When the editorial team of Venture Capital Journal decided last fall to find the up and comers of the venture community under the age of 40, we feared we’d generate a sparse list.
Our readers let us know how silly that notion was. Turns out, the number of candidates overwhelmed us. More than 120 nominees were submitted for our inaugural Rising Stars 2020. It wasn’t easy honing it to 40; a lot of quality people were left off the final tally.
Based on the exuberance of those who submitted, we look forward to making this an annual thing and formulating another list of young guns next year. Be on the lookout for our call for submissions in October 2020.
In the meantime, we wanted to explain how we drew up this year’s Rising Stars.
First, we sought nominations, asking readers to submit names and supporting material, which we supplemented with the editorial team’s own understanding of the market.
By their nature, the Rising Stars don’t have a ton of performance data to judge objectively. Our selection criteria were based on such factors as the deals they are involved in, industry accolades, obstacles they overcame, how fast they are rising in title and stature, what responsibilities they oversee, and how they contribute to thought leadership.
Under the radar
We also considered how under-the-radar they are. To be fair, the VC community is filled with noteworthy people, many of whom have already made names for themselves while still being considered Rising Stars. We felt some did not fit the spirit of being under-the-radar Rising Stars. Thus, many VC standouts and accomplished investors did not make the cut.
However, this isn’t a typical list of principals and junior partners from top-tier firms. We included firm founders, since we believe many senior people simply could not be overlooked.
We looked at VCs and the broader venture community of LPs, bankers, attorneys and other service providers, as well. We were impressed at the diversity. Some of the Rising Stars joined their employers as interns.
We also looked at their international expertise, and we’re happy to say the final Rising Stars 2020 list includes folks active in the US, Canada, Asia and Europe. We plan to expand it to include more global representation next year.
We congratulate those on the pages that follow as well as all the candidates we didn’t select. Our overall conclusion is that the venture community appears to be in safe hands, thanks to these Rising Stars.
Click here to read about how the list forecasts a more diverse future for VC
Andrew Ahern | 39
Ahern’s experience in the venture space includes leading the team advising Sequoia Capital on, among other things, the fundraising for its global growth fund. He also recently led the team advising Oak HC/FT on its latest $800 million oversubscribed fund and representing Lightspeed Venture Partners. The firm says Ahern “understands and appreciates what is most important to investment firms and can offer advice that enables venture clients to achieve their goals.” He is also well-known in the industry and often speaks at conferences and events and regularly publishes content on various funds topics.
Adeyemi ‘Ade’ Ajao | 37
Co-Founder and Managing Partner
Ajao, who is of Nigerian and Spanish descent, raised the largest black-led first fund to date at $137 million in 2018. Before Base10, Ajao was the co-founder and CEO of Tuenti, a Spanish version of Facebook that Telefonica acquired in 2010 for $100 million. He also co-founded Identified, which applied AI in HR and was acquired by Workday in 2014. After the acquisition of Identified, Ajao launched Workday Ventures, which he said was the first fund focused on applied-AI for enterprise software. Before starting Base10, Ajao personally backed more than 50 companies, including Instacart, Dollar Shave Club and Cabify, the largest ride-sharing company in Latin America.
Darren Bechtel | 37
Founder and Managing Director
Brick & Mortar Ventures
Bechtel is arguably the single most active early-stage investor in AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) and FM (facilities management) over the past five years, with his first four construction tech deals being seed investments in PlanGrid, BuildZoom, BuildingConnected and Rhumbix. He has since raised a $97 million inaugural fund for Brick & Mortar to focus on built-world investments, part of a larger industry trend. With family ties to Bechtel, the nation’s largest civil engineering, construction, and project management firm, Bechtel says he is investing in what he’s passionate about, and it’s a chance for him to play a lead role in ensuring the adoption of technology across the built world.
Damir Becirovic | 27
Becirovic joined Index Ventures in 2015 when he was 23, and his main focus is on venture and growth investing. He led the firm’s investment in Bird, which recently was valued at $2.5 billion, and he currently sits on the boards of Bird, Hollar, Rec Room and Toolbx. The USC graduate, who speaks Bosnian and English, was previously an investment banking analyst at Goldman Sachs.
Dino Becirovic | 27
Principal Index Ventures
Previously an associate at Kleiner Perkins, Becirovic joined his twin brother at Index Ventures in 2017 to focus on investments in consumer internet and marketplaces across all stages. He has led Index’s investment in BallerTV and serves as a board member of the company. He was also instrumental in Index’s investment of Grailed and GOAT. Like his brother, he speaks Bosnian and English, is a USC grad and was an investment banking analyst at Goldman Sachs.
