Tim Chiang Recommends Building On Your Old Skills To Break Into VC

Career Resources
April 28, 2021

Alright, so you’ve decided that you are ready to go into venture capital. As with any career change, you are ready to leave your old job behind, lock it away in that desk drawer you never open, and throw away the key.

But before you forget about your old career, take a breath and step back.

Your old skills and your old career made you who you are today. And even if you didn’t like your old job, you probably worked hard and gained a firm grasp on a somewhat useful subject. So don’t abandon all that!

Rather, draw upon all your old knowledge, showcase your core strengths, and build upon these to position yourself in a way the industry can’t ignore.

GoingVC alum Tim Chiang knows all about this process of transformation.

Several years ago, he had no designs on the prospect of working in VC. Today, he is a Senior Venture Capital Analyst at Massachusetts-based GC Innovation America. There, he focuses on industrial technology startups in the areas of advanced materials, advanced manufacturing, green chemistry, and sustainability.

But his story, of course, doesn’t start there.

Tim graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a material science and engineering degree. Shortly after graduating, he took a job as an engineer at Baxter Healthcare – a position he credits with giving him his first experiences in medtech, and his first foray into the innovation space.

Hooked on the idea of driving innovation to market, Tim decided to move to Washington D.C. and take a position with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, thinking the opportunity would leave him with a great vantage point for engaging in and evaluating a ton of new cutting edge technologies.

Unfortunately, the opportunity didn’t quite live up to his expectations.

“I found that the intellectual property perspective provides only a one-dimensional view of emergent technologies, and the patent office function was fundamentally limited in the extent of engagement. I could only evaluate technology disclosures, and to some extent, advise, but never partner as a builder, he said.  “After a while, I realized it was not a good fit for me. I wanted to participate rather than goaltend a regulatory process. There was more involved in bringing breakthrough technologies to the world, and I wanted to get actively involved.”

Disappointed, Tim moved back to the engineering side of things. This time he would be supporting federal acquisition programs, helping the government design for, purchase, and implement new technologies.  

While he found the work to be meaningful, particularly the opportunity to vastly improve public services, he still felt there was something lacking.

“In government, particularly in how it approaches software and complex systems, the idea of innovation often takes the form of just modernization,” he said.  

Tim was ready for a change.

Luckily, it was at this time that Tim came across a masters program being offered at MIT in System Design and Management. The program is offered by both the MIT Engineering school and Sloan School of Management and aimed at technologists who want to stay close to technology, but also help navigate the complex system and challenges that exist around bringing innovations to market.

In a nutshell, this program was made for Tim. So, when he got accepted, despite having to uproot his family in a move from Washington D.C. to Boston, it was a no brainer.

And he’s glad he did it.

Bursting with student startups and a thriving entrepreneurship program, MIT opened Tim up to the world that had been eluding him at past jobs.

Furthermore, while pursuing his degree, Tim organized the MIT Sloan Healthcare and BioInnovations Pitch Competition. He recruited 40 plus healthcare and biotech startups from Boston area schools to compete in the competition and awarded $30,000 in prize money to finalist teams after several rounds of judging and competition.

After being exposed to the startup culture at MIT, Tim knew he wanted to build a career around it.

With this in mind, he landed an internship at GE Ventures, where he identified emerging investment themes, and supported commercial development efforts between GE’s businesses and GE Ventures’ portfolio companies.

This was Tim’s first experience in VC. After years of searching, he felt he had finally found his niche. And it didn’t take him long to realize that most people’s perceptions of the industry are misguided.

“The caricature of VC from the outside is that it’s a FOMO-fueled frenzy of just slinging money around,” he said. “But it really is making a careful assessment of what exactly you are investing in and what it is that will make it succeed. There are a million variables and you are solving some of the most interesting problems in the world with some of the brightest minds.”

Tim stayed on with GE Ventures part-time while he completed his masters program. In parallel,  Tim also began to look for full-time venture capital jobs, and came across the GoingVC program after a friend mentioned it to him.

He would go on to join the program, and ultimately learn about his current job through the VC Careers blog run by one of GoingVC’s co-founder’s, John Gannon.

“The value I got from GoingVC is getting exposed to lots of different investment segments dissimilar to the ones I was focused on,” he said. “That was interesting to me because there were cross-pollination opportunities for me to learn about other factors that make good venture opportunities.”

For instance, during one of GoingVC’s hangout video sessions, Tim listened to a Principal from Underscore VC speak about early-stage investing – something which taught him about a very different vertical from his own – especially when it came to how the Principal approached risk and other aspects of the business, such as hiring.

So what can we learn from this story?

While it took Tim a long time to ultimately find VC, notice that he never discarded opportunities to learn and to add to the tool chest from a breadth of different experiences. In fact, it was this combination of experiences that ultimately helped him land his current job at GC Innovation.

Tim encourages anyone looking to get into VC to not simply start over, but to build upon their existing skills and experiences to create a brand that will stand out among the crowd.

“Don’t be tempted to follow some sort of prototype, but really double down on what makes you differentiated and unique in bringing value to the table,” he said. “Almost every industry  can benefit from innovation or some sort of technological advancement. Go further to find aligned opportunities and hone in on what makes you unique and valuable from the perspective of investors and startups.”

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