Allison Kelly hiking
Jan 18, 2022

Tuck GIVES: Gaining Start-up Experience Through an Internship with Maine Venture Fund

By Allison Kelly T'22

Allison Kelly

I spent my summer interning with Maine Venture Fund (MVF), a venture capital fund that invests in dynamic Maine businesses with significant potential for growth and public benefit. I had the wonderful opportunity to work with and learn from Joe Powers T’14 and Nina Scheepers T’20 through ad hoc projects, weekly educational content, company visits, and monthly board meetings. We even had the occasional surf session at Higgins Beach!

While I enjoyed getting involved on the investment side of MVF, I was also able to gain valuable experience on the start-up side. I spent the majority of my time working with Hyperlite Mountain Gear (HMG), an ultralight backpacking gear company and one of MVF’s portfolio companies. I worked on a consumer insights project designed to gain a deeper understanding of the HMG customer and the ultralight backpacking community. The ultimate goal of this project was to identify opportunities to surprise and delight customers and to deliver on Hyperlite’s vision of providing transformational experiences in the backcountry.

I built out a survey that would ultimately provide insight into the purchase choices and experiences of both HMG and non-HMG customers. I also conducted extensive qualitative research throughout the summer, relying on both formal and informal interviews and intercepts. I spoke with a wide range of consumers of various backgrounds, ages, interests, and levels of outdoor experience through phone calls, Zoom, email and even while out on hiking trails. Through these conversations, I was able to gain a better understanding as to why consumers are choosing Hyperlite and why they are choosing other brands. It was interesting to hear about the shared goals, experiences, and pain points of customers throughout their journey of purchasing outdoor gear. Recurring themes became valuable insight that shed light on areas of opportunity for Hyperlite.

Hearing stories from customers first-hand about why they chose Hyperlite made this project rewarding and made me really appreciate working with the brand. I spoke with aging customers who were once again able to go on long backpacking trips after switching to lighter gear; customers who realized that a thru-hike may actually be a possibility for them after going ultralight; customers who were excited to support and celebrate an outdoor brand with roots in the Northeast/Maine; finally, I spoke with a customer with a serious medical condition who was able to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail with the help of a lighter pack and who raised a lot of money while doing so. One thing rings true, Hyperlite customers are an impressive and passionate bunch, and they love to talk about their gear!

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience this summer working with the MVF and Hyperlite teams in Maine. I was able to develop a strong foundation in VC and a deeper understanding of the outdoor industry, while contributing to and building relationships at both organizations. Witnessing the incredible growth at Hyperlite, I was excited to see first-hand the lasting and meaningful impact that MVF has on its portfolio companies and its role in fostering growth in the Maine economy. My experience this summer was made possible with the support of Tuck GIVES, and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity!

The Tuck GIVES fund supports Tuck students' summer internships with nonprofit or public sector organizations. Each year, the Tuck community gathers to raise funds predominantly through a silent and live auction. Tuck Gives is student-organized with support from the Center for Business, Government & Society and Career Services