Like all entrepreneurs, Anita Ly is a problem solver. It’s a mindset the biochemistry grad has had since she began her career in pharmaceuticals where she searched for new potentially life-saving therapeutic drugs.
It was her first taste of entrepreneurship, and one that’s stuck with her. Fast forward six years, and Anita has pivoted away from pharma to launch a career in venture capital.
She works for Intulsa, a branch of investment firm Atento Capital, which identifies the latest high-tech innovations.
Underlying both stages of Anita’s career has been a passion for solving complex problems. It’s an entrepreneurial spirit she honed and developed during her time on the University of Oklahoma's Michael F. Price College of Business (OU) MBA program.
Why an MBA with entrepreneurship?
There isn’t a defined path for entrepreneurship, and Anita wasn’t the type to be designing and selling products in her spare time. But she’d always enjoyed making an impact.
“I loved working on drug discovery; although pharma is very slow moving there is a large impact when you contribute to a drug that saves lives,” she explains.
She discovered a quicker way to do this after moving from California to Oklahoma to pursue a PhD in biochemistry. She became involved with OU's Catalyst Program, which works with graduate students to turn their innovations into fully fledged startups, many of which begin in the lab.
Working on the program, Anita (pictured) was introduced to the entrepreneurial world of accelerators, small business grants, and angel investors. She was impressed with what she saw.
“I loved that research that typically gets stuck in a lab now has a pathway to government support and funding,” she says.
Inspired, Anita created OK WISE (Oklahoma Women Impacting STEM and Entrepreneurship), a conference showcasing local female entrepreneurs.
This meant she began to develop a network with local founders and became immersed in the fast-moving entrepreneurial sector. She even began considering her own startup.
It was around this time that she identified an MBA with entrepreneurship as the best way to hone and utilize her talents.
“I decided I could have a bigger impact by staying in entrepreneurship and working in economic development, as opposed to staying behind a lab bench for the next 15 years,” she says.
Developing entrepreneurial skills with an MBA
After interviewing at a few schools, OU’s Price College of Business stood out for Anita. “There was a real personal connection that I felt was really important with an MBA,” she says.
“The executive director was heavily involved with the process, whereas, at other schools you may talk to a few of the professors but it’s mostly just administrative staff.”
The OU MBA focuses both on core business modules covering subjects like marketing, business strategy, operations management, and data analytics, and electives that allow students to choose specialist areas.
After joining the program, Anita enjoyed the core lessons, which she found were accessible despite her non-traditional MBA background. She also took the chance to specialize in entrepreneurship.
The entrepreneurship track on the OU MBA mixes theoretical teaching, covering case studies showing best and worst entrepreneurial practices, and practical business simulators that take students through the entrepreneurial journey. Students learn to assemble a team, research the market, build a company, and pitch for funding.
“The experience invigorated me and gave me the green light internally that this is something I was good at,” Anita says. “That course was really important for my MBA career.”
Anita also qualified for a prestigious OU Price College scholarship, giving her the chance to intern with Casdin Capital, a hedge fund in New York City. Anita completed the internship virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, but despite being unable to work in-person, she found it an influential part of her journey.
“The school encouraged me to work in a different field which exposed me to the hedge fund, venture capital side of things for the first time,” she says. “It really sparked my interest.”
Channeling the entrepreneurial spirit
Anita’s interest in the sector was confirmed after graduation when she launched a new career in venture capital. She secured her role with Intulsa in early 2021, where she works in the company’s partner operations team.
Working with partner companies in sectors like cyber security and manufacturing, Anita helps to develop growth strategies. This includes helping founders build their teams and expand their office spaces.
Working in venture capital helps Anita channel her entrepreneurial passion. She’s also able to use her entrepreneurial skills to solve problems for her clients, taking on the role of an intrapreneur.
“One of the big struggles for founders is knowing how to pitch their company to potential candidates; that’s where I’ll step in and remind them how they pitched it to their investors,” she explains.
“Being able to speak their language helps with our communication.”
Anita still has plans to launch a startup of her own in the future. But for now, she’s happy helping her partners make an impact in the entrepreneurial space.
“You don’t need to have a startup to be an entrepreneur. It’s like an identity, and I am always thinking in that mindset,” she says.
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