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How I'm leaning in to become one of the 7% of women in venture capital

By Kira Noodleman

My passion is solving problems that matter. That passion often attracts me to disruptive industries and ways of thinking. My appreciation for risk-taking attracted me to entrepreneurship, and motivated me to apply to business school. 

I chose Haas because one of its Defining Leadership Principles, Question the Status Quo, deeply resonated with me. From my perspective, questioning the status quo is exemplified by Haas’ vast entrepreneurial ecosystem, the cultivation of emotional intelligence, and its emphasis on gender equity. These three things have defined and transformed my time here.

Sink or swim

Before arriving at Haas, I had naturally gravitated toward sink-or-swim environments and realized those are the places where I thrive. For example, as program manager for Google's Project Ara, I was one of the driving forces in creating a disruptive hardware ecosystem to deliver the mobile internet to 6 billion people—an industry game-changer. I co-led a 35-person team charged with designing and implementing the project’s minimum viable product (MVP) at its launch in Puerto Rico. It was a high-visibility, high-pressure, zero-room-for-error project—and I loved it.

Kira, in Google Glasses, speaks about wearables in Argentina.jpgThriving in these environments requires emotional intelligence. For example, when I moved to Buenos Aires for three years, I was a fluent Spanish speaker but needed to quickly adjust to a new speaking style and technical vocabulary (in the photo above, I'm giving a talk on wearables and the IoT at Argentina's Universidad de Tecnologia Nacional). I also had to adapt to deep-rooted cultural differences in business, personal relationships, and daily life. I found that my ability to closely observe and tune in to what people were thinking and feeling helped me quickly make this transition. I could see how emotional intelligence was a key ingredient to my success, and set out to develop my skills further.

Building skills—and a network

Upon matriculating at Haas, I learned about LAUNCH—the University of California’s leading startup accelerator, based on Steve Blank’s Lean Launchpad curriculum. The LAUNCH curriculum teaches entrepreneurs to rapidly validate ideas by seeking out extensive customer feedback, overcoming the reason most startups fail. I knew I had to get involved, to learn ways of seeing things that others don’t, and to learn how to better take risks and succeed.

To immerse myself, I took on a role as one of LAUNCH’s mentor-startup liaisons, acting as an interface between and among the accelerator’s 24 cross-industry startup teams, the Berkeley entrepreneurial ecosystem, and our Silicon Valley mentors. The experience was invigorating. It not only motivated me to intern in venture capital over the summer, it also helped me network and land my internship at Bee Partners (founded by Michael Berolzheimer, Haas MBA 07). I networked intensively, attending myriad events and always requesting introductions. In hindsight, one of the best opportunities I had was interviewing 30-plus entrepreneurs and VCs to produce five marketing videos prior to LAUNCH’s Demo Day. This gave me a chance to build deeper relationships than I would have in straight networking events because my interviewees and I shared a common goal of unifying and strengthening the Berkeley entrepreneurship community.

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Boosting my EQ

In addition to building on my professional goals, Haas has made me a stronger leader by giving me opportunities to heighten my emotional intelligence (EQ) and work to foster a culture of gender equality. The school’s emphasis on emotional intelligence  is evident through core classes like Leadership Communication—for which I became a Graduate Student Instructor in my second year. The course fosters authentic communication through personal presence, message, and style of delivery.

I’ve also been inspired that Haas faculty and students alike embrace these concepts beyond the formal curriculum. I participated in Haas’s first “T-group”—a type of training group where participants learn about themselves through their interactions with others. The idea is to create an organizational vacuum by removing the three characteristics required for any group to function: a formal leader, a set task, and established rules of procedure. Facilitated by lecturers Erica Peng and Cort Worthington, learning occurs through observation, emotional reactions, feedback, and explained concepts.

And, this spring, I’m organizing a Mindfulness and Meditation (Mind & Med) speaker series with my classmate, Chuck Huggins. The series will explore a variety of Mind & Med practices and the science behind them, and support students in developing their own practices.

As I evaluated b-schools, the fact that Haas had a record 43 percent women enrolled in the Class of 2016 was a real differentiator. Though that percentage has unfortunately dropped, the full-time program still has about 40 percent women overall, and program leaders and students are working hard to welcome even more women to the school. In contrast, when I worked on Project Ara and other projects with Fortune 500 clients, it was impossible to ignore that I was often the only woman on the team. I yearned to be in an environment that embraced, included, and empowered women.

Leaning into the VC world

While only 7 percent of partners at Top 100 venture capital firms are currently women (see TechCrunch's study), my experience at Haas has helped create the possibility that I can become one of them. On my last day at Bee Partners last summer, I received a full-time offer to be a senior associate upon graduation. I took the fall to soul-search as to whether working in venture capital—a male-dominated field in which the “product” is money—was the right course for me. I connected with and sought counsel from my Haas entrepreneurship family, including my entrepreneurship Lecturer Rob Chandra, a seasoned venture capitalist, and Rhonda Shrader, executive director of the Berkeley-Haas Entrepreneurship Program, a LAUNCH faculty member, and a serial entrepreneur.

I recently accepted Bee’s offer. Reflecting back, I am so grateful to have found a school where I could follow my career passions while being part of a strong, gender-conscious and emotionally aware community. I’m excited to continue tackling high stakes problems that positively impact the world.

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Posted on January 23, 2017
Kira Noodleman
Kira Noodleman is a student in the Full-time Berkeley MBA Class of 2017. She enjoys tackling problems in disruptive industries and across cultures. Her appreciation for skillful risk-taking attracted her to entrepreneurship, and ultimately to her post-MBA role in venture capital.