By the time she was 17, Alicia Robb knew she wanted a career with a travel component, but instead of an airline pilot or professional tour guide, she took the unexpected route: Academia. After earning a PhD in economics, she applied her academic credentials to her passion for community development and founded an international development organization that brought her to India, Latin America, and Africa. Her dynamic professional life has merged many more of her passions, including angel investing and women's entrepreneurship, and she's written two books on those tantalizing topics. Alicia is also the founder of Next Wave Ventures, which helps women realize their entrepreneurial dreams. We're thrilled to chat with the Kauffman Foundation senior fellow about her exciting life as a businesswoman, world traveler, and animal lover.
Tell us about your childhood.
I grew up in Minnesota. My parents divorced when I was 9. I ended up moving to my dad’s in Dallas, TX, the summer before my sophomore year in high school and he promptly got transferred to St. Louis Missouri the following January. So I went to three high schools in three states. College was the first time I started and ended in the same place.
When and why did you go vegan?
I became a vegetarian the first month of college. I’d thought about doing it, but it was really my roommate who really pushed me to do it. I remember that day vividly. I was making a ham and cheese sandwich in our dorm room and she said, "Why not do it, right now?" And I did. I never ate meat again. For me it was really about the animals. I learned about the economic efficiencies and environmental consequences shortly thereafter, but the primary motivation was really about lessening animal suffering. It wasn’t until about 2003 when I was at a PETA animal rights 101 workshop in San Francisco when I learned about the issues around dairy and eggs. Between that and the documentary Peaceable Kingdom, I began to transition to being vegan.
Does being vegan present any challenges in your professional life?
It’s certainly a lot easier than it was a decade or two ago. The only challenges now are really international trips and work trips to areas that are not at all vegan-friendly. Last summer I was at the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year summit in Monaco and there was veal and foie gras nearly every day. I got a plate of vegetables each time, but it was pretty bleak.
How did you become interested in entrepreneurism?
I started in the area of community development and microfinance, which lead to small business finance and my career at the Federal Reserve in the Greenspan Days. Then I got recruited to Kauffman to lead their longitudinal survey of new firms, which had a focus on entrepreneurial finance. The last few years I’ve really gotten involved in finance and crowdfunding and angel investing, but I still focus on entrepreneurship by women and minorities as well.
Many women have built up fear around money, and investing in particular. What advice would you offer a woman who wants to feel more empowered financially?
There are so many resources out there for people who want to better understand finance. Whether it’s your personal finances or business finances, there is no shortage of information. Learn it, get comfortable with it, be confident with it. It’s not rocket science.
You founded Next Wave Ventures, whose motto is "Driving diversity in Entrepreneurship and Angel Investing." What else can you tell us about your mission?
The goal is really to increase the number of women and minorities in angel investing. If we get more underrepresented groups on the investing side, more investment is going to go to entrepreneurs that are from underrepresented groups as well.
What goals will you be excited to reach through Next Wave Ventures in the years to come?
Empowering a new wave of women who will become active angels and leaders in their communities’ entrepreneurial ecosystems. I also want to achieve a good rate of return on our investments, of course!
What business are you still hoping someone will launch to fill a void, either in your life or elsewhere?
I am so excited to see the proliferation of vegan alternatives to meat and dairy and egg products. Being vegan has never been easier. We finally have amazing vegan cheese. Vegan scrambled eggs are getting pretty tasty, and there are more and more products coming into the market, even in places like Target and Costco and Walmart, which make them accessible to everyone. I’m hoping that more and more entrepreneurs are going to launch companies that put animal agriculture out of business. I just joined the advisory board of Good Food Institute, which also has a venture fund that invests in these kinds of businesses. I’m very optimistic about the future.
In your dynamic life, you find time to mentor other women entrepreneurs. How would you recommend that others go about finding a mentor of our own?
There are so many great groups out there, from Kauffman’s 1 Million Cups, to startup grind chapters around the world, to Meetups such as Women Who Startup, MergeLane, a women's business organization, Springboard, Astia, and more. Get involved with the startup ecosystem, attend startup weekends, go to meetups in your area, meet the people that are part of your community. Through that community there will be mentors that can help you.
You recently moved to Boulder. What do you love most about this part of the country?
I like to say Boulder is like Marin County--where I lived for 12 years--and Silicon Valley combined, but with only the good things of each. Boulder is so wonderful with it’s bike friendly paths, the amazing hiking, the vibrant startup ecosystem, and the great vegan community. I love that perfect combination.
What's your favorite travel destination and why?
I like India and Italy and San Sebastian in no particular order. I’ve been to more than 50 countries, so it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few. I’m leaving out Banff and Patagonia and Switzerland and Australia and so many places in the U.S. I love food and culture and history, and India, Italy, and San Sebastian are so vibrant with colors and tastes and smells.
Finally, describe a typical day in your fabulous life!
I work from home, getting up about 6am or so. When I'm not traveling for work, which I do a lot, you can usually find me in front of my computer. It's usually a green smoothie and coffee for breakfast, a sandwich or veggie burger for lunch, and then a big salad for dinner. I try to exercise every day in addition to hiking with my dogs, It's usually a bike ride or run or an Insanity workout. I think I may be one of the few people in the world to have done Insanity in more than 20 countries!
The Really Fast Four
For the Greater Good
We asked Alicia to share a few of her favorite non-profits, and we really love her list!