2020 Best & Brightest: Laura Mena, Miami University (Farmer)

Laura Mena

Miami University of Ohio, Farmer School of Business

“I always look to leave every situation, organization or place better than I found it.”

Fun fact about yourself: I wore a sparkly pink cowboy hat and boots to school every day in second grade.

Hometown: Barrington, Illinois

High School: Barrington High School

Major: Marketing

Minor: Entrepreneurship

Favorite Business Course: My favorite business course at the Farmer School of Business has been Corporate Entrepreneurship. As a student in this field of study, I have dedicated significant time to learning how one can leverage an entrepreneurial mindset when creating a startup. However, this course taught me how you can use the fundamental principles of entrepreneurship to drive innovation and create value at larger organizations. I will carry the lessons learned through this hands-on experience working with a diverse array of clients with me into my career following graduation.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles During College:

Leadership Roles & Activities

Managing Director of RedHawk Ventures (May 2018-May 2020): RedHawk Ventures is one of the few student-led venture funds in the U.S managing $300,000 in capital and investing up to $25,000 in high-potential startups founded by Miami University students and alumni. I lead 30 student analysts across multiple majors and fields of study. As Managing Director, I oversee startup involvement, incoming investments, portfolio management, career development and more while maintaining a culture that empowers undergraduates to learn about this asset class. Currently, I am spearheading a $1.5MM fundraise for RV Fund II and implementing strategic partnerships with Ohio-based venture firms to strengthen the Miami startup ecosystem.

Co-Founder, Miami University Social Impact Fund (Spring 2019): In the Spring of 2019, I was fortunate to collaborate with a diverse team of Miami students to establish one of the first student-led undergraduate social impact funds. Across the span of the semester, we were able to conduct extensive research into the impact investing space and identify best practices when operating a fund that invests specifically in social enterprises. In the end, our team presented a comprehensive fund proposal to Miami’s CFO, university leadership, and faculty to set up this new fund. The proposal was approved by the university and the fund launched during the 2019-2020 school year.

Red Dress Gala Event Chairman, Alpha Phi Gamma Nu (Spring 2018): The Red Dress Gala is an annual event that seeks to raise funds for the Alpha Phi Foundation and its mission of women’s heart health. As the Event Chair for my chapter, I raised over $30,000 by implementing innovative fundraising strategies. With this, I was able to increase the amount of funds donated from the year prior by 150%.

Consultant, Howe Center for Business Writing (September 2017-May 2019): The Howe Center for Business Writing is a collaborative learning space that provides writers the opportunities to explore, revise, develop, and reflect on their writing and themselves as writers. As a consultant, I was responsible for working hands-on with students across majors and English language proficiency while empowering them as business writers.

Student Worker, Institute for Entrepreneurship (August 2019-May 2020): The John W. Altman Institute for Entrepreneurship is an internationally-recognized program that emphasizes strong academic research and immersive, real-world learning opportunities in the areas of startup, social entrepreneurship, corporate venturing, and creativity and innovation. As a Student Worker, I’m responsible for supporting the Institute’s programs & initiatives such as coordinating the volunteers for the annual Capstone Pitch Competition each semester and more.

Awards & Distinctions

Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC) U.S Central Regional Champion & Nationals Third Place Title (March 2019-February 2019): VCIC is the world’s largest venture capital competition amongst top-tier undergraduate students. Our student group participated in Miami’s Venture Capital Immersion program in preparation for the competition where we engaged in eight sessions covering valuation, due diligence, deal analysis, term sheet construction, venture debt, equity crowdfunding, and more. With this, we were able to effectively apply due diligence frameworks to comprehensively assess startups within 48 hours and draft a term sheet representative of a specific investment thesis to a panel of judges. In the end, we placed first in our central regionals against top universities and in the top three nationally.

Cincy Innovator’s 25 Under 25 (2018, 2019): An annual award from the digital media publication Cincy Inno, where they identify innovators from all over the Queen City, tackling a host of unique problems in different industries and companies. They look to honor individuals who work to bolster the Cincinnati tech & startup ecosystem with potential to impact the whole world.

Silicon Valley Bank Trek Program Participant (January 2020): Every January, Silicon Valley Bank invites a select group of university students from around the world to come to Silicon Valley for SVB Trek. Over three days, the cohort is introduced to the people leading our ecosystem — founders, investors, and industry leaders that we refer to as “guides” — through an immersive learning experience featuring intimate fireside chats, curated dinners, and hands-on workshops. The goal is to help the students create and maintain relationships with world-class peers and mentors.

Dean’s List Recipient (May 2017-December 2019)

Where have you interned during your college career?

Communication & Research Intern, Cincy Women in Tech (January 2017-March 2018): Cincy Women in Tech is an organization centered around building the next generation of women, business, and technology leaders in the Queen City. As their Intern, I spearheaded all external communications with members and coordinated quarterly events. Most notably, I conducted comprehensive research into dilutive and non-dilutive funding sources for female founders as well as assessed the landscape of gender discrepancies in venture capital.

