Since its founding in 2010, Blu Ventures has partnered with Georgetown University to provide the next generation of entrepreneurs and investors with the opportunity to learn more about startups and venture capital. Each year, the fellowship program exposes students to a broad perspective of venture capital, including deal flow, due diligence, pitch events, and new initiatives. Over a period of 10-12 months, fellows gain direct exposure to venture capital and leave the program with new business skills, enhanced networks, and a better understanding of early stage startup funding.
This year, Blu employed two fellow interns, Joshua Miller (MBA 2021) and Deepika Jonnalagadda (BS-Global Business 2021), who sat down and answered a few questions about their background and their experience with Blu’s venture fellow program.
Blu: Tell us a little bit about your background and what drew you to Blu's venture fellow program
JM: I am currently an MBA candidate at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. Before starting at Georgetown, I worked at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, D.C., in a research program focused on global economic development. During that experience, I gained a passion for empowering startups, as many of the projects I managed focused on enabling entrepreneurship in developing countries as means to bringing about transformative economic change. I decided to pursue a MBA to gain the skills and education to pivot my career toward a more active focus on working with startups, with a particular interest in getting involved in venture capital.
I was drawn to Blu because I wanted to work with early-stage startups in the Mid-Atlantic region, and I was interested in SaaS businesses that focused on cybersecurity and Internet of Things, all of which are part of Blu's portfolio. Further, I was excited by the potential to work with and learn from such a large and diverse group of experienced entrepreneurs and operators that make up Blu's active partners. I found this to be an especially unique value that Blu offers.
DJ: A couple of years ago, I interned at a startup focused on empowering the local entrepreneurial ecosystem in Cape Town, South Africa while completing a summer study abroad program. I was immediately hooked on the energy and fast pace of working with startups and carried that interest back with me to Georgetown. I started engaging with startups both on campus through the student-run startup accelerator and in the larger Washington, D.C. community. I tapped into the vibrant D.C. ecosystem through internships at the Vinetta Project, which connects female founders to capital, and Franklin Advisory, a startup advisory firm started by former Blu Venture Fellow David Wilson.
At Franklin, I led business development initiatives for early-stage startups, including Blu’s portfolio company PFP Cybersecurity. After collaborating with startup founders, I was curious and eager to learn more about the other side of growing a startup — venture capital. I was drawn to Blu because of my experience working closely with PFP, my interest in SaaS businesses and Blu’s emphasis on supporting portfolio companies beyond investment.
Blu: What are some of the initiatives that you are working on as a venture fellow with Blu
JM: On a day-to-day basis, I have been excited to be actively involved in screening companies and helping lead due diligence research for potential investments. Further, I have been able to represent Blu at pitch events organized by accelerators, incubators, and other organizations supporting entrepreneurs. All and all, Blu has given me ample opportunity to gain direct experience in evaluating companies as potential investment opportunities.
DJ: As a venture fellow, I’ve been building out the skills necessary to identify potential investment opportunities while getting to explore firsthand a number of innovative and cutting-edge technologies, both cyber and non-cyber. I’ve sought out exciting pitches and asked founders questions to better understand the thought process behind what they have created. I’ve helped conduct due diligence, gaining a micro-level understanding of each deal's risks and opportunities and filling out a macro-level picture of the market and competitive landscape. I’ve also rebuilt the Blu website, bringing the branding team’s vision to life.
Blu: What project did you work on that was most exciting to you?
JM: I have helped lead Blu's research initiative examining emerging technologies, as well as geographical areas with considerable startup growth, as potential areas for future investment. The project has given me an opportunity to dive into many of the new technology fields that I find exciting as well as connect with growing startup communities throughout the Mid-Atlantic. This has been particularly valuable to me as I am passionate about supporting the development of startup ecosystems outside of the traditional big tech hubs.
