The Power of Mentorship: The Sumeru Fellows Program

Get the inside scoop on the Sumeru Fellows program. On this episode of the Scaling with Sumeru podcast, special guest Isabella Souza discusses her experience in the program and how it kick-started her career.

Intro to The Power of Mentorship

Jialin Zhang (0:08):

Hi, everyone. Welcome to Scaling with Sumeru–a podcast at the intersection of people and technology where we explore the strategies and stories behind scaling successful businesses.

My name is Jialin Zhang. I’m a vice president here at Sumeru. And I’m joined today by my co-host and colleague, Douglas Hayes.

Douglas Hayes (0:26):

Hey, everyone. It’s great to be here with you today. And thanks for having me on the podcast, Jialin.

Jialin Zhang (0:31):

Of course! Before we jump into today’s topic on the Sumeru Fellows Program, and introduce our special guests, I thought it might make sense for us to share a little bit on our background.

So, I’ll start off. I’m a vice president of our investment team and joined Sumeru in 2019. I currently lead the Fellows Program alongside my colleague, Michael Zhang. And fun fact, I’m an alum of the University of Pennsylvania, just like my co-host, Douglas.

Douglas Hayes (0:55):

That’s right. I graduated last year with a Bachelor of Science in Economics. And during my time there, I also did complete a couple of tech and finance-related internships.

Including two years here, first as a fellow and then as a summer analyst. And I’m glad to be here full-time with the team in the Bay Area.

Jialin Zhang (1:15):

Considering you’re a part of the first class of fellows, can you give us an overview of the program?

An Overview of the Sumeru Fellows Program

Douglas Hayes (1:19)

Yes, of course, happy to provide an overview. So, the Fellows Program is 10 weeks long.

It started in 2020, with the goal of providing meaningful business and career-building opportunities to university students of underrepresented backgrounds within the tech and finance space.

The program was born out of the recognition that there was a need for more opportunities and that Sumeru was in the position to help make that happen. The process revolves around various workshops, training sessions with external vendors, group case studies, and also a speaker series with industry leaders.

Each fellow has a senior mentor at a portfolio company, or Sumeru, based on what their interests are–which can be in a number of things like product, HR, marketing, operations, and such. Students meet with their mentors periodically throughout the program for career-building advice. They also to practice things like resume writing, mock interviews, and learn about networking opportunities.

The program is both virtual and has some in-person events for students to network. Listeners who want a more in-depth review of why this program was started, and how it came together, can access our previous podcast episode titled, How Students From Underrepresented Backgrounds Can Get Access to the World of Finance.

Sumeru Fellows Program Application Process

Jialin Zhang (2:44):

Thanks so much. That was a great overview. I thought it might make sense to walk through the application process as well.

The application for the Sumeru Fellows Program opens up in late fall for students who will be rising sophomores and juniors that following summer. Process-wise, it’s a pretty simple interview process. Nothing too crazy, with a couple of conversations with members of our team.

Post-acceptance, students are asked to select the business areas they’re most interested in. We run a matching process on our end to make sure that they’re matched to the right portfolio company roles for what they’re interested in, as well as what portfolio companies are looking for.

But with that, I think it’d be great to walk through Douglass’ experience in the program as well. Given the evolution of the program over time, we wanted to introduce our special guest, Isabella Souza, Sumeru Fellows Program class of 2022.

You can speak to it from a more recent perspective as well.

Hi, Isabella, we’re so happy to have you today on the podcast.

Meet Isabella Souza, Sumeru Fellows Program Class of ‘22

Isabella Souza (3:36):

Thanks for having me today.

Jialin Zhang (3:38):

So maybe we could start off, Isabella, do you mind giving us your background? We shared our backgrounds at the beginning of the call.

Isabella Souza (3:44)

Sounds great. My name is Isabella, I’m a rising junior at Columbia University studying financial economics and neuroscience. Which, I know, a very weird combination.

Similar to Jialin–I remember, I was having a conversation during the application process for the Fellows program about having a really weird pre-med background. And I think it really bled into my interest in technology.

Part of the reason I decided to join the Fellows Program, and it really piqued my interest, was this devotion to technology and exposure in the space. So, I felt like it really resonated with me as well.

How Did You Hear About the Fellows Program

Jialin Zhang (4:15):

Awesome. Super helpful. And maybe this is actually a good question for both of you.

How did you hear about the fellowship in the first place? I’m curious how it’s evolved over time, maybe as well. Do you want to go first?

And then Douglas after?