Christophe Bourque | 33
White Star Capital
Bourque joined the team two years ago, working with co-founder and managing partner Jean-Francois Marcoux in Montreal. He was recently promoted to general partner and charged with leading the firm’s newest office in Toronto to deepen their presence in the fast-growing North American tech hub, core to White Star’s thesis of investing. Bourque works with partners in London, Hong Kong, New York, Paris and Tokyo to help Canadian startups expand internationally, as well as work with portfolio companies in the US, Europe and Asia to leverage the rich Canadian tech ecosystem. He says he invests in data-driven founders and companies he believes in, establishing genuine and long-lasting relationships with entrepreneurs and CEOs.
Racquel Bracken | 37
Bracken is a member of the healthcare venture investment team at the firm and serves as the acting CEO of Federation Bio, a Venrock-backed company she helped found in 2018 that addresses the microbiome therapeutics space. In 2017, she participated in Venrock’s investment in Inscripta, a Boulder-based gene-editing tools company that discovered a new family of CRISPR gene editing proteins. Prior to joining Venrock in 2016, Racquel was an early employee of Clovis Oncology, where she led the commercial launch of Rubraca, a now-approved drug for ovarian cancer. Earlier in her career, the Harvard grad was on the investment team at Domain Associates.
Mike Caso | 30
Co-founder and Managing Partner
Prior to launching Rosecliff, Caso worked for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. He also worked as an investment banking associate for Rosecliff Capital, where he focused on technology, consumer and software deals. At Rosecliff Ventures, Caso has excelled in consumer and sports-focused deals like Casper, Allbirds, JuicePress and Rumble Fitness. He oversees the entire investment team, which is responsible for sourcing, reviewing, researching and structuring new investment opportunities for the firm. He also manages the firm’s fundraising and efforts.
David Cheng | 26
At DCM Ventures, Cheng was promoted early twice to become the youngest VP in the firm’s history. The firm says he has leveraged his background growing up in Beijing to serve as a strategic liaison between Chinese and US internet companies. He works with DCM’s corporate LPs and partners on their investment efforts in the US, as well as advising portfolio companies with their global business development opportunities. He is particularly focused on retail that is frictionless, curated and accessible, which the millennial and the Gen Z demographics are targeting. Deals he has led include Stockwell.ai, Plenty, UJET and Brigit.
Meera Clark | 27
Prior to Obvious, Clark advised companies at Morgan Stanley, and before that worked in marketing and product management roles at Stella & Dot and PayPal. Her interest in consumer businesses led the French-speaking Stanford University grad to Obvious, where she joined in June 2019 and has already sourced several undisclosed deals. She has also published articles on the “experience economy” and another on how investment in services businesses is set to take off in venture.
Lisa Conway | 32
OMERS Growth Equity
The growth equity practice was launched within the last year, but Conway has already made an impact and is helping to shape its strategy. She focuses on the development of investment themes, sourcing and executing new opportunities and managing current investments. Prior to joining OMERS, she spent nearly a decade as an M&A investment banker, beginning her career at Genuity Capital Markets in Toronto and most recently advising at Blackstone and PJT Partners in New York. She graduated from the Richard Ivey School of Business at Western University, where she was a recipient of the Ivey Scholar Award. The firm calls her a “mentor, coach and supporter to the rest of the team.”
Joey Davis | 35
Davis is principal of the firm’s first fund but will be promoted to general partner of Innosphere Fund II, which will launch this year. His career began at Lehman Brothers in New York, and he worked for Raymond James, where he spent a year in their management rotational program. The Florida native moved to Colorado and joined the Innosphere team in 2018 to focus on due diligence, deal structuring, and portfolio company support to address Colorado’s seed-stage capital gap. The firm calls him a shrewd investor for identifying companies attacking interesting markets. At Innosphere, he is a board observer for Incident Response Technologies, Aspero Medical, Inc. and Epic River.
Allison ‘Allie’ Esch | 25
Dundee Venture Capital
Esch started with the firm in 2016 as an intern and implemented a more efficient way for the firm to track deal flow. She assisted in fundraising, which resulted in raising $500,000, and supported diligence for new investments. The firm said she has been on a fast-track ever since, building Dundee’s brand in such new markets as Denver, Boulder, Austin and Atlanta, fostering relationships with co-investors, sourcing key investments and becoming a trusted partner to entrepreneurs. She sourced and led Dundee’s first cryptocurrency deal in Dapix in 2018. Esch is also a frequent panelist and startup pitch competition judge. In August, she participated on an SEC panel about capital formation in the Silicon Prairie.
