At the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation, we have witnessed the steady rise of impact investing as an interest among Booth students. Though it’s a broad term, impact investing generally refers to investments made in companies, organizations, and funds with the intention of generating social or environmental impact, as well as financial returns.
To learn more about this dynamic industry, we reached out to Josh Rogers, ’15, a senior associate at impact investing firm Advantage Capital, to discuss which Booth programs and resources are available for students pursuing impact investing.
You were involved in impact investing at Booth starting on day one. What initially brought you to Booth?
JR: I came to Booth after several years working on Wall Street, so I was pretty confident in my knowledge of the sell-side finance industry. Based on what I knew about the impact investing landscape, I was interested in early-stage venture impact. I knew there were other aspects of impact investing—real estate, foundation MRIs, etc.—but I was most interested in that asset class.
What I needed from Booth was exposure and experience working in venture capital. I knew that if I wanted to get into impact investing, I had to first and foremost acquire the skills and experience to be a good investor.
Did you do anything to get a head start on your summer internship?
JR: I met with the student career advisor for venture capital, as well as Booth’s Career Services coaches. I’d suggest planning to meet with student career advisors (in PE, social impact, or VC) and tell them you want to do impact investing. Then make a career services coaching appointment and tell them you are looking for impact investing jobs. You can go into Booth’s online recruiting portal and set up email alerts about new jobs in VC and PE.
Almost any job in traditional PE or VC is great experience as a summer internship, even if it doesn’t have an impact component. If you can’t find an impact VC or PE job, but can get a summer spot at a traditional fund, this will still set you up well for full-time recruiting. The most important thing is getting the investing experience.
I also recommend looking into Hyde Park Angels (HPA), the largest Midwest angel network, or the University of Chicago’s Innovation Fund Associates (IFA). Make sure you look through their portfolios and are prepared to discuss companies you think they should consider investing in. Feel free to ask them for tips and coaching throughout the application process.
What was your strategy in choosing courses?
JR: My weakness was that I didn’t have any investing experience when I arrived at Booth, even if I had a lot of finance experience. Thus, I sought to acquire as many investing skills and experiential courses as possible. Lean on the Academic Services team, and prioritize filling the gaps in your experience. Cultivate good relationships with professors who have networks in the field. While there is grade non-disclosure, most professors won’t give warm intros or write recommendation letters for you unless you do well in their class – which means participating actively, scoring well on assignments and tests, and spending time in office hours.
Everyone’s needs will be different, and so Booth’s academic advisors should be your go-to for course planning. But for people from a similar background to mine, my class recommendations include: Commercializing Innovation; Entrepreneurial Finance and Private Equity; the Private Equity and Venture Capital Lab; the CleanTech Lab (if you’re interested in clean tech or energy investing); and the Social Enterprise Lab. I’d also suggest taking Investments and Corporate Finance relatively early in one’s program—as they’re prerequisites to several of the other classes. Lab classes are great, but I personally would not take more than one lab at a time as they are very time consuming.
With a busy fall quarter, how did you prioritize your involvement in student groups?
JR: There are tons of great student groups at Booth. I think the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Group (EVC) is a great resource. You should also look at issue-specific clubs like the Booth Education Group (BoothEd), the Food, Environment, Agribusiness and Development group (FEAD), and the Energy Group. Also consider joining the Private Equity Group (PE) and Net Impact.
During the fall, get to know the folks in EVC, both first and second years. The people you meet in this group will make up your network. You’ll share job leads, but you’ll also want to start thinking about forming teams for important upcoming competitions like the MBA Impact Investing Network and Training (MIINT) competition and the Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC), and the Sterling Partners Investment Thesis Challenge (SPITC). The Invest for Impact competition is another option.
In spring of your first year and throughout second year, you can take on leadership responsibilities in the clubs, but make sure to weigh those responsibilities against the value of a term-time internship or participating in one of the high-profile competitions.
What’s the benefit of participating in competitions?
JR: All these programs are opportunities to get exposure to the actual practice of investing. They give you examples of companies and transactions you can cite in interviews, exposure presenting in front of practitioners (who may be hiring or know someone who is hiring), and if you win awards, these can be easy reference points to get your resume to the top of the pile.
For MIINT, you’ll work closely with the Impact Investor in Residence at the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation to source and conduct diligence on an early-stage social venture. In order to get the most out of the experience, I found a group of people interested in my issue area to source a company from that sector. I recommend a team of about five people, but everyone must be majorly committed, since it’s a lot of work.
For the VCIC, as a first-year, you probably aren’t going to get a “core” spot on a team that is accepted. Attach yourself to a team of second-years. The first-years do the same work as the second-years but don’t get to speak in front of judges. Regardless, it’s a really good learning and networking experience.
For the SPITC, I would try to find two other people interested in the same sector and develop an investment thesis around that. You can talk about your investment thesis during recruiting, as well as use it as an option to get into the Private Equity and Venture Capital Lab if it’s picked up by a private equity firm, so this competition is useful in several ways.
Any advice on how to get the ball rolling on networking?
JR: I hope you like to network because it’s critical when pursuing impact investing. In your spare time (ha!), you should be emailing and reaching out to alumni and network connections to conduct informational interviews. Set a weekly quota for how many informational interviews you want to keep yourself on task, but make sure to give yourself time to prepare well for each one. And don’t forget that Career Coaches can help you with your approach to outreach and networking as well as your overall search strategies. VC is a small industry, and impact VC is even smaller. Everyone knows everyone, so knowing people and having a good reputation during recruiting are easy ways to validate that you’re serious about this industry.
Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation
Ally Batty is associate director, marketing and communications at the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation. She has held a variety of writing and communications roles, including associate editor of the Chicago Booth Magazine and alumni editor of the University of Chicago Magazine. Previously, Batty served as Legislative Service Commission fellow and a legislative aide to representative Denise Driehaus of the Ohio House of Representatives. Batty volunteers as a writing coach for Posse scholars through the Posse Foundation. She received her BA in English Literature from Miami University of Ohio.