BRV Fund Manager & Author: Kevin Grathwohl

Venture capital (VC) is a world of innovation, risk, and opportunity, but breaking into this field can be a daunting task. Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Nicole DeTommaso, a seasoned VC professional, and Principal at Harlem Capital. Our conversation revolved around strategies for entering the VC world and achieving early success. In this article, we’ll explore these strategies, providing a roadmap for those aspiring to build a career in venture capital.

Looking back, Nicole’s path to venture capital would seem linear. But as a first-generation college student at Columbia, she was “following the heard” from studying economics to working in banking at RBC in New York. Although she enjoyed her time there, the learning curves began to flatten, and she was ready for a new opportunity, but venture capital was still a question mark. But a single LinkedIn post on Harlem Capital initiated a search down a deep rabbit hole of the firm and what it meant to work in venture capital. While researching across blogs, YouTube videos, and news articles, she fell in love with Harlem Capital mission. 

She turned that deep understanding of Harlem Capital’s thesis and passion for VC into an internship at Harlem Capital, and eventually “pitch herself” to the firm for an associate role. Although Nicole had a “traditional path toward venture” she has an untraditional level of curiosity across industries that has enabled her to quickly rise in venture. Now she is a popular thought leader in the space and shares the following strategies of how to break into VC. 

Strategies to Break into VC

1. Discover Your Passion for VC

Define Your Mission: Nicole’s introduction to VC happened when she stumbled upon Harlem Capital’s mission to invest in diverse founders. Discovering your passion within VC’s vast landscape can be a catalyst for your journey.

2. Network with Purpose

Use platforms like LinkedIn, X (formerly Twitter), Medium to connect with professionals in the VC field. Additionally, when researching firms, go beyond the company’s website. Follow their updates across various platforms and engage with their content. This allows you to understand what is exciting the firm, and if you believe your interests truly align with the VC. 

During our conversation, Nicole underscored the value of communication. Whether you are searching for a VC position or working at a firm, the position requires a deep enjoyment for working with others, and it is important to be able to communicate with people either in the office, on the phone, or across social media platforms.

3. Gain Practical Experience

Pursuing internships or fellowships with VC firms, accelerators, or startups can provide hands-on experience and insights into the inner workings of venture capital. Nicole emphasized the importance of showcasing your value, whether through research, deal sourcing, or other contributions, demonstrating your ability to add value to a VC firm can be a powerful way to secure a position.

Tactics for Success in VC Once inside a VC firm

1. Internal Understanding

Immerse yourself in the company and spend time learning about your firm’s partners, investment theses, and operational dynamics. Each VC firm has its unique approach, so take the time to truly understand the inner fabric of the company.

Nicole fell in love with Harlem Capital’s mission to invest in 1000 diverse founders over 20-years. That resonated with Nicole personally, and the parallel passions enables her to find reward as she diligently finds investment opportunities.

2. Strategic Networking

Focus your networking efforts on individuals and groups aligned with your firm’s investment focus. Build relationships that matter. Nicole advised on “finding your people”. A few ways she has successfully done this is joining slack meetups, attending conferences and in-person networking events. Through these different channels, she has been able to build relationships with founders, VCs, and like-minded people.

3. Personal Branding and Learning

Brand Building: Decide on your personal brand strategy. As Nicole states, “you do not have a choice, you have to build a brand”. However, that brand can be either internally within your firm or externally through media and networking. For Nicole, she has positioned herself as an external leader supporting individuals navigating the VC recruiting process as well as a thought leader for early stage investing.

Continuous Learning: Stay updated with industry trends, attend events, and engage in constructive dialogues with peers and colleagues.

Embrace Dialogue: Engage in meaningful conversations, even if it means challenging ideas. Productive dialogues can lead to lasting impressions. Nicole’s favorite quote: 

“Have strong opinions loosely held. 

Venture capital offers a thrilling career, but the path can be winding and uncertain. Nicole DeTommaso’s journey and insights provide invaluable guidance for those looking to enter and succeed in this dynamic field. Whether you are just starting your venture capital journey or seeking ways to thrive within a VC firm, the strategies shared here serve as a compass. As we explore the dynamic realm of VC, Nicole’s insights guide us, emphasizing that the essential elements for entering and flourishing in the venture capital arena are passion, determination, and strategic networking.