Working with entrepreneurs is fantastic. They are some of the most hardworking, passionate, dedicated, devoted, tenacious, spirited people and every day brings new challenges.
Jennifer Tegan has been an investor in and mentor for entrepreneurs for over 14 years, and she is just as passionate as they are when she talks about her working with them.
Critical to success is developing a relationship of trust, openness and respect with my entrepreneurs, she says, “If you don’t have that at the core of the relationship you don’t have anything. It is incredibly important that we have a very open line of communication between us. When something great happens, I want them to call me, same when something terrible happens!”
Jennifer Tegan is a member of the UNY50 Leadership Network, Partner and VP of Cayuga Venture Fund (CVF) and President of the Upstate Venture Association of New York Board (UVANY). As the first female President of UVANY, she takes her role as a woman mentor and investor very seriously.
I do know that for women entrepreneurs, it is important to see a woman investor in the room.
Jennifer explains that when she started at CVF, there were next to no female entrepreneurs that reached out to them, but this has changed a lot in the last 6 years. “It’s exciting to see that shift and more women pursuing starting high growth businesses.”
Jennifer Tegan also serves on the corporate Boards of several companies such as GiveGab, Intrinsiq Materials and True Gault. She very recently joined the Board of Directors of Tompkins Trust Company as well. “It’s a great honor to have been selected to join this Board. The banking industry is fascinating to me. I look forward to understanding it better and helping the bank to grow in Upstate NY.”
After earning BA and MS degrees in geology – science is also a core passion of hers, she obtained an MBA from Cornell University. She considers Upstate NY as home and she stresses the importance of giving back to the region and the need to help develop the entrepreneurial eco-system. “The people who have seen success in their business life need to give back in order to see other successes happen in their communities.”
We asked Jennifer Tegan a series of questions in order to gain greater insight into the mind of this passionate and committed mentor.
- Where were you born and what did you want to be when you grew up?
I was born in Poughkeepsie, NY and moved to Saratoga Springs shortly thereafter. I remember telling my parents that I wanted to be President when I grew up! And if you count being President of UVANY, I guess I achieved that goal in part!
- What interests you about being a mentor?
Entrepreneurs are great people to work with, who are passionate about what they believe in. It is exciting to see and support someone pursue their passions and come out on the other side having created something important to community and society.
- What was the best piece of advice you ever got? What was the worst?
My dad told me regularly, “If you work hard enough, you can be and do anything.” It’s something that I’ve always carried with me. With hard work, you really can achieve and do amazing things. I knew that I always had people who believed in me and that helped me believe in myself.
When I was in high school, applying to colleges, my advanced chemistry teacher told me that girls weren’t as good as boys at science and that I should reconsider majoring in the sciences in college (in spite of the fact that I was the top student in his class that year). My first semester in college I started taking government/political science classes and was utterly miserable. The next semester I registered for a non-majors geology course. At the end of the first lecture I went up to the professor and asked him what I needed to do to become a geology major. It was great to be back doing what I loved and what resonated with me.
- What’s your best tip for hiring talent and growing culture in a startup?
It’s really important when you hire people for any position that you understand clearly what are the critical skills that that person needs to have for them and the company to be a success. And then, you DO NOT SETTLE until you find the right person. When people settle, that’s when they end up making mistakes which can be so incredibly expensive, especially for start-ups when the team is small and resources are limited.
Cultural fit is one of those critical things which needs to be considered and people who will bring diverse perspectives because diversity leads to better team decision-making. However you need to make sure that you hire people who are dedicated to their work and buy into being part of a start-up, it requires hard, dedicated work and a tenaciousness that is not always for everyone.
- Are you on social media?
LinkedIn and Twitter for work/professional, Facebook for friends/family, and GiveGab, of course! It’s a social network for giving that I highly recommend to everyone (ok, I am an investor and on the board of that last one but it is great).
- What’s the most difficult part of being a startup mentor / investor?
You really have to develop a close relationship with your entrepreneurs. There is not a single one of them that doesn’t go through some really challenging and difficult situations and you need to have a relationship that’s open, honest and respectful. That way, you can help them manage and tackle those challenges.
- What’s your favorite book and why?
I love to read. My favorite fiction book is ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It’s one of the most beautifully written book I’ve ever read. On the non-fiction side, I love reading memoirs, especially about people who experience incredible adversity and survive/succeed. For example ‘When God Looked the Other Way’, ‘The Girl in the Picture’, etc.
- What’s your secret to productivity?
Focus on what you need to focus on and at the start of each day create clear priorities. I keep a lot of to-do lists that I follow religiously. You also need to take mental breaks and honestly for me, this means just taking care of myself; exercise and eat right, so that I can have the mental focus that I need when I need it.
- What do you think is the most important innovation of your lifetime?
The Internet. It has completely changed the way we live and work.
- Share a time when you learned something from your children?
I have a daughter who’s 9. I learn something from her everyday. She’s a great kid, incredibly balanced as a person. When I get annoyed/agitated she reminds me : “Mom, this is not such a big deal, let it go!” She reminds me regularly what is important and what is not.
- What can the entrepreneurial community do better in Upstate New York?
I do a lot of work in NYC and everything is very different there. There’s a lot of investors, a lot of entrepreneurs, networks and support. When you come to Upstate New York, we have all of those same resources but it is more spread apart, and not as deep. We need to connect the dots and those resources for entrepreneurs. This is very important in order to maintain a thriving and healthy eco-system. This is why I have chosen to invest a lot of effort and time with UVANY and Upstate Venture Connect. Both organizations help to connect those dots for people and bring them together on a regular and consistent basis.
Another thing is the people who have seen success in their business lives need to give back in order to see other successes happen in their communities. We are lacking in capital resources in Upstate NY, so anything people can do to drive more dollars to entrepreneurs is incredibly important.
NEXT -> Meet all the members of the UNY50 Leadership Network and reach out to UVC for a referral!