The Deep End: Master of Engineering in Fluid Dynamics to Venture Capital AnalystFeatured

Failing to register life-defining moments in real time isn’t terribly uncommon. In fact, it just might be a superpower. Looking back on my journey, it seems I never believed in leaving well enough alone.Growing up in Jamaica, I didn’t have an exact plan for the future... I’d simply have to get on with a framework - a type of driving philosophy that could be realized in many forms.I figured that I wanted to get closer to those changing the world in ways that resonated with me, my personal definition of innovators. My then-teenage self wondered just how could I get to sit at that lunch table? I settled on the idea that I’d have to become one of ‘them’, of course. That was the moment I set my sights on becoming an engineer. Not to be an engineer but to discover the what, when, where, why and how innovators do what they do. A voyage to the origin of impact. Fast forward, and splash! The first in a series of decisions that left me in the deep end. I’d left it all behind to study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania in 2012 and I had no choice but to swim. While studying, I worked in research labs until around sophomore year and I learned two things about myself: I was determined to prevent tech ideas from languishing on basement shelves or shared servers and I had to become a stronger communicator, this would be key. I declared a minor in Engineering Entrepreneurship and went on to top the Senior Design competition and even began filing a provisional patent with the school for our fluids-based project. I am grateful for the village that supported me.I had, however, for a few summers interned at traditional engineering firms, where time after time, I was unfortunately met with the status quo and red tape (shocker). In a tizzy, I clicked Easy Apply to start-up role called “Entrepreneur-in-Residence” on LinkedIn. I know, we’ve all been there: shutting our eyes tightly and clicking submit. Keep on doing it.The multi-hat internship got me excited. I could finally tap into a world of autonomy, a world of execution, and best of all, a world of conviction over consensus. The team’s hard work has since led them to a successful exit and I see their takeover ads regularly. Although the operational aspect was thrilling, it meant a battle in only one arena. I heard a VC speak in 2016 and he had oversight into a portfolio of arenas. I thought immediately that this was my next goal, and within seconds, he said the team was looking for Engineers. Usually people mean Computer Scientists, certainly not Mechanical Engineers but against the tide, I emailed anyway. I would end up working with that VC just two years later. A huge part of this is being in the right place at the right time. Seize serendipitous moments and never let limiting beliefs keep you from trying. In those two years, I would return to Penn for my Masters Degree. I chose to concentrate in Fluid Mechanics, Heat Transfer and Energy. Luckily, as I walked the walk, there ended up being critical parallels to business concepts. I decided to apply for a program at Wharton’s Mack Institute of Innovation Management. I worked alongside MBA students for a semester. This helped me talk the talk and I lovingly adopted daily usage of the word ~leverage~.When I began at Relay Ventures in 2018, my lack of expertise was a sort of saving grace. If I had known how deep the water would be, I may not have gotten in. Up until today, I hadn’t put into words a few back-of-the-envelope lessons I distilled.
First Principles: This approach focuses on breaking down complicated problems into components that are no longer divisible to find truths and root causes. In the VC world, this is an essential part of due diligence necessary to identify cutting edge innovations. Boundary Conditions: Think about constraints and continually developing awareness of the universe of possibilities. Do founders have an understanding of the conditions that are required to be satisfied for growth to take place? Iterate to solve for unknown boundary conditions.Chaos and Turbulence: Happens and begins with the smallest perturbation. Safe guard with internal processes (friction) - startups must have optimal viscosity.Shock Waves: Pressure fronts will propagate throughout the organization ability to initiate and/or weather them will be dependent on team dynamics and culture.
These concepts formed a life ring and implementing them has helped me source a company that is now in our portfolio. I got the opportunity to experience that end-to-end process, and now another deal is just weeks away from potentially being closed. Caring about both the numbers and the story is essential to becoming a voice of reason in full command of the "grey area." After a Master's in Mechanical Engineering (I know), the next question is often - hey, why this and why now? I gravitate toward three things: innovation, a great team, and a hell of a challenge. My advice for those navigating across industries is to focus on crafting a narrative around passion and transferability of skills. Intentionally draw from your unique background and bring the team into your circle of competence. Express willingness to learn and dive into what’s next! What adds value is you...your mindset and your contribution to the process of making great investments and cultivating innovation. One Love Chevonae is on the Investment Team at Relay Ventures. As an analyst, she develops data-based principles to support Relay’s mandate; her early breadth of experiences uniquely positions her to analyze opportunities and spot patterns. Prior to joining Relay Ventures, Chevonae held technical internships with a focus on innovation & design, at start-ups, robotics labs and large EPCM firms alike. She is a Techstars 'All-Star Mentor', and has held mentorship/judging and panelist opportunities for Toronto's Founder Institute and its global Female Founder Initiative and the CVCA (Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association) among others. Chevonae holds a Master of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering with concentration in Fluid Mechanics, Heat Transfer & Energy from the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), as well as a minor in Engineering Entrepreneurship earned from her undergraduate studies there. She was involved with Advancing Women in Engineering and Wharton’s Mack Institute for Innovation Management.Chevonae is based in Relay's Toronto office.