DJ: Definitely helping Blu prepare for new cyber initiatives. Before my time at Blu, I was very unfamiliar with the cyber space. In the past few months, I've dived into the growth and the potential of the cyber market in order to create informational materials and listened in on weekly cyber screenings, even helping out with the diligence on a deal. Now, I am so excited by all of the opportunities in cyber and eager to keep learning more about the inner workings of these initiatives as they get off the ground.
Blu: What surprised you most about venture investing?
JM: Perhaps this is specific to the Mid-Atlantic VC community, but I have been surprised by the high level of collaboration and sincerity among firms and startups in the area. Moreover, I believe that Blu particularly emphasizes the importance of good relationships, which is evident in the respect and transparency that Blu gives to every company, whether they choose to invest or not.
Blu: Are you involved in any clubs at Georgetown that has helped in your work at Blu?
JM: I am the Chapter President of InSITE, a national leadership development program that connects graduate students from top universities with startups to provide consulting services. InSITE Fellows work with startup founders to identify key business challenges and opportunities, set deliverables, and complete semester-long strategy consulting projects for the companies. Before being elected president of the DC Chapter, I had the opportunity to engage directly in these projects, where I learned a lot about the challenges that early-stage startups face. Moreover, InSITE has helped me understand how to evaluate startups, especially the importance of good teams and leadership.
I am also the Vice President of Venture Capital for the MBA Entrepreneur and Venture Capital Club, which has helped me actively engage with the local startup and venture capital community. This has provided me a broader understanding of the resources and major players in the local ecosystem.
DJ: I have been a part of Georgetown Ventures, a student-run startup accelerator, as a consulting team member and most recently, as a project manager. I lead a team in conducting a semester-long strategy consulting project providing recommendations and actionable steps to help a student startup reach the next phase of expansion. Through GV, I have grown to understand the obstacles that early-stage startups face and learned the importance of collaboration and teamwork in navigating these challenges.
I am also the Director of Development for The Hoya, the university’s student newspaper consisting of nearly 400 members. Formerly Senior News Editor, what drew me to journalism was the process of digging deeper into a story to understand the different perspectives and get at its core. This approach has really translated to my work at Blu, whether it be diving deeper into a company during the evaluation process, drafting a press release, or as simple as making sure to communicate on team projects.
Blu: As you continue in your academic career, what are some of the valuable lessons you have learned at Blu?
JM: As in most careers, the education you receive in school is often very different from the actual job experience. In more ways than I can count, Blu has provided me an incredible perspective on venture capital outside of what you can learn in the classroom or read in a book. Though what stands out in my experience is the importance of building and maintaining relationships with a broad network of organizations and individuals engaged in the startup community, including accelerators, incubators, angel investors, universities, and, of course, other VCs. Ultimately the network you build and grow will determine your success.
Blu: what did you learn about yourself through the program that you can take with you as you further your career?
JM: I reaffirmed that this is a career path that I thoroughly enjoy for its exposure to cutting edge ideas, passionate founders, and potential to accelerate ideas that can make the world a better place.
DJ: Every week at Blu presents unique challenges and responsibilities, and I’ve discovered how much I enjoy the process of constantly learning and being uncomfortable at the onset of a project. This feeling is what pushes me to develop new skills, expand my knowledge, and think beyond what I’ve done in the past. Something I’ll carry with me is this desire to lean into discomfort, be unafraid to say yes to trying new opportunities, and feel confident in my ability to tackle projects outside of my previous experience.
Blu: What do you like to do for fun?
JM: I love the outdoors. I try to find any opportunity to go fly fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, and backpacking with friends and family. I also enjoy playing tennis, sailing, and biking (I try to bike commute whenever possible).
DJ: I enjoy going on hikes and am working on expanding my culinary skills beyond pasta. I also love discovering and sharing new music with friends — last semester, a friend and I co-hosted a radio show every Friday at midnight. I’m also a big fan of board games (game nights with my family always get pretty competitive).