Getting to know Pooja Eppanapally, Senior Associate at WoWE

Getting to know Pooja Eppanapally, Senior Associate at WoWE 150 150 Sophie Clark

“The growth opportunity we are seeing in ESG and impact investing is incredible. This is about long-term change, too. Just consider the Gen-Z generation, which has been growing up with the principles of impact investing all around them. They are going to be larger champions of impact investing than my generation.”

Getting to know Pooja Eppanapally, Senior Associate at WoWE

By Pooja Eppanapally

How did you find your way to impact investing?

I have a traditional investment background, with an emphasis on private markets, as well as a grounding in impact investing from my time in graduate school at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

I took a social entrepreneurship class when I was an undergraduate at NYU Stern School of Business, where I was first exposed to microfinance, and then I interned at B-Lab. Both of those experiences opened my eyes to the ways in which capital can be leveraged to benefit people. I learned a lot in undergrad about how you can adopt sustainability into everything that you do.

I also came by my interest in impact investing and social innovation naturally. I launched my own social enterprise in undergrad around empowering Indian weavers, called Save the Weavers. My interest in spearheading this initiative originated in high school when I read an article highlighting that Indian weavers were committing suicide in huge numbers because they were riddled with debt and not able to make their living in a respectable manner.

My family comes from this background, as they were weavers, so this issue felt personal. As a high schooler, I asked, what could I do to help these weavers in India? One step was to raise awareness – it seemed like no one was talking about this. I drafted a petition for government action to help the weavers, including loan forgiveness. I spoke every weekend at local events in my hometown in New Jersey to tell people about the challenges that Indian weavers were facing.

At NYU, I received a grant to conduct research on how to implement a market-based solution, and my final proposal centered on creating weaving co-ops. Using this research, I launched an e-commerce website to market and sell Indian handloom textiles globally. Now that Indian weavers have access to a global market, it’s great to see that wearing handloom textiles has become mainstream!

It’s been more than 10 years since I started Save the Weavers, and there is a lot more awareness about these artisans and the obstacles they are facing. So, you can say that my journey to impact was highly personal and had multiple points of inspiration.

What is your area of expertise?

I started my career in investment banking, where I advised multinational technology, media, and telecommunications clients on sell-side M&A transactions. I then moved over to Nielsen to join their corporate development team, where I was responsible for acquiring private companies, divesting assets from Nielsen to PE firms, and executing partnerships.

I was particularly interested in early-stage start-ups and their high growth potential. I loved the fact I could use my skill set to help companies raise capital and build their businesses.

By the time I got to graduate school, I integrated these experiences with my interest in impact investing. While at Booth, I worked at Impact Engine, a woman-owned and led impact investing firm that does venture capital and private equity investing. I also consulted with Patron Capital, a European private equity firm, on creating an impact measurement strategy for the world’s first gender lens housing fund. From there, I was hooked and wanted to pay-it-forward. I transitioned to growing the impact investing student community, by leading the launch of the Tarrson Fund, Booth’s student-managed impact fund, and founded Booth’s Impact Investing Club.

Why WoWE?

As I considered my next step after business school, I was looking to integrate social impact into my career. WoWE’s mission to enable women as changemakers and decision makers resonated with me from the beginning. I was excited about leveraging my investing skills to advance this critical mission.

Number two was definitely the team, as everyone I met in the interview process was just amazing. I think Patience is so inspiring! She’s very direct and has high expectations of people, which I admire. I really wanted to work on a team where I receive a great deal of responsibility and the ability to influence key decisions. At WoWE, I am enabled to do just that, and I’m excited to make my mark on the organization and beyond.

What are you focused on?

I am a senior associate, focusing on private markets investments. I am responsible for investment strategy and process development, as well as deal due diligence and execution. More specifically, I am leading the development of a strong pipeline of fund and direct investments that align with WoWE’s intersectional thesis, conducting due diligence, structuring deals, and working with General Partner and management teams to aggregate and present impact performance data on our investments.

The growth opportunity we are seeing in ESG and impact investing is incredible. Based on the amount of new capital that is being put towards these strategies ESG investments could become a $1T category by 2030. In the first quarter of 2021 alone, ESG funds raked in over $21B, an acceleration from 2020 when they earned $51B for the year[1]. This is about long-term change, too. Just consider the Gen-Z generation, which has been growing up with the principles of impact investing all around them. They are going to be larger champions of impact investing than my generation.

You are moving to Los Angeles; what are you going to do when you’re not executing on WoWE’s impact strategies?

I am most looking forward to enjoying the beautiful LA weather, which is a stark contrast to the Chicago and New York winters that I am used to. I’ll be taking full advantage of the sunshine by playing tennis, hiking, and lounging at the beach. I’m a huge foodie, so I’m excited to explore the diverse food scene and check out all the best taco spots in LA.

I am also passionate about dance. I took lessons when I was growing up, in various western and Indian styles, including tap, ballet, jazz, classical Bharatanatyam, and Bollywood. My favorite genre is classical fusion, mixing the very classical styles with modern moves and music. I’d love to join a dance troupe in LA to continue this hobby.

[1]  “ESG investing to reach $1 trillion by 2030”, CNBC, May 2021
https://www.cnbc.com/2021/05/09/esg-investing-to-reach-1-trillion-by-2030-head-of-ishares-americas.html

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