Published September 20, 2022 by Yordana Gerdzhikova ’23

Musing on the Common Good While Interning with a Venture Capital Firm

Yordana Gerdzhikova ’23 interned with Koa Labs, a venture capital (VC) firm founded by Andy Palmer ’88 that invests in startup companies other financial firms might overlook.
Yordana Gerdzhikova ’23 and Andy Palmer ’88
Yordana Gerdzhikova ’23 with her summertime boss and mentor, Andy Palmer ’88

Gerdzhikova wrote the following essay "as an expression of gratitude" and to encourage other alumni to engage with Bowdoin students. 

"After a summer working with Andy Palmer ’88 and Harry Pellerin ’20 at Koa Labs, I see that they have served the common good in an inspiring way. I wanted to write this brief reflection to give a glimpse into the spirit of giving and contagious optimism at the firm.

At first, when I was applying to intern with Koa Labs last December, I was skeptical about the venture capital sector because I thought it was only about financial transactions.

But Andy explained to me right away that his mission is to help underrepresented founders. And I saw him act on his mission daily.

It turns out that working for an angel investor who empowers female, BIPOC, immigrant, and first-time founders shows you how the tool of money can chisel away at inequality. 

Entrepreneurs in these communities often do not get the resources they need due to institutional barriers. Andy tackles that directly by using his money and time to advise underrepresented founders. He loves passionate people, building things, and helping passionate people build things, so during my first interview with him, I knew I also would love the work. 

Some of the companies Koa has funded include PillPack, which helps sort medications into morning-afternoon-evening bags; Podimetrics, which prevents diabetic foot complications with an ingenious bath mat; and BloomerTech, which created a sensor that can fit into a bra and tracks female cardiovascular health. 

There is profit to be made in a startup fund like Koa, yet the VC standard is that only one out of ten companies returns your investment—sometimes tenfold—while the others fail.

Yet Andy never calls them failures. And I see the wisdom of that. He instead refers to them as 'good shots on goal,' because while the founders might have missed the shot, you can bet they’ll funnel their hard-earned experience into their next startup.

Andy's get-it-done mindset gives him the superpower of helping others, yet a surprising discovery for me was seeing him oscillate between being kind and ruffling some feathers, when needed.

He can get tasks done not via rules and procedures, but by coming up with whatever kind of creative solution works. Perhaps his ability to shift is a reflection of the decades of rugby he’s played—from Bowdoin to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, France, and Ireland—when he's aggressive in the game to secure a win but oozes camaraderie off the field.

I’ve sat in on many meetings where Andy has shown me the power of vulnerability while also staying away from internalizing failure.

I am excited about opportunities when I can pay it forward, calmer about the moments of insecurity ahead, and grateful for everything Andy, Harry, and I accomplished this summer."