Jenny Friedman | 29
Co-founder and General Partner
Before Supernode, Friedman was with Eniac Ventures, where she focused on early-stage deals in mobile-first technology, including enterprise and consumer facing applications and platforms. Before that, she was in an operational role at Minibar Delivery, an e-commerce startup. She’s known as a sharp VC. At Supernode, she has tapped into the pre-seed and seed stages, assessing companies at times that are pre-revenue and pre-product. Her first deal was Choosy, a pre-seed company that quadrupled in valuation within two months at which point NEA and Forerunner VC co-led the seed round with participation from Supernode. Friedman began looking at alternative foods in 2017, sourcing the firm’s investment in New Age Meats.
Natalie Gonzales | 35
Gonzales is one of the leads for the firm’s emerging company and venture capital initiatives in Houston. Her work includes representing clients on numerous patent cases and counseling companies in the energy, telecom and medical industries. In addition, she is one of the Texas Chapter Leaders for ChIPs, which focuses on advancing women in tech, law and policy.
Jonathan Goodwin | 33
Goodwin’s law practice spans early-stage to growth-stage VC firms across the US, Israel and China. Firms whose funds he has worked on include Sequoia Capital, Kleiner Perkins, NFX and Jerusalem Venture Partners, among others. He has also been instrumental in the development of the law firm’s investor onboarding portal, which allows investors of the funds that the firm represents to complete, sign and submit their subscription agreements electronically via an online portal, a service that others in the industry are trying to emulate.
Greg Greifeld | 31
Runway Growth Capital
Greifeld, who joined in 2017, leads a team of four that oversees the firm’s investments and is responsible for due diligence, performance monitoring and deal structure of prospective borrowers and portfolio companies. The firm says he has a keen eye for identifying loss-making companies that have the potential to be great. He was the catalyst behind two deals that garnered significant attention: LinkedIn’s acquisition of Drawbridge and Stryker’s acquisition of Mobius. He has grown “the portfolio from zero to what is now nearly $500 million across 29 investments.”
Frederik Groce | 28
Groce joined the firm as an analyst in 2016 and looks at B2B, AI, SaaS, vertical SaaS, gov tech and enterprise voice tech. Investments include Camino, NextRequest and Simple Emotion. A Stanford University grad, Groce spent two years as CEO of Stanford Student Enterprises with more than 100 employees and total assets exceeding $15 million. This included overseeing Stanford’s accelerator program. Groce is also a mentor with the East Bay College Fund, which works with minority college students coming from underprivileged communities in the East Bay.
Tina Hoang-To | 36
Executive Vice President
Hoang-To joined TCV in 2008 and rejoined in 2019. She focuses on internet, digital media and entertainment, mobile technology and software. She previously was an investment banker at Bear Stearns and served as CEO of Wedding Spot. At TCV, she led the investment in Modsy, an online home interior design service, and currently serves on its board. The firm calls her a problem solver. Wedding Spot was created because of her own frustrations while wedding planning. The operational experience “has made me a far better investor today… I’ve basically built every part of the organization from scratch and have so much more empathy for founders now.”
Crystal Huang | 30
New Enterprise Associates
Huang focuses on enterprise software, infrastructure, security and tech-enabled services/marketplaces, and consumer internet. Her most recent investment was London-based SaaS company Attest, which raised a Series A led by NEA. She also joined the board of directors. Formerly with GGV Capital and Blackstone, Huang says she is passionate about working with companies with the potential to scale internationally. At GGV Capital, she focused on US and China investments in enterprise software. She has lived internationally in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada.
Michelle Killoran | 29
After OMERS Ventures expanded its presence to Silicon Valley in early 2019, Killoran relocated from Toronto. She focuses on residential real estate and healthtech and has sourced and funded companies in both sectors. Additionally, Killoran serves as a board observer of Jobber, Klue, PeerWell and Vision Critical. The firm says she has accomplished so much in her young career: “You would be hard-pressed to find someone with more dedication, work ethic and passion.”
Alex Lim | 31
Lim joined IVP in March 2015 as an associate and was promoted to senior associate after a year, faster than anyone before him, thanks to what the firm calls his creative sourcing strategies and contributions. He focuses on investing in later-stage, high-growth consumer and enterprise companies and has a particular interest in machine intelligence, SaaS, messaging and gaming companies. He has sourced such deals as Cyence, Hims, Lime and Qubole, among others. He also worked actively on IVP’s investment in SteelBrick, which was later sold to Salesforce.com for $360 million.
