learning this, how do you balance your desire to see your own personal vision come to fruition with the pragmatic needs of earning a salary and managing the nuts and bolts of how you live? I try to balance risk. The risks I have taken have been really important to me, but I think I’m still trying to figure out what’s the balance of really going for something. I am certainly always looking to see what’s the next strategic risk I should take. I have also learned that I gravitate towards working with really smart, creative people.
Do you have any advice for younger girls looking to enter typically male-dominated fields, such as the VC world?
The good news is that there’s a lot of focus and resources and intelligent people thinking about the gender and racial gaps in venture capital right now. I think there are outstanding opportunities for women and a growing effort to make this field more inclusive to women. At the end of the day, you should always focus on the merits of your work because I think that outstanding work is very respected. When you do encounter hurdles, always remember that there are advocates in your corner. There is always going to be a woman who made it first – don’t be afraid to reach out to those pioneers before you.
Contributor: Evangeline Giannopoulous