Katie Szczepaniak Rice
The first time I met Katie Szczepaniak Rice, I was more than a little intimidated. She is trained as an engineer – a graduate of MIT with an MBA from the University of Chicago, no less – and is head of the New Mexico office of one of the largest venture capital firms with a presence in New Mexico. It didn’t take long for me to compare my own background with hers and come to the conclusion that we were not at all on equal footing. I’m pretty sure I stammered through much of our first meeting when I met with her to talk about our tech company. It didn’t take long, however, to discover that along with her incredible drive and accomplishments, Katie is also one of the most approachable women leaders within our community.
Katie’s background is nothing short of inspirational. She is a first-generation immigrant, arriving in the United States as a young girl who had already spent time moving from one country to the next as her family made their way to their eventual home in America. She spoke no English when she showed up for her first day of third grade and credits one of the first girls she met at her new school for helping ease her assimilation into a new culture. Katie says she has remained close with this childhood friend and that their families sometimes vacation together all these years later.
After graduating from MIT, Katie worked in the field as an engineer in an industry which was predominantly male. She not only held her own but quickly rose to the challenge. She then transitioned from engineering to management consulting and gained early experience which allowed her to eventually shift her career to assessing high tech firms for a venture capital firm. In 2004, she jumped at a career opportunity to move to New Mexico and work for a startup, and in 2005, she started her career in venture capital.
As part of the investment community, she is an industry that is even more male-dominated than her first career. In fact, Bloomberg Businessweek reported in September of 2014 that the number of women partners in Venture Capital Firms actually dropped to a paltry 6% nationally, down from 10% in 1999. Katie brings a rare and refreshing perspective to the investment community in New Mexico – as well as serving as an inspiring role model to other women following in her footsteps. In addition to her role as a venture capitalist, she also serves as president of the Coronado Ventures Forum and as a board member for ABQid, an Albuquerque-based incubator focused on high-growth early startups. One of the initiatives she’s working on ABQid is a Ski Lift Pitch Contest in an effort to showcase the beauty of New Mexico, encourage young entrepreneurs to dream big and connect startup founders with investors and industry leaders in an environment conducive to making a lasting connection.
Despite the demands of her busy life, she still manages to volunteer her time mentoring and advising several tech startup founders within the community. It is not uncommon to receive an email or phone call from her when she is in search of a solution or connection for one of the founders she is mentoring. And while the capital she has helped invest into New Mexico through her venture firm is deeply needed, the less noticeable, but highly valuable, contribution she makes on a regular basis is that of her own time and knowledge to help others become successful – whether they are a company she has invested in or not.
Beyond this more public side of her career, Katie is also a devoted mother to two young toddlers as well as an outdoor enthusiast who loves taking advantage of New Mexico’s phenomenal access to the outdoors. An avid skier and hiker, she also enjoys running frequently in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains. She’s lived, worked and traveled all over the world but says she found her true home right here in New Mexico.
“After living in ten different cities,” Katie says, “I will proudly tell you that there’s no place I’d rather live than Albuquerque.” She adds that her passion about the expansion of the entrepreneurial ecosystem within her adopted home is not only driven by the desire to give promising young people a reason to stay and be successful here in New Mexico but because she wants those opportunities available someday for her own children.
I have to admit that there are still moments when I am completely blown away by Katie’s brilliant mind, but as I’ve grown to know her better, it is her curiosity and visible joy when learning something new as well as her generosity and passion for helping others that has caused me to grow to deeply respect her. Katie is doing more than her part to help watch New Mexico rise.