Will Lin | 31
When ForgePoint was formed, Lin was tapped as its only associate. Since 2015, he has risen from to VP to principal and now to partner. Firm founder Don Dixon says the meteoric rise was based on performance and that Lin “has the potential to be one of the great venture capital investors.” Lin works closely with the portfolio company chief information security officers and hosts meetings around various industry events. One CISO says Lin is transparent, “which makes engaging with him a generous gift of learning.” Lin is often seen spending time educating others about the perspective of VCs and how to bring ideas to market.
Susan Liu | 31
Scale Venture Partners
Liu, who focuses on business software, was most recently in investment banking at Deutsche Bank, where she advised technology companies on capital raises and M&A strategy. At Scale, she is a board observer at WalkMe and ScoutRFP and her efforts have led to investments in WalkMe, Wrike, Unbabel, Lever, Namely and TalkIQ. She frequently engages in industry discussions around the future of work, and shares advice on how startups can set themselves apart from competitors in early funding stages to be set up for long-term success. She helped launch Scale Studio, Scale’s in-house startup metrics platform, and is involved with All Raise to help boost diversity and inclusion efforts.
Miguel Luina | 36
Based in San Francisco, Luina oversees due diligence of primary fund investment opportunities and leads the firm’s efforts in venture, growth and technology investments. As of June 30, that includes more than 140 managers, including primary partnerships and secondary purchases. As a thought leader, Luina wrote a white paper last year called “The Myth of Peak Venture,” arguing that today’s global VC market is different than the past.
Aaron Michel | 39
Michel is an entrepreneur-turned-VC. After his last company, PathSource, was acquired by AcademixDirect, he joined 1984 Ventures as a partner in November 2017. Since then, he’s sourced a range of deals, including Fairmarkit, Unioncrate and Reggora. A co-investor says of Michel: “He is active in working with the companies, offering advice, helping them recruit and connecting them with investors.” He also publishes articles, including most recently “The End Of Staffing,” which supports the firm’s aim of investing in more staffing companies, like their portfolio companies Trusted Health, Heroes Jobs and Toolbox. Michel also sits on the executive committee of the San Francisco Workforce Investment Board.
Ross Morrison | 39
Morrison focuses on the primary portfolio within the UK, Nordic Region and France. He also covers pan-European managers and the large-cap space, responsible for venture capital in Europe and Israel. Emerging markets coverage includes Africa, Russia, and Emerging Europe. He sits on more than 20 advisory boards for Adams Street, including Index Ventures, Highland Capital, Mosaic, Aleph, TLV, HgCapital, Keensight, Livingbridge, Vitruvian and TDR.
Jordan Nof | 38
Nof has taken a first time, unconventional fund that focuses on tech and regulation and has sourced and invested in Bird, Lemonade, Coinbase, Roman, FanDuel, Nexar, Sunday Lawn, Care/Of, Circle and Kodiak, among others. CEO Bradley Tusk says Nof “took a tremendous risk in leaving Blackstone to form a new fund that no one had ever tried before.” His work on the companies has also contributed to the policy changes that are taking place in their industries, whether it’s legalizing fantasy sports (FanDuel), electric scooters (Bird), online property and casualty insurance (Lemonade), prescriptions via telemedicine (Roman) or autonomous trucking (Kodiak).
Kira Noodleman | 33
Noodleman, a Haas MBA, joined the firm via an internship, which transformed into an associate position. She was promoted to principal in mid-December 2019. The firm says Noodleman, the only woman on staff, is assertive in giving her point of view. “In areas where she really is the team leader, like blockchain and synbio, she’s the end-stop.” She is active in the VC and startup communities, mentoring via the Violet Society and SkyDeck, and speaking about women and investing. She holds board observer seats in several Bee portfolio companies. Noodleman says she looks at 2,000 startups a year, adding: “Venture investing is about intoxicated learning and suspending disbelief to dream with the founder.”
Nitya Rajendran | 27
Tribeca Venture Partners
Rajendran joined the firm as an associate in 2017 and was promoted last year. At Tribeca, she leads early-stage investments in consumer-tech, fintech and B2B companies. A lifelong New Yorker, she also focuses on building the technology ecosystem in the city and has sourced and led the firm’s investments in Domio and worked on numerous other deals, including Spiffy, Vivvi and AmpJar. In addition, she serves as a board observer for four portfolio companies: ACV Auctions, Domio, Vivvi and Porter Road. Prior to joining venture, she was an investment banker at Lazard, where she won the André Meyer Fellowship.
Erica Rice | 37
Rice is establishing a name for herself in emerging industries, particularly in blockchain and cannabis. In the past year alone, she has led more than a dozen transactions in the cannabis sector, representing some of the largest industry players while navigating the complex regulatory landscape. The firm says she is influencing guidelines in an industry where official rules are not yet in place and where many attorneys are not yet willing to provide counsel. She also was on the team that represented LevelUp in its $390 million sale to Grubhub.
