In the third installment of our Batten Venture Internship Program (BVIP) blog series, we feature Jim Howe (Class of 2020). Jim came to Darden to pursue a dual MBA/MEd with the UVA Curry School of Education, and spent the summer interning with New Markets Venture Partners, an impact venture capital firm focused on education technology investments. Reflecting on his BVIP internship experience, Jim shared insights from his summer experience and offered valuable advice for incoming students interested in venture capital.
Jim arrived at Darden with a background in management consulting, having spent four years working as an associate and consultant at the Boston Consulting Group. While at BCG, Jim developed a passion for creating opportunity through education. During an early project, he worked with the Arkansas Department of Education to craft a strategic plan to improve student achievement, and later, he spent a year with a program officer externship with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Postsecondary Success team.
When I started my first year at Darden, I knew I wanted a summer internship that would build my entrepreneurial skills and expand the toolkit I had developed in consulting. Because I plan to eventually either start my own venture or take on a leadership role in a small, growing organization, gaining an understanding of how companies are launched and scaled was important. It was also essential that I join a team focused on solving challenges in education, as I’m pursuing a second degree with the Curry School of Education and plan to work in the education field after I graduate.
I considered several opportunities while recruiting — including launching my own venture or joining an EdTech startup — but decided that a role in education-focused venture capital would be the best choice for my summer. I hoped that venture capital would give me great insight into the breadth of the EdTech industry and that it would help me understand how VC financing can accelerate startup growth. I was also excited to practice my financial modeling, as I was enjoying my core finance courses at Darden. In October, I was introduced to a partner at New Markets Venture Partners, the firm where I ended up interning, from a colleague at the Gates Foundation. Through several months of conversations, I was able to share with the partner team my knowledge of and passion for education, convincing them to create a new summer associate position just for me. It helped that I was supported by funding from the Batten Venture Internship Program (BVIP), which allowed me to fit into New Markets’ budget.
New Markets is an impact venture capital firm focused on making investments in the education technology industry. The three partners are able to add immense value to their portfolio companies through their superior knowledge of education and their broad networks. They have more history making investments in EdTech companies than most of their peers, having founded the firm in 2003 and now managing their fourth fund. Because the team is lean, I was able to get the entrepreneurial experience I wanted by working alongside the partner team.
The summer exceeded my expectations for an internship. To grow my knowledge of the EdTech sector, I got to know our portfolio companies deeply and conducted research on the EdTech market to support our upcoming fundraising efforts. I also gained a better understanding of the work of a venture capitalist; I supported multiple stages of the deal making process by leading deal screening calls and writing investment memos. The first memo I wrote was for Climb Credit, a student loan financing company for bootcamps and other alternative postsecondary programs in which we invested in June. It was rewarding to see the work that I had put in contribute to Climb Credit’s growth plans and to New Markets’ investment portfolio.
I had a number of surprises and highlights along the way. One surprise was learning that a broad network is essential to working in venture capital, which I noted while watching the partner team identify opportunities for portfolio companies to collaborate with LPs and advisors in the field. Another surprise was the amount of time New Markets invested strengthening relationships with strategic acquirers, thereby building a larger sales pipeline for their portfolio companies. I was also amazed by the level of access I had to our portfolio company teams. I was able to reach out directly to the CEOs running our companies and get quick, helpful responses back. I grew to appreciate how a collaborative relationship between startups and their funders can help both parties be successful, and the amount of work our partners had put in to build these collaborative relationships.
A highlight of the summer came about two weeks in, when John Katzman, CEO of Noodle Partners, visited our office to present his latest financials to our team. John is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the EdTech industry, having previously founded two billion-dollar companies: The Princeton Review and 2U. He is now hard at work trying to transform higher education one more time. It was incredible being able to work with an entrepreneur who has had such an immense impact on higher education, and even more incredible to be treated as an equal thought partner when I raised questions.
Venture capital is an exciting industry for MBA candidates to consider, and I encourage the next class of Darden students to seek out opportunities in VC. Recruiting in the industry is challenging, requiring you to network ferociously and frequently. Leverage the Darden community and your own network to find new connections, and don’t be afraid to ask for time from people you’ve never met. As long as you have a passion for your work and a story to tell, most entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are happy to offer time and advice, and to point you towards a potential internship opportunity. Recruiting in venture capital requires a bit more tenacity than recruiting on Grounds at Darden, but offers an opportunity for a dynamic and impactful career.
-Jim Howe, Class of 2020
The Batten Venture Internship Program offers students the opportunity to pursue internships with venture capital firms, startups or closely held enterprises. Entrepreneurial students who hope to start their own venture gain valuable formal experience through BVIP, which offers a matching salary stipend to encourage this one-of-a-kind internship exploration. Learn more about Darden’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Read about other unique BVIP internships: