Flyways not Highways
“I come from West Africa—I was born there,” said Aoaeh, who double-majored in math and physics at Connecticut College and earned an MBA from NYU Stern. “I feel that I have an important responsibility to give back in some way, and the most effective way I know to do that is to share what I’m learning.”
To wade through the ambiguity of working as a venture capitalist, Aoaeh said he relies heavily on the skills he learned at Connecticut College.
“When I meet with startup founders, they are often looking to solve a problem I haven’t thought about before, in an industry I’m not really familiar with,” he said. “That’s where a background in math and physics comes in handy—when I am confronted with something unfamiliar, I don’t freak out.”
Experience solving math problems at the board in front of classmates has proven especially beneficial. “It has made me comfortable thinking through problems in front of other people,” Aoaeh said. “When I’m in a meeting with a startup, I don’t hesitate to pick up the marker and go to the whiteboard.”
Aoaeh’s math skills came in handy when he and his colleagues were developing a family of financial derivatives that they hoped to bring to market. Aoaeh was responsible for developing the mathematical framework for valuing the securities and for documenting the underlying theoretical basis of the idea.
He credits Weller Professor of English and Writer-in-Residence Blanche Boyd with teaching him to communicate clearly. He said that he hears her voice each time he sits down to write a research memorandum that the team at KEC Ventures will use to make an investment decision, and every time he’s writing an article for his personal blog, Innovation Footprints.
“I don’t think there was a single class or a single professor from whom I didn’t learn something important,” Aoaeh said. “Even now, I still rely on concepts I first studied in Anthropology 101 and Religion 101 in trying to help our early-stage startup founders become better managers and better leaders as their startups grow.”
After graduation, Aoaeh worked for a short time as an actuarial analyst. He was then a statistical research analyst for UBS and a strategy analyst for Lehman Brothers, before starting in 2008 with KEC Venture’s parent company, KEC Holdings, as the company’s second employee, and the first employee of the team that has now matured into an independent venture fund.
Aoaeh admits he took a winding road to where he is now, but he loves what he does.
“I have travelled a remarkable path for someone who thinks of himself as ‘a village-boy’ from northern Ghana,” he said. “I’m doing exactly what I want, exactly what I should be doing.”