Agate is an Investment Manager at Norrsken Foundation focused on investing in impact tech start-ups. Before becoming a venture capitalist, she made a big jump from a corporate career at Morgan Stanley to join a fintech start-up from its inception. She started her career in investment banking and private equity investing at Morgan Stanley, working in both the London and New York offices.
We had the chance to catch up with Agate to profile her career to date and especially to understand what made her leave behind her corporate career.
Tell us a bit about your career so far?
I studied Business Management at Warwick Business School and have been doing internships since the age of 14 in different fields such as marketing, management consulting, and investment banking. I started my career in investment banking at Morgan Stanley where I trained and developed for 6 years, first working on M&A and then by moving into private equity investing. I always had an entrepreneurial drive inside me and after a few years at the bank I started to look for other opportunities.
How did you transition from 6 years in banking to joining a start-up?
Coming from a finance and banking background I always feared I would be jumping into an industry I didn’t know, throwing away contacts, networks and skills I learnt there. However, I took the leap and joined BrickVest, a real estate fintech company. When I came across it, I knew instantly that it was the right opportunity for me as it combined the skills I had acquired in banking but applied to a new industry. I met the founders of the business before they started the company through networking. At Morgan Stanley, I was part of a small team so I took the opportunity to speak to my colleagues before making the decision to leave. My colleagues were very supportive around my rationale and why I wanted to take the next step. They left an open door if I ever wanted to go back. Building a network in your existing job with people who you can talk to and engage with is so important. At that point, leaving for a start-up didn’t seem as a career risk as I had been in the industry for long enough to easily go back to it. Therefore, I felt that a start-up experience would only be additive to my overall career.
What was your role at BrickVest?
I was with the company for 2 years, joining from day 1 as their Senior Investment Director. Since joining I’ve done everything under the sun from fundraising, PR & marketing, HR, operations, administration, and investing. This was great as I got to learn the ropes and I was able to pass it on to other new joiners. The company has grown so fast and now includes 18 full-time employees with roles and responsibilities that are becoming more focused. My primary role was sourcing and identifying investment and partnership opportunities as well as thinking around the strategic direction of the firm.
What did you enjoy most about joining a start-up? Is there anything you miss from investment banking?
Building the company from zero was a real adventure – learning as you go and building it from scratch. It was really hard to go back into a niche role after overseeing and managing everything in the company. The thing I enjoyed the most is multi-tasking and being hands-on in a large number of projects. In banking I had a very positive experience as I was part of a fantastic team but I don’t think I would go back to it given my experience to date in the start-up world, it’s just so exciting.
What’s your take on the start-up world?
I’m a bit cynical about the start-up world and all the conferences and engagement sessions, because you have to ask yourself what the purpose is. Too often entrepreneurs focus more on building their personal brand rather than building their companies. I find that meeting the right people happens organically. Get your head down and focus on building your business, you’ll get there in the end rather than spending 80% of your time at conferences chasing long shots. Looking at the geographical differences, it is true when they say it’s easier to access capital at the earlier stage in the US although in London you can find funding, if your business delivers results. In Europe, investors are more results-focused in my experience.
Did you consider an MBA?
Yes. I considered a career jump. My options were to do an MBA or to join a start-up. I feel like my start-up experience was the best hands-on MBA possible. The networks you can access through doing an MBA at a prestigious school are incredible but I see myself as more of a hands-on learner.
Who would you say are the women who inspire you?
So many women inspire me every single day. What I love seeing is passion for what you do regardless if its starting a business, finance, chemistry or working in the NGO sector. I am not a follower of big public figures. I read about them and try to learn but I can’t say that anyone in particular truly resonates with me. We don’t really know them as we tend to only know a PR version of them. For me to be inspired it requires a human connection, to feel and hear the person and see that they are real people like me. One of my favourite Eyedea events that struck a deep cord with me was the dinner with Kristina Blahnik, the CEO of Manolo Blahnik. I was truly touched and inspired by her – mainly by her “realness” and her courage to be vulnerable.
What would be your top words of advice for anyone thinking of doing something similar?
There are a lot of people in banking considering the start-up side. Fintech is super interesting because it combines both finance and technology which allows people with my background to jump straight into it. My advice would be:
Mentorship – find the people you trust.
You don’t know until you try it – the chaos and disorganisation of a start-up is so exciting, but it is definitely not for everyone. Try it and if it is not for you, after a few years in a big industry you can always go back to it.
Success is not a trophy at the end of a long career – you can and should enjoy this along the way and find a place that feels like home.
Don’t waste time working for bad bosses – make sure you are working for someone confident who is willing to take risks on you, gives you stretch opportunities, and is there to back you if things get tough. If you don’t have that person behind you then keep looking until you do! It can make a huge difference to your career. You absorb the habits of the people you work with. You can learn a lot from seeing how not to do things although that will only take you to a certain point. You’ll advance if you have people around you who want to see you grow and develop.
If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. The thing is, these large corporations teach you hands-on how to solve problems, discipline, professionalism, and a sense for efficiency. In other words, skills that you carry with yourself throughout your career.
What do you do in your free time?
I like to be in the nature – that’s what really recharges my batteries. But I like to do more of the same even in my free time. My best friend and I have been working on a fun hobby project. We recently launched Blooming Nine – a maternity clothing brand selling online. When my friend was pregnant she made her own clothes and one particular item got the compliments flowing – the Blooming Nine skirt. She has been making and gifting the skirt to friends and then friends of friends as the word kept spreading. So we decided to have a bit of fun and try to launch it online – because why not? More to talk about over a glass of wine. We were just really curios to see if it is possible to sell a product online. It is possible, and it is so easy! I encourage everyone to try. We still get a massive thrill seeing orders come in from all over the world – it really is fascinating to see how global a consumer is today.
What’s next for you?
After 12 years in London, my husband and I have decided to move to Stockholm where he is originally from. I have just taken on a new challenge as an Investment Manager at a brand new venture capital fund, an arm of the Norrsken Foundation – a Swedish foundation founded a year ago by the founder of one of the Swedish fintech mega successes – Klarna. The foundation has a mission to develop the biggest social impact investment hub in Europe. Impact investing is such an interesting area of work, in particular because of the high value that they can add as a business. I hope that my background in finance combined with a hands-on tech start-up experience will make me a good venture capitalist. It is very exciting to work on finding the best social impact tech entrepreneurs and hear their inspiring stories. Since our venture capital arm is brand new, I am also excited about the journey to build it.
If any Eyedea members are working on tech businesses with a positive impact on the world, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Agate – firstname.lastname@example.org