Alumni Ventures Welcomes Lauren Kolodny as a Board Director
Kolodny is a seasoned VC with experience at Acrew Capital, Google, and the Clinton Foundation
Alumni Ventures has recently welcomed Lauren Kolodny as the newest member of our Board of Managers. Kolodny is an experienced venture capitalist and was an early collaborator, IC member, and investor in our Waterman Ventures fund (for the Brown community). We connected with Lauren to discuss her background, relationship with Alumni Ventures, and perspective on VC trends.
Lauren KolodnyCo-Founder & Managing Partner, Acrew Capital
Lauren Kolodny is a Co-Founder & Managing Partner at Acrew Capital, a Bay Area VC firm, investing in early and late stage startups focused on fintech, community driven consumer, data platforms and cybersecurity. Lauren leads Acrew’s fintech thesis. Her early stage investments include Chime, Divvy Pay, Papaya Payments, La Haus, Pie Insurance, Lolli, Gusto and Paceline. Her later stage portfolio include Marqeta and Plaid. Previously, she was a Partner at Aspect Ventures and worked in product marketing at Google, where she led marketing for the launch of Google Drive. Kolodny began her career in clean technology partnership development for the Clinton Foundation in India. She is a Brown University trustee emerita and was on Forbes Midas Brink List in 2021.
Tell us about yourself and your role at Acrew Capital?
Lauren Kolodny: Early in my career, I was asked to join the Board of Trustees at Brown University as a young alum. In that position, I got to know Theresia Gouw, who’s now my Co-Managing Partner at Acrew Capital. We worked together on a bunch of projects for Brown, ranging from digital strategy to selecting the current President. Theresia and I became close and she became a mentor for me.
In 2014, as I was gearing up to graduate with my MBA from Stanford, Theresia asked me to team up with her. We worked together at Aspect Ventures for two years, where I built out our fintech investing practice. In 2019, we decided to start Acrew Capital with a couple of our partners from Aspect.
At Acrew, we’ve historically focused on leading and co-leading early-stage rounds although we’ve also just raised a growth fund. We’re very thematically focused. I lead our fintech investing, which is our largest thesis area. Almost half of our investments have a fintech component to it. We also invest in consumer cybersecurity and data platforms.
What sparked your interest in venture capital and entrepreneurship?
LK: My first job out of college was with the Clinton Foundation, initially managing clean tech partnerships in India. When the recession hit in 2008, I started to see the early entrepreneurial activity around mobile money in India. I became interested in the idea that fintech could drive financial inclusion around the world. Joining the Board at Brown early in my career was also a really unique experience. I was able to see what it meant to help set the strategic direction of an organization that I deeply cared about, and I loved it.
I started thinking about how I could more meaningfully incorporate board work into what I was doing in my career. I was working in tech at Google, and was inspired by the breadth of technological innovation as Web 2.0 was coming to the fore. Yet, while I was intrigued by entrepreneurship, I didn’t have a burning desire to solve a specific problem myself. But I liked working with people and coaching them through their ideas. As I got to know Theresia Gouw (now my co-founder and co-managing partner) through our Board work together at Brown and started to more deeply understand what she did at Accel, the stars aligned for me — venture was a way to put all of those pieces together.
What do you view as the most interesting VC trends and/or sectors?
LK: I’m really excited about the reinvention of financial services from the ground up. Essentially, fintech of the last decade saw a digital phase for existing financial products. The success of companies like Chime has opened the door for a whole new wave of infrastructure, and we’re starting to see real innovation at the underlying financial products layer. I think the financial products that we’ve all used for hundreds of years are going to be fundamentally changed. And I’m particularly excited about Web3’s role in all of this.
I also think that the underbanked population, both individuals and organizations, are being given access to the financial sector for the first time. We’re going to see significant portions of the global population leapfrog traditional financial services straight to fintech. That is just a massive opportunity and one that also inspires me as a human.
What attracted you to Alumni Ventures’ network-powered investing model?
LK: As I spent more time in the valley and around venture capital, it was striking to me that most universities struggle to organize their entrepreneurial and venture communities. This seemed like a missed opportunity. Entrepreneurs and VCs have become a significant portion of the alumni population at many schools.
So, I looked into launching a fund dedicated to the Brown community with my friend Sam Hodges, a prolific entrepreneur and CEO of Vouch Insurance. Once we learned about Alumni Ventures, we approached CEO Mike Collins and suggested creating what has become Waterman Ventures. Since, Vouch has become an AV portfolio company, as well.
Part of what drew me to Alumni Ventures was the opportunity to help build a real community for Brown alumni, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists. I was intrigued by this concept of network-powered venture capital, and the opportunity to draw on the alumni community more generally. Investors are part of something that they wouldn’t typically have access to, both in terms of investing in venture as an asset class and joining a community that they care about.
Why did you join Alumni Ventures’ Board of Managers?
LK: I understand Alumni Ventures from a number of different perspectives and was compelled to roll up my sleeves and add value.
First, I effectively helped catalyze one of AV’s funds, and I’m now an IC member. Sam and I were on the founding Investment Committee for Waterman and we still attend regular meetings with Managing Partner Ludwig Schulze and the Waterman team — talking through pipelines, sharing deal flow, and organizing community events.
Next, I’m an investor in multiple AV funds and a venture capitalist who has referred deals and co-invested with Alumni Ventures many times. I understand the venture ecosystem and the ways in which AV might appeal to more traditional institutional venture capital firms as a co-investor.
Over the past year, Ludwig and others mentioned that they were looking for someone to join the AV Board. I started to spend more time with the AV team and became really impressed by the company more broadly and by the other Board Directors.
Ultimately, I felt compelled by the opportunity. It’s been amazing to see everything AV has accomplished in such a short period of time, and I’m excited to help drive this next phase of growth for the company.
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