Theodora Boo: Leading SEA’s First Student Venture Fund

By the SMU Institute of Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Venture capital (VC) is a type of financing that funds startups with high growth potential. As venture capital is a niche player in finance, not many understand the nuts and bolts of it. Protégé Ventures, a nationwide student venture capital fund-cum-training programme established by the SMU Institute of Innovation & Entrepreneurship and Kairos ASEAN, was thus set up in 2017, to bring the practical workings of a VC firm closer to students. We speak to Theodora Boo, a final year Bachelor of Business Management student at the Lee Kong Chian School of Business and Managing Partner of Protégé Ventures, to find out more about her experiences in Southeast Asia’s first student venture fund, and her learnings via the internship opportunities she has secured as an SMU undergraduate.

 

How were you introduced to venture capital?

In 2017, I was working at a startup and tried my hand at business development, research, marketing and product development for seven months. During my time there, I saw first-hand how venture capitalists could bring so much value to the success of a startup. Not only did they provide much needed capital to fund innovation, they also opened doors for their portfolio companies, empowering them with access to skills and experience. Witnessing how VCs aided startups on their paths to success from the vantage point of a startup, I became really curious about venture capital and wanted to learn more.

However, while I knew that getting an internship with a VC would be a great next step, I was also aware that it would be next to impossible if I did not possess investment experience. Even if I did secure one, I may not be able to meet expectations at the firm. I understood that I had to develop my VC knowledge first. So, when I first heard about Protégé Ventures via an ad on Facebook, I jumped at the opportunity and applied immediately!

 

Tell us a bit more about Protégé Ventures, and how did it stand out to you among the many interest groups available at SMU?

Protégé Ventures is a nationwide student venture capital fund-cum-training programme that aims to nurture the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders in the region through venture capitalist training. Student VCs from across universities in Singapore join the programme for at least a year and go through rigorous hands-on training and extensive network-building with innovation thought leaders. Perhaps the coolest part of our “CCA” is that we get to invest real money in startups with cheque sizes ranging from $25,000 to $50,000!

While SMU has many good interest groups focused on either entrepreneurship or finance and consulting, Protégé Ventures aligned with my interests best by bridging both fields and it provided what I would call the best of both worlds.

 

“Perhaps the coolest part of our “CCA” is that we get to invest real money in startups with cheque sizes ranging from $25,000 to $50,000!”

 

As Protégé Ventures prides itself for being run ‘by students, for students’, with its primary goal of looking at student or graduate founders to invest in, I knew that joining the fund as a student VC would provide me with the exciting opportunity to make a real impact on the development of startups and contribute to the growth of the university startup ecosystem. Indeed, just being in Protégé Ventures means that impact-making is within hand’s reach. Protégé Ventures also stood out for being the first student venture fund in Singapore and Southeast Asia!

 

How would you describe your experience in the programme?

My time with Protégé Ventures has prepared me to take on the future with readiness and fortitude. The key takeaways I had in each stage of my journey with the programme—as a new-joiner, trainee and leader—are precious lessons that I will not trade for any other experience in my university life.

When I first entered university, I lacked confidence, avoided speaking up in seminars and believed that my analytical skills paled in comparison to those of my peers. Still, I took a chance to apply for the Protégé Ventures programme even though the acceptance rate was less than 30 per cent.

Protégé Ventures believes in grooming future entrepreneurial talent, so I guess the recruitment committee at that time probably saw some potential I did not know I possess. Getting selected into a nationwide training programme like this has greatly boosted my confidence. I was able to meet and spar with outstanding students from various universities, voice my opinions and hone critical thinking skills in the process. The people I now call friends have inspired me with their stories, logic, and personalities.

 

“The key takeaways I had in each stage of my journey with the programme… are precious lessons that I will not trade for any other experience in my university life.”

 

As a trainee in the programme, I gained access to exclusive internship opportunities through the networks of the founders and members. I secured an internship at Cento Ventures when I was just in my second year of university through networks I built in Protégé Ventures. Coupled with the hands-on training in deal sourcing and evaluation within the programme, I have honed my analytical abilities and gained invaluable knowledge and skills from the best in the industry.

While the Protégé Ventures’ training programme is only for a year and commitment beyond that is optional, there were many reasons for me to stay. Fast forward three years, and here I am as Managing Partner.

As Managing Partner of Protégé Ventures, my role is both meaningful and impactful. I am privileged to be able to pay it forward by building and strengthening a programme that will contribute, nurture, and provide opportunities to not only the current student VCs and founders, but future batches, too. It is also comforting to know that I don’t do this alone and there are three of us leading Protégé Ventures, each of us representing a different university (SMU, NTU and SUTD). Together, we strive to do our best, and because we share such a synergistic and supportive relationship, this ride has been made a lot easier and more fun!

 

What are your career aspirations and how has Protégé Ventures helped prepare you for them?

Currently, I aspire to embark on one of two potential career paths—corporate development at a tech firm or social impact work at an international financial institution, and Protégé Ventures has provided me with the breadth of exposure and opportunities.

Since joining Protégé Ventures, I have completed four internships with Cento Ventures, MDI Ventures, OVO and Standard Chartered, across multiple job functions from business development to corporate finance. I have always been on the lookout to diversify my experiences but one constant has been the edge Protégé Ventures has given me in my search for opportunities.

As part of the programme, I also have access to witnessing and experiencing first-hand how deals are being done and I am constantly exposed to a macro perspective and front-line view of the tech industry as a whole, beyond Singapore and of the Southeast Asia region. This regional exposure will definitely help me in my career and this means that I am always forced to learn and build up my understanding of the region as an emerging market with so much potential and room for development and business.

 

What advice do you have for students interested in venture capital?

Always be able to think independently. Never take things at face value and always research what you hear to make a learned judgement on the issue. It is important to back your assumptions with data and logical reasoning, without which it will be hard for people to take you or your opinions seriously. Of course, such mental discipline and rigour require training and joining a hands-on VC training programme like Protégé Ventures can help you grow, not just as a student VC, but as an individual and a changemaker!

 

“It is important to back your assumptions with data and logical reasoning, without which it will be hard for people to take you or your opinions seriously.”

 

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