Angela Liu, a third-year undergraduate student at Columbia University, shares her entrepreneur insights and how an Elevate Capital internship accelerated her personal growth. Get inspired by Angela’s passion for the world of entrepreneurship, venture capital, and gender equality.
When did you become passionate about entrepreneurship?
Some classes change your life, and in my sophomore year of high school, Economics of Innovation certainly did. My teacher Meredith Goddard developed a curriculum entirely focused on how startups work, how to develop scalable business models, and how venture capital (VC) drives growth.
After Economics of Innovation, I founded a startup with two other female students who were my final project partners. We built StandTall Desks—an affordable, environmentally sustainable way for schools to implement standing desks for their students and faculty.
Angela mentors a team at Startup Camp PDX.
Tell us more about StandTall.
We started StandTall after talking to many high school students and administrators about their classroom experiences. Students were sitting for over 10 hours a day in class and at home. Sitting for this long isn’t only incredibly detrimental to your health—increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke—it also impacts learning.
Most established standing desk companies in the market target office and corporate spaces, selling desks that range in cost from $300 on the low end to $1,300 on the high end. We sold our standing desk add-ons for $50 each, allowing schools to purchase classroom sets and easily convert their classrooms.
After founding StandTall, the three of us went through multiple rounds of prototyping and implemented desks in schools, homes, and offices. We pitched our product and won at competitions—including TechFestNW, where Nitin Rai, Founder and Managing Director of Elevate Capital was a judge. We also received media coverage for winning.
Angela pitching StandTall Desks at TechFestNW competition.
In what way did your internship at Elevate Capital drive your path in college?
By the time I was 17, I had been involved in Portland’s startup world for a few years. Getting exposure to venture capital at Elevate Capital lent perspective to how startups accelerate their growth.
I’m lucky I was able to intern in venture capital so early in my professional life. It helped me realize that as much as I liked being on the operating side of the business, playing the role of the investor is also fascinating and rewarding in a completely different way.
Beyond the hard skills I gained, Elevate Capital changed my life because it made me incredibly passionate about the representation of women in venture capital and the investment world in general. One of my projects at Elevate Capital was being involved in the diligence process for Heritage Labs; a women-founded skincare startup focused on bringing East Asian skincare products to the American market. It was empowering to be a part of the process of deploying capital to a female founder.
When I first began working at Elevate Capital, I remember doing research one night about gender equality and venture capital and learning that only 7% of the funding that year had gone to female entrepreneurs. I also learned that less than 10% of partners at the top 100 VC firms are women. I was shocked and ran downstairs and told my mom, who was unsurprised.
There is a staggering gap in the amount of power held by men and women in Silicon Valley and other venture capital ecosystems around the world. The gender gap in venture funding holds important implications for the lack of gender diversity in Silicon Valley and technology as a whole. Without funding, women can’t run their companies. Meanwhile, male entrepreneurs who do receive venture capital go on to succeed.
Since then, I’ve centered my professional and extracurricular experiences around investigating this issue—interning at Lean In, becoming a Girls Who Invest scholar, and working at 37 Angels (a women-run, female-only angel investment network).
As a young woman interested in business, can you speak about the importance of mentorship?
Mentorship has been vital as I’ve learned more about what I want for my career and my life more holistically.
Elevate Capital was my first real internship, and Nitin was an incredible mentor throughout my four months with the firm. First of all, how many high school seniors have the opportunity to intern at a venture capital firm? I was so grateful to have the opportunity to see how the VC business functioned first hand at such a young age. The projects Nitin tasked me with gave me opportunities to get out of my comfort zone and stretch myself, and he was always there if I had questions or needed support.
Even before Elevate Capital, Nitin gave me invaluable advice on learning the ropes of the venture capital world. When I was a sophomore in high school, I participated in a startup hackathon where Nitin guided my teammate and me through ideating (forming an idea) and creating an MVP for a peer-to-peer tutoring service.
Are you still interested in entrepreneurship? Where do you see yourself in five years?
This summer, I’ll be working in consulting as a Business Analyst at McKinsey & Company in Seattle. In many ways, my experience in venture capital and the startup world drove my interest in consulting. I loved that venture capital surveyed a broad swath of markets industries, and consulting does the same.
During my venture capital internship at Elevate Capital, I also loved the concept that an essential part of the job was meeting and getting to know founders, and consulting is similarly client-facing. I’m excited to get to help solve global businesses’ biggest operational and strategic challenges and learn as much as I can.
I’d love to return to an operational role at a startup sometime in the near future. In five years, I hope I’m doing something I love with people I love working with!
Angela Liu and Anna Makowski moderate a panel with fashion influencer Danielle Bernstein.
What advice would you give to other college students looking to get a start in venture capital?
Getting as much experience as you can on the operational side really helps you understand venture capital—and vice versa. While running StandTall, I thought through issues of product development, marketing, and finance—all questions investors ask of founders during the due diligence process.
Additionally, I originally wanted an internship in venture capital because I wanted to contextualize how startup founders raised funding and get inside the mind of an investor. I loved it so much I ended up pursuing multiple investing internships throughout college.
As for thinking about careers more broadly in college, I’d encourage underclassmen to take time for themselves to think about why they’re pursuing certain things, and when they feel the happiest.
In college, it’s so easy to bounce around from classes to clubs to social events, checking things off your to-do list, without thinking critically about the path you’re taking and the choices you’re making with your time.
As an underclassman, I had a lot of trouble slowing down and thinking hard about the decisions that I was making—but learning how to do so has helped me feel much more secure and grounded in the path I’ve chosen.
About Angela Liu
Angela is a third-year undergraduate student at Columbia University studying financial economics. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Angela’s passion for startups and venture capital began in high school after taking a course called Economics of Innovation and co-running her startup, StandTall Desks.
Angela interned at Elevate Capital after her senior year of high school and is an incoming Summer Business Analyst at McKinsey & Company.
When Angela isn’t finishing a problem set or serving as an executive board member of the Columbia Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs, she can be found running in Central Park, curling up with a good book, and exploring the best coffee shops and sushi restaurants New York City has to offer.
Follow Angela on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/angela-liu/