Isabella Souza (4:26):

Yes, that sounds great. So, if there are any students listening to this right now, you’ve probably heard the dreaded word of Handshake, already.

But to my surprise, I actually didn’t find the fellowship on Handshake. I found it through Google search.

So, I was really just interested. I was a freshman at the time, had no idea what finance was. I had no exposure in high school. I’m first generation, both of my parents, neither of them are connected to the industry whatsoever.

It was really foreign to me. But I knew that it was something I just wanted to try in college. So simple google search to finance internships for freshmen and sophomores in college–and Sumeru came up.

Honestly, this is really funny reason, but I thought the logo was really cool. I thought it was really interesting. I found the sort of merging of an academy-style internship with an actual technique, and sort of technical aspect, sounded really interesting to me. It sounded like my speed.

I also noticed, that although the internship was virtual, the company was based out of California at the time. I knew there was so much activity going on there. So I thought, maybe these people are up to something. I’ll give it a shot.

I’ll drop my resume. No, I have no really relatable experience here. But that’s how it went after the rest is history.


Douglas Hayes (5:32):

Yes, of course. Echoing a few of the things there–definitely was drawn to the firm being based in the Bay Area. Which is why I’m in the Bay Area office here now.

But actually, it kind of came through your former colleague, Jamal, who reached out to an organization I was a part of on campus called Black Wharton. That’s how I kind of got connected.

It turns out, he actually had a role that I currently have at the time. That’s how we just kind of made that connection. We talked about it, and it just sounded really interesting so I decided to apply as well.

Jialin Zhang (6:04):

Yeah, so that was our first year. We did a lot of personal outreach to schools. We were new folks. Glad to hear. Hopefully, we do a better job marketing going forward, Isabella, so that it’s dependent on recognizing us rather than not having background going in.

But that’s helpful context. For everyone listening, you’ve found it through a more organic way as well already. So you’re already one step ahead.

I’m curious, as you think about what you’re doing this coming summer, as well as Douglas, what you’re doing now? How does the program set you up for success?

I’ll ask Isabella to go first. Again, I think you’re still in the process of interning at school?

How Does the Fellows Program Set You Up for Success?

Isabella Souza (6:46):

Absolutely. I’ll start with, you know, to address your first part. I’m an incoming investment banking this summer. So we’ll be trying a different sort of angle, the financial services industry.

But I would say, to echo and sort of expand a little bit upon some of the elements that Douglas addressed, in sort of the structure of the fellowship program. I think that the use of a senior mentor, in addition to the speaker series, I found incredibly engaging.

A lot of the speakers come from all different backgrounds–non-traditional finance, and traditional finance. So it really shows you the different entrance points into the industry. It also introduces you to all different verticals, as well.

I remember, some of my favorite speakers were these two co-founders of X Consulting, they founded their own ice cream company out of the office. That was so interesting.

Then also a Fintech, like private equity devoted Fund, which was really, really cool. Because I didn’t know anything about Web3.

At the time, it was very perplexing to me. So now I feel like after you’re taking notes, in following up with a lot of those speakers as well, getting to pick their brains more, I’m definitely a lot more intelligent on those topics and can speak to them. Or at least, I’m a little bit more brave to approach people in those segments of the industry because I’m just curious.

I think that’s something to not be remiss, the aspect of curiosity that you get out of the program.

Curiousity really fuels it–whether you didn’t even realize, or you did realize that you’d be interested in those sub-verticals.

Then I would say, more to what I’m doing this summer, I would also be remiss not to talk about the technical aspects of the program. We all went through Douglas and I–training the street at the beginning of the program—which was great.

It was, you know, a really crazy crash course into how to use Excel, a lot of the formulas. Coming from a liberal arts background at school, we don’t really have those classes.

So this was all completely new to me, which was daunting. But also incredibly exciting at the same time. To come out of that, in such a short amount of time, incredibly stronger than most of my peers–and to be able to share that knowledge with others as well–was really invaluable.

Douglas Hayes (8:42):

Yes. I’ll jump in here quickly, too. I definitely want to echo your point there on the curiosity.

I really think exposure is such an important thing–especially for students of underrepresented backgrounds. Knowing what is out there and all the different ways that you can kind of dive in.

I remember sitting in a few meetings, the first couple of weeks, and just the number of terms and concepts and things that you’ve never even heard of and never even thought about.

You get to hear that, and you just kind of wanted to spiral and just dig in deeper. Ask questions, do your own research, ask different people on the team questions, catching up with them just to learn more.

I really think you get a ton out of that exposure piece.

The one other thing I’ll hit on quickly is the mentorship aspect. I think just having people at the firm making themselves available to touch base with you. See how they can help you.

That helped me learn a lot about the industry and how it worked. But it also helped to see that the Sumeru team really cared about career development. It reminded me to always choose the place where I feel like that is going to be prioritized.

Jialin Zhang (9:53)

That’s awesome to hear. We do focus on making sure we partner students with mentors that have hopefully relevant backgrounds. We also have a pre-structured program as well.

What I want to cover each session is to make sure that everyone’s getting a similar enough experience. That’s a good point to call out, Douglas.

I’m curious about what you both did during the program to make the most of it.

Isabella, you spoke a little bit about this. You followed up with some of the speakers, for instance, during the sessions. But curious if there’s any other feedback you’d give to folks that might be participating this year, or in future years?

Advice For Sumeru Fellows Participants in Future Years

Isabella Souza (10:27):

That’s a great one. I went into the fellowship program with a couple of goals in mind. Given that the internship or fellowship was 10 weeks long–that sounds like a really long time but it goes by incredibly fast.

Douglas, I don’t know if you agree, but I felt even though it was virtual, it was very quick. I feel like I blinked and I was done.

Going into the internship, I needed to devote time early on to sort of laying the foundation for those connections. While at the same time, understanding that these are busy people, right?

Not only are you gonna be busy, as an intern, you’re going to get staffed on a lot of projects. But the partners, the associates, everyone’s incredibly busy. The markets really exciting. Even though, like during my summer, this past summer, it was relatively dry. People were still very, very busy.

So, I think it’s important to sort of respect people’s time. That’s something, I think Jialin you sort of imply at the beginning of the internship, which I really respected and carried on with me even post internship.

Reaching out to people, not being afraid to reach out to people honestly, everyone at this place, the team is incredible was so open to make time out of their day.

In fact, I remember a new VP on the team at the time. So no longer new, think he’s been on the team for about a year, correct me if I’m wrong, Jialin.

But Nick Sheehan and I had, I remember, a 20 or 30-minute conversation with him. And because he was staffed on my team, and he sort of started helping out my associate and I.

One conversation we had, and still a year later, I find out that he’s passing my resume places.

I just find out, I’m having a coffee chat with a person at a firm. They’re like, oh, how did you get my contact info? Nick Sheehan. All of that from a year ago, a 20-minute conversation. So these people really do care about you.

It’s incredible. It really, really is.

So I think my biggest piece of advice is to not miss out on that. Really just put yourself out there. You have no idea what you’re going to learn from a conversation, or who somebody knows. Just pick their brain, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Douglass, do you have anything to add there?

Douglas Hayes (12:22)

I think a lot of the big points were hit on there. I think another thing that I would also say is, don’t forget to make time to get to know the others in the program as well.

I think it can be a great way to network, and also just pick their brains about how they’re thinking about career opportunities. Start building your network early on.

There are still some people from the Fellows Program that I stay in touch with today. It’s really cool to see how people have started their careers, and who knows where things will go.

Jialin Zhang (12:52)

That’s a great point. We try to make a point of encouraging networking amongst the students. Even though it’s a remote program, we have these online games and sessions to let people get to know each other.

But the more one-on-one and formal dialogues, the better. One thing to add; my own perspective, and we’ve heard this from a number of folks at this firm, is you only get what you put into it.

The more effort you put into the program, the more you’ll get out of it. That’s one piece of feedback.
It probably applies to things outside of this fellowship. But in particular, given the nature of it, it rings particularly true.

Well, thank you both for walking us through what you were able to do during the program in order to make the most of it.

I am curious, Isabella, you mentioned mentorships making a big impact.

In your experience. Could you walk through that a little bit more into what you did with your mentor that really helped with future career development?

The Sumeru Fellows Mentorship Experience

Isabella Souza (13:49):

Yes, absolutely. I think Douglas mentioned this at the top of the conversation. But you are paired with a senior mentor in the firm, which I was super excited about.

I didn’t realize the value in that and what it would turn out to be by the end of the internship. Even today, now, in my future career.

You meet with your mentor, at least once a week, over the 10 weeks. Which is a great amount of time. But you can also meet more than that. I was really, really fortunate to be paired with a really awesome person, Jack McCabe.

He’s now at the New York office here, so close to home for me. I can come visit now whenever, he’s awesome. I think we clicked really well. It was a really great pairing.

He actually had me do a mock interview with him really close to the end of the internship. I was super lucky to get really expert feedback. It was great.

