Nina Lu graduated from Penn’s M&T Program in 2015. She recently sat down with us to talk about her career path thus far and how her time with M&T helped shape where she is today.
What is your current role?
NL: I’m a venture capital investor focused on growth-stage investments. This involves finding and backing exceptional entrepreneurs building category-defining companies in technology and digital health. I love my job because I’m able to hear the stories of people who saw something really broken in the world and decided to do something to fix it. As an investor, I’m able to partner with amazing founders by giving them capital and advice as they scale their businesses.
Can you talk a little bit about your career path and explain how your experience in the M&T Program helped to shape it?
NL: My career path after Penn has spanned technology and investing. After undergrad, I joined TPG as a private equity analyst focused on tech-leveraged buyouts. I loved the intellectual rigor of private equity but always felt drawn to more earlier-stage companies and the startup ecosystem. I ended up joining Kleiner Perkin’s Digital Growth Fund to invest in series B+ startups. While there, I got to work for one of my biggest idols, Mary Meeker, who was this legendary female venture capitalist in a very male-dominated industry. I had read her Internet Trends report for years and actually got to help co-write the Digital Health section of it in 2017, which, to this day, is one of my proudest accomplishments.
While at Kleiner, I came across a startup called PillPack that was building a digital pharmacy with this incredible mission of helping millions of Americans who suffered from multi-chronic conditions. I ended up joining the team there. PillPack ultimately was acquired by Amazon while I was there and became the backbone of Amazon Pharmacy.
One exciting aspect of working at a startup was being able to wear a ton of different hats. During my three years at PillPack, I was a data analyst, program manager, and product manager. I had always had an entrepreneurial itch and ended up going back to Stanford Business School to get my MBA. While I was there, I started my own startup in the virtual physical therapy space. Even though the startup ultimately failed, I learned so much about myself and running a business – and was introduced to so many amazing builders and founders through the YCombinator community. My experience running and folding my own startup definitely made me a more empathetic investor. The M&T Program opened so many doors for me because I left with the skills I needed to be anything I dreamed of – whether that was a startup founder, big tech product manager, or investor.
What is the most valuable thing you learned at M&T that has helped lead you to where you are today?
NL: Try everything at least once and lean into the activities, jobs, and causes that really resonate with you. While in the M&T Program, I was super involved both in Penn Engineering as part of the PennApps Hackathon organizing committee and at Wharton, with the Wharton Small Business Development Center and the Wharton Dean’s Advisory Board. I felt like I had the space to explore all of my interests – to spend time coding on side projects and also help consult for local Philly area small businesses.
I’ve approached my career similarly by trying a lot of different types of organizations and roles around the tech/startup/VC ecosystem to try to find what really resonated with me. I think it’s really challenging to know if you will like the day-to-day of a role or the culture of a company without actually being there and experiencing it first-hand.
What is one piece of advice you would give to students considering the M&T Program?
NL: Put your heart into whatever you do. My younger siblings are in middle school and high school right now and I am deeply saddened by the wave of nihilism that has descended on young people. We need smart young people who believe in their capability to fix broken systems and make a positive impact on big problems in the world – ranging from sustainability to biotech innovation, automation/AI, and social equity. The real world is chaotic and messy, but change happens as we slowly chip away, year after year, on things we care about. This is exhausting work! To keep at it, you need to invest in developing resilience, self-compassion, habits of self-care, and a strong awareness of what you want the world to look like and how you want to be part of creating that future.
The M&T Program will equip you with the technical skills you need and an incredibly close-knit community to support you through thick and thin, but you will ultimately need to decide what causes you will dedicate your limited energy, time, and resources to on this earth. Make it something worthwhile!