Surrounded by passionate entrepreneurs, Rice University alumna Meg Brigman (B.A. ’18) is inspired to creatively communicate problems and disruptive solutions. Her role as the Director of Portfolio Success at ATX Venture Partners requires her to demonstrate the impact of software capable of revolutionizing entire industries to a wide variety of stakeholders.
Her passion for identifying problems and engineering new solutions was revealed early in her Rice experience. The freshman design course, Engineering 120, gave her team the opportunity to develop an improved aeration system for the campus pool. In the Houston heat, the pool’s existing inefficient cooling system was not able to provide optimal water temperatures for the D1 women’s team to be practicing and performing at their best.
“As a player for the Rice club water polo team, I knew how ineffective the cooling system was” said Brigman, “Resolving an issue with a personal benefit was rewarding, but I was more excited by utilizing the engineering design process to identify a solution.”
Brigman’s team designed new aeration nozzles with better water dispersion. A few iterations later, the team utilized the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK) to weld their design and then replaced the existing nozzles at the pool.
“After that experience, I signed up for more engineering design courses and an ACTIVATE Engineering Communication class. My desire to enable others led me to purse the GLHT (Global Health Technologies) minor with an intense senior engineering capstone project.”
Design and capstone courses require students to give presentations and demonstrations, as well as submit written documentation on the team’s solutions, tests, and outcomes. These classes with real-world clients and experiences honed Brigman’s verbal, written, and visual communication skills.
“Not only did my senior team create a low-cost breast cancer detection training model, we also presented the solution to numerous audiences. Collecting feedback directly from doctors in rural Malawian hospitals was a very different approach than when my team presented at the international AORTIC cancer conference in Kigali, Rwanda.”
Brigman leveraged her knack for communicating technical ideas and details to non-technical audiences into her first job – supporting Cultivation Capital, an early-stage venture capital firm in St. Louis, Missouri.
“Across the US, the general language of venture capital (VC) and entrepreneurship is similar. However, what I learned in St. Louis was a difference in approach. In conversations with people on the east and west coasts, their first question was always ‘what can you do?’ while in Texas and in the Midwest, conversations always begin with ‘who are you’ before exploring ‘what can you do?’
“Time is spent getting to know the entrepreneur before delving into their company pitch. Working in the geographical areas where the priority was in developing a relationship first, aligns with my belief in putting people first and letting profits follow.”
Later, as Principal of the North American accelerator for the food and AgTech (agricultural technology) fund, she helped organize programming so new founders could learn from experts who had walked a similar path. “We were often the first institutional capital in early-stage startups, so in addition to financial support, we would help the founders hone their pitch to better communicate their companies’ value proposition.”
Brigman leveraged her strengths and shifted into a more operationally intense role within the venture capital industry by focusing on post-investment support. While deciding to transition firms was difficult, Brigman said that meeting Chris Shonk, Danielle Weiss Allen, and Brad Bentz made the decision much easier. The co-founders at ATX Venture Partners were just as passionate about the companies they funded as they were about the entrepreneurs behind these solutions.
In her new role, Brigman builds bridges between founders and investors and helps their rapidly growing teams fill internal gaps. Brigman can connect the new entrepreneurs with strategic advisors to empower a shift in direction or with service providers to improve processes.
Helping leaders in their portfolio forge peer-to-peer relationships is another of Brigman’s goals. “Founders can feel isolated and overwhelmed at times, so connecting with other entrepreneurs at the same level is fortifying. They don’t need to understand each other’s exact solution to brainstorm their concerns and share successful breakthroughs.”
Brigman balances supporting entrepreneurs with enabling her team to effectively communicate successes to investors. “I ask many questions when I am getting to know a company and their mission. My role is to promote them, so I need to thoroughly understand how they solve the problem they are tackling. Metaphors can be a way of effectively summarizing business models. In venture capital, you don’t need to be an expert in everything, but you do have to be able to efficiently explain a solution.”
She watches her audience’s reaction when describing a new startup or explaining technical details. If the investor expresses confusion, Brigman will add more context or try a different approach. She starts at a basic level and dives deeper if someone has preexisting expertise or expresses interest.
“For example, Cyvatar (think cyber and avatar) – provides cybersecurity and acts as a virtual chief information security officer (CISO),” said Brigman. “Most investors understand the software-as-a-service (SaaS) business model so simply saying Cyvatar is ‘cybersecurity-as-a-service’ enables quick understanding of their recurring subscription model. Meanwhile, for potential customers, it’s better to share that Cyvatar is the easiest way for companies to quickly become secure.
Tag lines are another tool Brigman uses to simplify complex problems and solutions. “Our company Reflex has the tag line ‘a better way to work in retail’. This helps both brands and retail associates understand their on-demand marketplace in an easy way.”
“Our founders have incredible software, marketplaces, and products in complex industries. Communication to both investors and customers should give context about where the industry was prior to this solution and focus on the benefits provided by the novel technology. I hope to continue to empower entrepreneurs because I believe they have the best chance to positively impact our world.”