The youngest woman in venture capital? Erenestine Fu, age 20.
Ernestine Fu may be the first Stanford sophomore to work as a venture capitalist while carrying a full course load. For the past two months Fu, who turned 20 on April 30, has been an associate at Alsop Louie Partners in San Francisco. Her job: to find and vet potential entrepreneurs on the Stanford campus. Though she’s supposedly employed only part-time, last week Fu says she logged 40 hours and sat in on partner meetings. “I’m about to close a very very big deal,” she says. “I’ve managed to convince all the partners to go for it.” At the same time, she’s been handling a full course load as a civil and environmental engineering major, and doing the work of several other human beings.
Among her projects: serving as executive director of Stanford’s Student Services Division, which coordinates public service projects for Stanford students on campus and in the Bay Area, like a tutoring program in the low-income community of East Palo. She also sits on a board at State Farm Insurance that gives $5 million a year to service learning projects like environmental education.
On top of that, Fu is co-authoring a book with former Indiana University President and former Stanford Law School dean Thomas Ehrlich, about their experiences in public service. She says the book will have alternating chapters by Ehrlich and by her. Fu says she spends about 20 hours a week on the book.
As if her plate weren’t full enough, Fu is working with Stanford engineering and entrepreneurship professor Tom Kosnik, on a long-term research project that’s probing the impact of venture capital on entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley. With Kosnik, she’s also comparing clean technology ventures in Silicon Valley and Beijing, through an organization called Cleantech Open.
It was Kosnik, 60, who brought Fu to our attention, insisting she’s in the top half a percent of the 6,000 students he’s taught over the years. “I think she’s as impressive as Bill Gates,” he says, recalling how he met theMicrosoft founder in 1993 when Kosnik was putting together a case study. “When I watch Ernestine, she’s always focused on at least three things simultaneously,” he observes. “She gets more done in a week than most of my graduate students get done in 10 weeks.”
Does Fu every rest or socialize? She describes herself as “pretty relaxed,” says she “hangs out a lot with my friends,” and sleeps around seven hours a night. She’s also an avid street skateboarder.
One more project Fu is working on: an engineering study that grew out of a class with the director of Stanford’s Center for Integrated Facility Engineering, Martin Fischer. She’s collaborating with Fischer and a scientist at Disney, Ben Schwegler, on a paper about how hurricanes and storm surges that result from climate change can affect seaport infrastructure in Gulf Port, Miss., Providence, R.I. and Kingston, Jamaica.
Fu grew up in Northridge, Calif., outside Los Angeles, the daughter of Chinese immigrants who came to the U.S. in the 1980s. As a public high school student at North Hollywood High, she attended a magnet program for highly gifted students. Fu is a member of Mensa, but declines to reveal her IQ, except to say that it’s above 145.
When she was 15, Fu founded a non-profit group, Visual Arts and Music for Society, that organizes high school volunteers to play music, do art projects and perform in homeless shelters, hospitals, orphanages and senior residences.
This summer Fu says she’s heading off to do an engineering internship for oil field services giant Schlumberger in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.
What does Fu want to do when she gets out of college? “I see myself as having a lot of different career paths,” she says. “One thing Professor Kosnik has taught me is that innovation happens at the borders of different paths, like between engineering and philanthropy or engineering and entrepreneurship.”
Predicts Kosnik, “If she decides to become an entrepreneur, she’s going to come up with something that will astonish us all.”
Fu is starting to get some local buzz, with a May 7, article in Patch, the AOL news service, here, a May 1 piece in The Stanford Review here, and an April interview in a Stanford publication, Her Campus, here.