Ita Ekpoudom

November 14, 2023

The business psychologist

“We moved to the U.S. from Nigeria when I was five. In classic immigrant fashion every Nigerian parent wants a doctor. So, I said ok, I go to college. I study the pre-medicine track at Princeton, but it was with ‘organic chemistry’ that I started to question my choice of studies. I was like: ‘why am I doing this? I don’t really want to be a doctor’. What I did love were the classes in psychology, especially social psychology because I always loved learning about the way people think and what drives their interactions with one another. I changed majors, chose finance as a minor, and wrote my senior thesis on ‚Interpersonal Rejection’.

Where do you go with a degree like that? To Wall Street, of course! In 2003, I started at Goldman Sachs, initially as an analyst in the Credit Capital Markets group, then I moved to trade preferred stock on the fixed income trading desk. In a trading seat, rejection is part of the day-to-day business. You quickly learn to put theoretical experience into practice. I stayed for five years and then did my MBA in Marketing and Entrepreneurial Management at Wharton (University of Pennsylvania). Although traditional Wall Street firms heavily recruited at Wharton, I knew I didn’t want to go back to Wall Street. Ultimately, I decided to join American Express right after Business School.

Growing up my dad always said, ‚You need life insurance and an American Express.’

The move seemed logical to me. However, it was my first time working at a big corporate company. Compared to this, investment banks seemed like they are ran more entrepreneurially. While I enjoyed my time at Amex, the pace at which things moved felt too slow, and ultimately at just 14 months, it was the shortest job I ever had. I realized I wanted to work at a smaller company where  I could make more of a difference.

In 2014, I started my own consulting firm, Tigress Ventures. I did what the psychologist in me had learned to do: build relationships in the space that I wanted to work in. That’s how I met Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss, the founders of Rent the Runway, who hired me to produce their Summit series as part of ‘Project Entrepreneur’ (an initiative launched by their foundation to help women start businesses). I met Linnea Roberts for the first time in person through that. She was a speaker at one of the sessions I organized.

Linnea retired from Goldman in 2016. It wasn’t until then that she realized that she had never made a private investment – one of her big aha moments. When she started GingerBread Capital, she made investments on her own for the first couple of years and then she decided to bring on a partner. The job interview was the best I’ve ever had. She said, ‘write me your dream role.’ That was it. I talked to friends in the industry, put together my thoughts and emailed them to her. She answered, ‘I agree with a lot of this, let’s keep talking.’ It was a series of conversations. And on July 1st, 2018, I started with GBC. Our central focus is making direct investments in female founders and companies with gender diverse teams.

The biggest thing women lack in our industry is capital. The next biggest thing is access. We are not a lead investor, we call ourselves ‚collaborative capital’ – our goal is to be that sounding board in our founders’ corner. Being a founder can often be lonely.

We want to be that outside perspective that they can talk to. I enjoy trying to be there for our founders. Also, how many people can get on a call with one of the former co-heads of Goldman’s tech banking group to talk strategy? That’s a value-add Linnea and GBC bring to the table. My NorthStar is removing friction in women’s lives. Sometimes that can be a very women-centric thing, when it is a product or service that helps a woman only. But often, if you reduce the friction in women’s lives, it removes friction for men and society at large. Everybody is better off.

Looking to the future, I would like to see us reach a point where we no longer need funds that invest exclusively in women. There are still voices that see a team of female founders and ask: ‘aren’t you missing men?’. The majority of funding still goes to all-male founding teams. However, nobody seems to be saying ‘aren’t you missing women’ when they raise capital. That thought never crosses people’s minds.

What does this say about us?

Ita Ekpoudom

Founder of Tigress Ventures