I would encourage all of you to get mock interviewed by your peers, that’s always helpful. But this was the first time I had a professional in the space mock interview me. I wasn’t really under pressure because I felt like this person was my friend. I probably shouldn’t have felt that way. But I felt like he was my friend.

So I felt that, you know, he wouldn’t judge me, and he really did have my best interests at heart. I think that really stays true post-fellowship as well.

I really didn’t expect this, but after the fellowship, going into now my sophomore year, where they are recruiting for future internships, the team really comes out to help you. Which I really, again, did not expect.

I remember receiving an email from Jialin. And you’re just asking a few of us, you know, hey, like, what are you interested in? How can we help you as a team?

Because we have such large team backgrounds at multiple different partner firms?
How can we get your foot in the door?

I thought that was incredible. So following up with the team on that has not only allowed me to stay in contact with the members of the team but again, has really helped me in my early career, wherever that might be in banking and private equity.

The team is incredibly supportive either way. And I think that’s another aspect of mentorship, that maybe isn’t advertised. But definitely something you can get out of the program if you want it.

How To Stay Involved Post-Fellowship

Jialin Zhang (15:40):

Awesome. Thanks as well, now that you’re both not fellows anymore, how do you intend to stay involved in the program go forward?

Isabella Souza (15:48):

I can take this one. I think first, I’m a part of a couple of campus organizations both in the pre-med space as well as in the finance space.

One of those organizations is a campus investment fund that you might have at your school, if you’re a student. I’ve passed along this program to them, as well as other undergraduate organizations on campus, because I feel like I would be remiss not to share it.

The Sumeru Fellows program was an incredible learning opportunity.

In that way, I think also specifically targeting low-income, first-generation students. I’m Latino, myself, and so that’s very important to me, that I’m able to to provide access tothose students.

If you’re a part of any professional societies in the fraternity space like AKPsi. So passing along to those students as well in those organizations. Because, you know, sort of at the start of this call, I mentioned that I kind of haphazardly landed upon this.

I’m so lucky that I did. But I really hope that you know, in working with these other students, that it’s not really haphazard for them, and that they have some more directive. Because it is an incredible learning opportunity.

I would just go back really quickly to something Jailin mentioned before, about the other fellows in the program. It really is such a diverse class in not just you know, ethnic background, but also like scholastic background.

Some fellows in my class were interested really in real estate, in starting their own business. One of my good friends was a philosophy major, interested in consulting.

So really, really odd group of people, I would say. Which I thought was fun and really, really great. So, sort of fostering that environment where people, especially first-generation backgrounds, can get connected with all different parts of different industries, and all different segments of the country, I think was great. And I continue to do that.

Douglas Hayes (17:29):

I agree with a lot of the points there, and shout out A K Psi. I think, you know, definitely passing this along to a lot of the same organizations that helped me along the way.

But just being open-minded, kind of going off your points here, that this program can benefit a lot of students out there across the different fields and interest.

Letting them know that it’s not only for students interested in finance, but other fields as well. And just kind of getting a really strong foundation of skills and resources to jumpstart their career.

How to Learn More about the Sumeru Fellows Program

Jialin Zhang (18:04)

Awesome. And maybe I’ll just add a little bit on the program. I recognize most of us on the phone today are more from a finance background. But I will say we have quite a few roles that stretch across general business and technology that don’t involve finance.

So for those listening, who are interested in those types of roles, such as sales, marketing, HR, ops, we have all sorts of roles available this summer and in future summers. Most of our portfolio companies are looking for a pretty wide variety of students to fill those roles.

That is point one, that I do think it’s worth bringing up. The other point is that the program has been designed on the backs of what we have available in that scenario, right?

Our portfolio and the space that we have at the company ourselves. We’re a pretty small team today–roughly 40 or so team members. One thing I’d encourage, if there’s any peers of ours listening to the podcast, is to think about how your firm can really make a difference as well.

We’re a $1.4 billion fund. I’m sure there’s quite a few other funds out there. They’re thinking, how do I go help students? How do I go impact community?

Starting a program much like this one can make a ton of sense, and enable you to really positively impact things, especially for people that are at the start of their careers.

That’s just the last two points I wanted to add. And to the extent there’s any questions, feel free to reach out to any of us here on the phone.

But with that, I think that’s all the topics we have today.

Douglas, anything else you have on your end?

Douglas Hayes (19:41):

No, I think that pretty much wraps it up. I just want to thank everyone for tuning in here to Scaling with Sumeru. If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to hit the subscribe button on your favorite podcast platform to never miss out on insights and interviews here.