Category Insights Intern, RXBAR (June 2018-August 2018): RXBAR is a whole-food CPG brand within the Kellogg’s portfolio. On the Insights team, I was responsible for analyzing the Canadian retail landscape and drawing critical insights to shape the brand’s first international launch strategy post-acquisition. Additionally, following their launch nation-wide in Walmart, I was tasked with developing retailer demographic and consumer behavior profiles for key mass and club accounts to better optimize sales volume and household penetration.

Product Strategy & Innovation Intern, 84.51 (May 2019-August 2019): 84.51 is a subsidiary of the Kroger Company that brings together customer data, predictive analytics, and marketing strategy to drive sales growth and customer loyalty for the retailer and more than 300 consumer-packaged-goods companies in the U.S. I was tasked with optimizing the latest Kroger Precision Marketing solution, push notifications, within a portfolio of products projected to become the retailer’s largest alternative revenue stream.

Where will you be working after graduation? Following graduation, I will be working at 84.51 in Cincinnati as a Customer Strategy & Activation Consultant.

What company do you admire the most? The company that I admire the most and that I am fortunate enough to be employed by in the next few months would be 84.51. 84.51 is the data analytics arm of the Kroger Company and tasked with delivering impactful insights to consumer packaged goods companies across the U.S. It wasn’t until the end of my three months as an intern at this company that I was fully able to wrap my head around what made it such a special place to work. In today’s age, many companies will tell you what their “culture” is by talking about who they aspire to be. 84.51 never had to tell me a polished narrative about their culture because I felt it every day in the office. I found this company to be a place where people led with both humility & grace. There was never any ego around what your title was or who reported to who on a project. It felt as though everyone was equally working towards a collective goal to better Kroger and the CPG industry as a whole. Leaving my summer at 84.51, I felt that I learned how to be a true team player and for that reason, they are the company that I admire the most.

Who is your favorite professor? My favorite professor is Dr. Tim Holcomb, the Director of the John W. Altman Institute for Entrepreneurship and, luckily, our Faculty Advisor for RedHawk Ventures. Throughout my four years at Miami since first meeting Tim, he has consistently given me opportunity upon opportunity to live up to my fullest potential. It’s extremely rare to find a professor who leads in the way that Tim does. Tim gives students everything they may need to be successful but assures us that success is in our own hands. This approach paired with his expectation that each student will achieve excellence makes Tim a one-of-a-kind educator. He has always made me feel capable of greatness while also keeping his door open if I needed a candid perspective or support. As someone who likes metaphors, I think the simplest way to describe Tim Holcomb is that he queues up the perfect pitch so his students can knock it out of the park.

What did you enjoy most about your business school? I think the Farmer School of Business is unique in that there is no shortage of opportunities to meet interesting people, learn a new skill or immerse yourself in a new experience. In my experience, the foundation of the business school is immersive learning opportunities offered to undergraduate students. Whether that be the chance to enroll in a course where you start your own company or sign up for a study away trip where you work hands-on with a corporate client, Farmer is consistently catering immersive learning opportunities to students.

I was fortunate enough to experience this first-hand through Miami’s student-managed venture capital fund, RedHawk Ventures. As one of the few entirely undergraduate led early-stage venture funds in the country, I was given the opportunity to source and assess prospective deals with startups across industries. Furthermore, after serving on the fund for two years, I was elected to become the organization’s Managing Director tasked with driving the long-term strategic vision inclusive of raising a new fund of $1.5M, developing strategic partnerships with venture firms in Ohio, and building a curriculum to educate students on venture investing. As the leader of RedHawk Ventures, I learned the challenges of scaling organizational impact, achieving gender, ethnic, and field diversity, and crafting smart deals in young companies. With the opportunity to autonomously write real checks into real startups, I was able to gain real-world experience as an investor. While I’m blown away that I have been given this one-of-a-kind opportunity, it comes at no surprise as immersive learning opportunities are at the heart of the Farmer School of Business.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from studying business? The biggest lesson that I have gained from studying business is the importance of building meaningful relationships. I think upon first glance, most people believe that business is a purely transactional field. However, after studying at the Farmer School of Business, I’ve learned that the reality is just the opposite. Cultivating authentic relationships is the cornerstone of being successful in business. This means not only meeting as many people as you can with diverse backgrounds but also seeking to understand how you can create value for one another. Building genuine relationships also means learning how to maintain a service-mindset. My mom always taught me, “What goes around comes around.” This means that if you pour goodness into the world, then you’ll receive it right back. After four years, I learned that business is about fostering these relationships and helping others when you can because it’s the right thing to do. As a senior looking into the rearview mirror, I know that my success has been entirely reliant on relationships with people who became my advocates, supporters, and friends.

