Elpha Techies – Kelly Fryer: Driving diversity in venture capital is key to support diverse founders and create greater global impactFeatured

I spoke with Kelly Fryer (@kellyfryer), Director at Techstars for the Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars in New York. Kelly shared her career journey as well as her advice and insights on career growth.In college, Kelly was interested in becoming a film producer, initially choosing to double major in business and film. However, when the Great Recession hit in the middle of her undergraduate years, she was pushed to prioritize practicality and switched gears to focus on solely on a business degree. Her concentration in cost accounting would eventually prepared her well for project management related roles. Following graduation, Kelly started her career in data analytics at Bloomberg LP. Over the course of a few years, she quickly rose through the ranks at the firm, starting as an analyst and soon moving to managing data relationships, over 30K custom indices globally for major financial institutions’ clients, and project management initiatives of high profile and complex challenges. Her time at Bloomberg prepared her well for firefighting: effectively handling a range of unexpected obstacles. After 5 years at Bloomberg, Kelly went to business school at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, where she focused on Corporate Innovation and Venture Development. Outside of academics, she worked with the university’s Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation on startup events, pitch competitions, and the campus incubator. She knew she wanted to proactively support founders following graduation and sought roles in the field. At a startup event during her MBA years, she met the Managing Director of the Techstars Chicago accelerator program. Through growing this connection and with her combination of experience in finance, technology, and entrepreneurship, she began work at Techstars’ FinTech accelerator program – the Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars - after graduation. Now, in her role as Director, Kelly acts as the COO of the accelerator, where she has made investments in companies such as Sigma Ratings, Pluto Money, Honeyfi, Harvest Platform,, ResonanceX, and Waffle. Fun Fact: Kelly has been riding horses competitively since she was 8 years old. She still actively competes in 3-Day Eventing, which is like a triathlon comprised of three phases: dressage, cross country jumping, and show jumping. If she's not at work, you can probably find her at the barn.Here are Kelly's advice on driving career growth and diversity in tech and venture. Do not be afraid to jump into new and interesting projects. Too frequently, people feel they need to have all of the information, skills, and knowledge to be able to take on a new project. However, some of the most exciting and impactful work can start with taking risks, improvising, and infusing dynamic entrepreneurial energy. Kelly recalls a time when she took a chance by working with a new tech platform that others on her team were initially unsure about trying. While the learning curve was steep and the early stages frequently confusing, Kelly quickly became the team expert on the core software and was able to add unique value to her team and company. Work cross-functionally. Typically, opportunities to interface with other departments within the company are naturally limited, but to find success in business, building these cross-functional relationships are critical. Go out of your way to deliberately take on interesting, impactful, interdisciplinary projects. View these pursuits as enriching extracurricular activities. During her time at Bloomberg, beyond her own team, Kelly also worked with the HR team to prepare professional development programs and manage interns for her department. Find a senior champion. In finding these senior champions (senior individuals at the company who become your advocates), people frequently take a too calculated, too deliberate approach. Instead of viewing this process as a science, take a more organic approach and do not feel like you need to rush. Finding a senior champion should be about finding someone you have a genuine connection and strong chemistry with. These are the people with whom you will feel most comfortable sharing successes, challenges, and concerns. With these deeper, trust-based relationships, the senior champions will better be able to advocate for you across the company. Reframe your introduction and own your achievements. Last year, Kelly brought in Lisa Wang, Founder of SheWorx, to lead a session with Techstars’ female founders on the challenges of fundraising. Lisa encouraged and engaged founders in activities to help them more effectively promote themselves, starting with reframing their introductions and specifically how they discuss their achievements. Women frequently come more prepared than men to pitch meetings armed with data, skills, and facts but much of combating investor biases is in the communication and presentation itself. Women’s confidence can frequently stem from facts alone and they are afraid of overpromising to investors. But in this process, they forget to sell the dream and convert these data points to the big picture that investors are most interested in. Show your pride in your accomplishments and do not be afraid to own and share your hard work, potential, and vision. Be intentional about creating diverse communities. Techstars Includes is the company's initiative to increase diversity and inclusion in the Techstars Network and entrepreneurial communities, through efforts to improve opportunities for underrepresented individuals in our worldwide network and incorporate the Kapor Capital Founders' Commitment. Techstars knows that active engagement of a diverse group of entrepreneurs will lead to economic empowerment of underrepresented people around the world, making the world a better place. In conjunction with such programs, the first and most crucial step is to be aware: check your biases and consider the resources a team or individual has before arriving at your evaluation of their work. Ultimately, diverse teams and those that have the experience of overcoming greater challenges make better investments, driving greater ROI. Kelly underscores another challenge to diversity in venture financing. Within FinTech and other industries, female founders trend more towards starting companies that provide crucial B2C solutions, ones they wish they had access to themselves. However, with a male-dominated venture capital landscape, there are a limited number of investors who understand such products and who resonate personally with their visions, which in turn leads to less funding for female founded companies. Beyond gender diversity, Kelly sees this challenge in socioeconomic diversity as well. Startups focusing on financial literacy, the underbanked (the government shutdown shed light on the immense number of people in the United States living paycheck to paycheck), and solutions focused on immigrants (such as unique takes on remittance) receive less venture capital empathy because these products and target markets do not match the experience of the typical venture capitalist. It’s hard to fund something that you don’t think of as a real problem because you haven’t personally experienced it. Without a common identity or shared experiences, venture investors have difficulty understanding the nuances of these problems, their ultimate scale, and eventual timeline. It is crucial to drive diversity in venture capital to be able to better support more diverse founders solving more diverse challenges and creating greater global impact. It was wonderful to speak with Kelly and share her guidance and story. Check out the Barclays Accelerator powered by Techstars and apply to be part of a future cohort or for open roles! --Elpha Techies is a biweekly column by Jessica Li, featuring stories and best advice of women in tech. Interested in being featured or know someone who may be a fit? Email Jessica at [email protected]. Jessica Li, an Elpha Ambassador, is a recent graduate of Harvard College and is now working in the Bay Area in Morgan Stanley’s Global Technology Investment Banking group. Over the past few years, she has been involved with the Boston and SF startup ecosystems and as a venture investor with funds including Rough Draft Ventures/General Catalyst, Romulus Capital, Global Founders Capital, and Female Founders Fund. She is passionate about supporting female entrepreneurs, operators, and others in tech and beyond! She also blogs about early stage founders at Medium (@jessli).
Kelly, you're awesome! I love it when people make time for their outside interests -- I myself am about to go backcountry skiing in Chile! >>"Too frequently, people feel they need to have all of the information, skills, and knowledge to be able to take on a new project. However, some of the most exciting and impactful work can start with taking risks, improvising, and infusing dynamic entrepreneurial energy. " --> I've found this to be so, so true. When I talk to people about some of the problems they see within their own industries and ask them why they don't just "do something about it," I usually get some variant of "it's really complicated, and I'm not qualified." The notion of having to be the top expert seems to be tied into a fear of failure/rejection, and I so badly wish for people, especially women, to give fewer f*cks -- there's so much to discover out there, but you won't discover much of it without taking any risks!
I can see how worked that hustle! Gaining experience that just built upon each new set of skills. I'm really impressed with the marathon that you ran to get to where you are and appreciate what you continue to do to help of WOC.