||© Nathan Mandell
Sona Wang '86
Wang: Helping entrepreneurial dreams take flight
American Dream is no myth to Sona Wang '86.
6, Wang emigrated from South Korea with her brother, sister
and recently widowed mother to build a new life in the United
remembers the brusque and efficient immigration officer who
transcribed her difficult-to-pronounce Korean name as "Sona."
Americans would find that easier to say, he told her. The
moniker grew on her, and later, when Wang was naturalized
as a U.S. citizen, she made it her permanent name.
to life in the new country presented many challenges. With
few English skills and resources, the family settled in South
Central Los Angeles. Wang's mother, who had been a successful
physician in South Korea, worked to re-establish her medical
practice in her adopted land, while her children struggled
to adapt to their new environment.
her childhood as "the lean years," as she watched her mother
learn a new language, deal with setbacks and ultimately open
a successful clinic in Los Angeles.
powerful and enabling lessons from her mother's resilience
is my role model," Wang says. "Her optimism and entrepreneurial
spirit were a constant influence on our lives."
18 years since graduating from the Kellogg School, Wang has
brought that spirit to her successful career in venture capital.
In 1987, when high-tech investing was still relatively nascent
in the Midwest, she co-founded the first venture capital fund
in Illinois to specialize in high-technology businesses.
in the mid-1990s, she co-founded INROADS Capital Partners,
the first venture fund in the nation to provide specialized
service for women and minority entrepreneurs.
name is no accident. "We wanted to send the message that this
wasn't your ordinary venture capital firm," says Wang, who
launched the $50 million fund in 1995. "We were established
to make inroads into how our industry worked and the types
of businesses and entrepreneurs that would get funded."
stopped there. Her commitment to expanding opportunities for
women and minorities has led her back to Kellogg, where she
has been a frequent guest lecturer in courses on venture capital
finance and the Women in Entrepreneurship class.
favorite quote is from Eleanor Roosevelt, who said, 'The
most important thing in any relationship is not what you
get but what you give.' So give, give and keep on giving."
Joe Levy Jr. '47, founder and
president of Levy Venture Management, Skokie, Ill.
students studying venture capital to focus on the fundamentals
when evaluating new business opportunities: the strength of
the business model, the market dynamics, the competitive advantages,
the barriers to entry and the skill of the managers. She cautions
against overlooking intangible but critical factors such as
whether the entrepreneur's goals are aligned with those of
the venture capitalist.
especially crucial at the beginning of the relationship to
agree on a common vision for the ultimate outcome of the venture,"
students in the Women in Entrepreneurship class not
only to develop a compelling business plan but to pursue their
your own road is much more difficult than following an established
path," Wang says. "But the sweat equity that you invest in
your idea and the risk you take today will ultimately pay
sits on Northwestern University's Board of Trustees, where
she has played key roles on committees dealing with information
technology, diversity, Asian-American alumni and the university's
recent $1.5 billion capital campaign.
chairs the advisory board for the university's Center for
Women Entrepreneurs in Technology. The center, funded mainly
by the National Science Foundation, provides support and technical
assistance to women-led innovations and entrepreneurial ventures
relating to life sciences.
of that, Wang is a member of the university's Council of 100,
a group of high-profile women who have volunteered to mentor
female Northwestern students and alumni.
a palpable culture at Northwestern, and especially at Kellogg,
of striving for excellence," Wang says. "It is a place that
embraces change. Some very innovative ideas are being put
into practice at the school, and it's all in the pursuit of
being the most excellent educational institution we can possibly
be. It's very inspiring to get involved with that."
Northwestern, Wang has served as chair of Springboard, a biannual
venture capital forum showcasing women-led high-growth businesses.
The forum has raised about $2 billion for female entrepreneurs
is the epitome of a class act and a
professional," says Mary Naylor, CEO of
VIPdesk, an INC. 500 company and INROADS-funded firm on whose
board Wang serves. "She's always the steady voice of reason.
She's very thoughtful and insightful, and because of that,
what she says carries a tremendous amount of weight."
young professionals — and especially entrepreneurs —
to seek mentorship and support.
wait for someone to take you under their wings," she says.
"Find a really big set of wings and climb under them."
aspiring men and women at Kellogg and beyond, Wang provides
the liftoff for those entrepreneurial flights.
to Jerome P. Kenney '67
to Why alumni give back