What advice would you give to a student looking to major in a business-related field? The primary piece of advice that I would give to a student looking to major in a business-related field is to spend time getting to know your professors outside the classroom. I feel as though my college experience was made through the moments I shared learning from the life experiences of my professors. In the business world specifically, your professors most likely have a depth of experience from their own careers that they are willing to share as well as a broad network that could become valuable to you. Treat your professors as mentors, connections, and advisors to your growth.

Which academic, extracurricular or personal achievement are you most proud of? The achievement I am most proud of from my four years at Miami was being on the student team that placed first regionally and in the top three nationally at UNC Chapel Hill’s annual Venture Capital Investment Competition, the world’s largest venture capital competition amongst top-tier undergraduate students. In preparation for this competition, our team engaged in eight sessions covering valuation, due diligence, deal analysis, term sheet construction, venture debt, equity crowdfunding, and more. Alongside these educational sessions, we mocked the competition structure every single weekend leading up to both regionals and nationals to assure we could perform at the highest standard. After running the numbers, we realized that our team spent nearly 30 hours each week immersing ourselves into the subject matter and perfecting our process. While winning felt rewarding, that isn’t what makes me so proud of this experience. This program allowed me to be surrounded by peers who all shared a pure hunger to learn a new topic and who had the willingness to sacrifice a significant amount of time to working towards a collective goal. I’ve often heard the saying that “You are the average of the five people closest to you” and this experience allowed me to be challenged, encouraged and ultimately rewarded with the brightest group of students I’ve encountered at Miami.

Which classmate do you most admire? The classmate that I admire the most would easily be Andy Newman. I’ve had the opportunity to serve in a co-leadership position with Andy over the past 18 months through RedHawk Ventures. In this role, I have been amazed by his work ethic and ability to lead. In theory, running an organization with two leaders could become a challenge with conflicting ideas or direction, but this has never been the case with Andy. Despite being one of my brightest peers, Andy leads with humility and poise in everything that he does. He works incredibly hard and rises up to every challenge presented to him. Andy has pushed me to become a better student, learner and, ultimately, person. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Andy and learn from his ability to drive meaningful impact for every project that he touches.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? Despite the prompt asking me to pick just one person to thank for my success, I can’t attribute my success to just one person. I have to pick two and specifically, my two biggest heroes.

As a kid growing up, I don’t think I really realized the significant impact my parents had on who I’ve grown to become until I was thrown into a university 5 hours away from home with only a handful of familiar faces. If I had to express my parents’ approach to parenting my sisters and I, it would be “hands-off with high expectations”. My parents expected me to always give my best and challenge myself every day, but more importantly not to fear failure. They allowed me to fail instead of stepping in to save me. They knew this would make me resilient and, in turn, more confident and able to push myself again.

Since being at Miami, I’ve begun to realize how privileged I am to have grown up with two tremendous role models. My mom, regardless of her schedule, will make time to serve, give back, and make sure that anybody can be included at our Thanksgiving table. My dad taught me that “God is in the details” and to work as hard as I can to maximize all of my God-given potential each day. Today, I know that all I’ve done at Miami is follow my parents’ lead in trying to leave the world a little bit better than I found it. They have shaped me in more ways than I can count and they are easily the team most responsible for my success.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? The two items on my professional bucket list are to write a book and start a business. Writing is one of my passions and, for that reason, one of my personal dreams is to write & publish a book. Additionally, I’m a big proponent of entrepreneurship and I truly believe that startups have the ability to create a tremendous impact on the world. At some point, I’d like to start my own company that seeks to solve a problem that I am passionate about.

What are your hobbies? I love to create! Whether writing, cooking, upcycling or other crafting, I relax when making or producing something.

What made Laura such an invaluable member of the Class of 2020?

“Laura is without question one of the most talented, engaged, and enthusiastic students who have ever graduated from our program. Almost too numerous to count, Laura’s numerous accomplishments have been recognized widely by organizations like Silicon Valley Bank, who selected her from among hundreds of undergraduates, master’s students, and doctoral candidates worldwide to represent Miami University as one of just 25 participants at the prestigious 2020 SVB Trek Program, and American Inno, which named Laura to Cincinnati Inno’s 2019 Under 25 list of top entrepreneurs in Southwest Ohio for 2019 because of her extraordinary work with RedHawk Ventures and her enthusiasm for entrepreneurship at Miami University, among others. Laura is full of energy and passion, a true leader in every sense of the word. Not only has she made the most of her educational experience in the classroom, but she also has actively engaged in a variety of practice-based, co-curricular program to create a better educational experience for herself and her fellow classmates.”

Tim Holcomb
Director of the John W. Altman Institute for Entrepreneurship
 Farmer School Endres Associate Professor Fellow and Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship


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