Avery Rosin | 28
Lead Edge Capital
At Lead Edge Capital, where he manages the West Coast office in Santa Barbara, Rosin is responsible for sourcing and leading new investments for the growth equity fund. He sourced Lead Edge’s investments in such companies as Duo Security, Moat, Signal Sciences, Thrive Market, Boxed and Ovia Health, among others, and supported the firm’s investment in Toast, now valued at $2.7 billion. Prior to Lead Edge, he worked as an analyst with the BRM Group in Israel, where he performed due diligence and market research for early stage investment opportunities. He’s active in Birthright Excel, a fellowship program and alumni community of young professionals interested in business and technology and Israel.
Brian Rothenberg | 37
Before joining Defy, Rothenberg spent over six years scaling Eventbrite and was Eventbrite’s first VP of growth. Before that, he founded SkillSlate, a local services marketplace that he sold to TaskRabbit. He is a thought leader on marketplaces, as well as on the increasing convergence of SaaS and consumer internet companies. Since joining Defy, he has led or co-led two investments in these areas (not yet publicly announced). Rothenberg has been an angel investor and growth advisor to dozens of startups as part of Sequoia Capital’s Scout program.
Conrad Shang | 36
Shang leads the VC portfolio for one of the largest university endowments in the country at a time when LPs are increasingly looking to make direct investments. The Wharton School grad has been on both sides of the table, having also previously been at Norwest Venture Partners and Bain Capital Ventures. In between that, he was a product manager at Yammer. At Norwest, Shang was actively involved in the firm’s backing of Casper and was a board observer at Sensay, Stratim and Udemy.
Jason Shuman | 28
Primary Venture Partners
Shuman has worked in New York as a VC for more than four years. In college, he launched a direct-to-consumer footwear company that sold hand-sewn boat shoes and diving moccasins. He later joined seed investor Corigin Ventures, where he invested in such companies as Latch, Loftsmart and Morty. Most recently, he managed venture and LP investments for the family office of Gerson Lehrman Group. Primary says Shuman has amazing talent and a keen ability to network. Four years ago, he started VC TableTalk as a way to connect the next generation of VCs, and the program has since had 200 investors from about 90 firms participate.
Ilana Stern | 36
Before joining Peterson last year to lead the firm’s San Francisco presence, Stern was an angel investor, backing The Pill Club, Darkstore and the Guild. At Peterson, she focuses on enterprise SaaS and consumer deals, and is particularly interested in the consumerization of industries like healthcare and financial services. This ties into her background as founder and CEO of Weddington Way, a direct to consumer brand, which was acquired by Gap three years ago. The venture firm notes how she is involved in coaching female founders through the nonprofit All Raise and is helping increase the number of female founders and funders in the tech ecosystem.
Andrea Lamari Walne | 28
Manhattan Venture Partners
At Manhattan Venture Partners, a merchant bank focused on the secondary market, Walne is one of the first female executives in the space and has facilitated transactions for Slack, Uber, Stitch Fix and PagerDuty. Walne leads the firm’s San Francisco office. “I feel fortunate to carry the perspective of someone who’s seen all sides of the triangle – from being a founder of one of the secondary liquidity online platforms, a shareholder of a late-stage startup, and now in the role as a VC.” Prior to joining MVP, she led the liquidity solutions team at Carta.
Simon Wu | 30
In 2016, Wu became the first employee in the firm’s San Francisco office, where he focuses on building the firm’s US presence. He has been promoted a number of times in a few short years. He looks at deals regarding the future of retail and commerce, next gen fintech and enterprise/vertical software. Using what the firm called limited resources, Wu was resourceful enough to help find some of Cathay’s leading investments, such as Chime, the US mobile bank valued at over $5 billion, and Peek, the local activities platform, which has raised $40 million in funding. He also provides cross-border support for the teams in China and Europe.
Laura Yao | 31
Yao was the second employee hired in the firm’s San Francisco office and plays a role in all of its local deals. She led the investment in Darkstore and sits on the company board. Darkstore’s Lee Hnetinka says the firm “has demonstrated to us they are not afraid to take big bold bets.” Yao is also a volunteer for All Raise, a nonprofit whose goal is to increase the number of female partners at US venture firms and the percentage of venture capital going to companies with a female founder. Yao is also a Kauffman Fellow, a two-year leadership development program for venture capitalists. She also writes a blog entitled Whiskey Picnic, at whiskeypicnic.com, where she muses on multiple topics.