EP 10: Finding a Recipe for Success in Business and VC

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When she hit a roadblock in her career, this future VC enrolled in Kellogg’s top-tier Executive MBA Program and ended up with a successful business and a career in an entirely new industry. (Listen)

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Episode Summary: Mellie Chow hit her limit as a successful IT consultant and wanted a change. Unsure if she needed to develop new skills or just get into a new environment, she enrolled in an EMBA program that gave her both. Now, a few years later, Mellie is an angel investor, venture capitalist, and co-founder of The Revolving Kitchen. She’s also on the Investment Committee at Purple Arch Ventures, a venture capital fund that enables alums from Northwestern to invest in ventures connected to fellow alums.

In this podcast, Mellie shares her journey as a “shifter” and why people at Purple Arch call her “the triple threat.”
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Introducing Mellie Chow

Mellie Chow is a digital and strategy consultant with more than 15 years experience. She’s passionate about working with technology entrepreneurs to help their businesses reach full potential. Her clients range from Fortune 100 companies to early stage tech startups, and her industry experience includes telecommunications, media, high tech, utilities and power generation, financial services, healthcare, and public sector. Mellie holds a Bachelor of Science and Mechanical Engineering from the University of Waterloo and a Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA from the Schulich School of Business at York University.

Mellie is also an ambassador for Purple Arch Ventures (PAV), a venture fund that pools capital from Northwestern alums to invest in companies with Wildcat connections. PAV is led by former Northwestern football team member David Beazley, who serves as Managing Partner. Side note: You can listen to this podcast with David Beazley to learn how former Wildcats are using their capital to build the entrepreneurial ecosystem for Northwestern alums.

Three Takeaways from This Podcast

Mellie Chow had a successful IT consulting career with plenty of latitude to create the business and practice she wanted. But she reached a point where she couldn’t grow the business further and didn’t know why.

In a moment of reflection, she asked herself, “Am I missing tools in my toolbox? Or is it generally the infrastructure I’m in?” At that point, Mellie decided to go back to school to get an executive MBA at Kellogg. This move, she says, “was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life because it allowed me to make the career transition … from IT technology consulting to venture capital.”

In addition to getting involved in VC, she and a co-founder started a business that wouldn’t have materialized had Mellie not decided to further her education. When Schulich launched a venture project as part of a capstone requirement to graduate, Mellie and a classmate came up with The Revolving Kitchen, a digital marketplace to help food entrepreneurs connect with commercial kitchen spaces. The team got voted “most likely to succeed” and eventually won second place at Schulich’s Start-Up Night.

In this interview, Mellie shares the pivots she made en route to finding success in the marketplace, along with her advice on how to pitch a business to venture capitalists. Three takeaways:

1. Failure is inevitable

Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, Mellie’s parents taught her to dream big, to make adjustments, and to keep trying when failure occurs. As an entrepreneur herself, Mellie believes this mindset is essential to being successful. She says, “The natural state of any business is not to exist. So the fact that you are going after something, it’s kind of like going against all odds.” If you can learn to deal with failure on an almost daily basis, she adds, “then you will find the gem you are looking for.”

2. You have to find the haystack

Mellie says that coming up with a good business idea is similar to finding a needle in a haystack. But you first have to find the haystack — the intersection of the category and the problem you want to solve.

In the genesis of the Revolving Kitchen, Mellie and her partner wanted to build a business that combined food and technology because they shared a passion for food, and Mellie had experience in technology. Once they narrowed their focus to this space, the pair discovered that food entrepreneurs have difficulty gaining access to commercially certified kitchen spaces when they want to test concepts or grow their businesses. The Revolving Kitchen was Mellie’s needle.

3. Your pitch must include three key elements

Mellie has plenty of experience with pitches. She’s pitched her own business ideas at a number of startup and entrepreneurial contests. She also sits on the Investment Committee at Purple Arch Ventures, where she reviews pitch decks and listens to founders make their case.

According to Mellie, venture capitalists first want to know the size of the market and which opportunities can be gained if they invest in your business. The second thing they look at is the capability of the team. Finally, they review the business model. She says a successful pitch should cover all of those elements.

Though she has won multiple pitch contests, Mellie has also failed on occasion. She says the experience of failing publicly helped the team learn valuable lessons, many of which she shares in this interview.

If you’re developing a business idea or want to learn more about the process of pitching to potential investors, give Mellie Chow a listen. She offers the insights and energy of a founder (turned funder) who knows what it takes to succeed in the entrepreneurial space.

Learn More

Sign up for the Purple Arch Ventures fund newsletter for more insights into how Northwestern alums are investing together. You may also want to sign up for the Alumni Ventures Group newsletter to learn more about all of the company’s alumni and focused funds.

Follow Mellie Chow @melliechow on Twitter or @trk_kitchen on Twitter and Instagram.

Subscribe to Founders and Funders

Founders and Funders is a podcast where we discuss how entrepreneurs and investors work together to build great companies. Our guests — many of whom are connected with AVG as entrepreneurs, investors, managing partners, fellows, and more — are invited here to talk about the journey of building companies from incubation to early stage investing and beyond.

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Related Episodes

  1. Episode 1: The Genesis (and Ripple Effect) of Alumni Ventures Group
  2. Episode 6: The Easiest (and Newest!) Way to Break into VC
  3. Episode 9: Wildcat Wide Receiver Has a New Goal for Northwestern Alums

25 episodes available. A new episode about every 8 days averaging 26 mins duration .