Women in PE to Know: Priya Parrish

June 16, 2020

The interview below is part of an ongoing effort by McGuireWoods to profile women leaders in private equity (PE). To read previous profiles, click here. To recommend a woman for a future interview, email Amber Walsh at [email protected].

Priya Parrish

Priya Parrish is a managing partner at Impact Engine, a venture capital and PE investment firm focused on companies that generate positive outcomes in education, health, economic empowerment and environmental sustainability. She is also an adjunct professor of strategy and an impact investor in residence at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and serves as an adviser to fund managers and asset owners developing and managing impact investment strategies.

Prior to joining Impact Engine, she served as chief investment officer at Schwartz Capital Group, a single-family office investing across global markets. Previously, Parrish was strategy head at Aurora Investment Management, a multibillion-dollar hedge fund, and managed development of investment products that incorporated environmental, social and governance factors (ESG) at Northern Trust Asset Management and KLD Research & Analytics. Parrish holds a B.S. in business management from Babson College and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Q: What attracted you to PE?

Priya Parrish: I started my career as an entrepreneur developing some of the early ESG exchange-traded funds and mutual funds at mainstream asset managers. When I took on senior allocator roles at a fund of funds and then a single-family office, I began investing in PE funds alongside all other asset classes. As an impact-motivated investor, what struck me was the enormous influence PE investors had with management companies. Many investors focus on public markets for ESG strategies, but I saw a more natural fit with private markets. I’ve seen a number of impact strategies in private companies drive better financial outcomes and became more convinced that the potential for middle market companies and their investors to intentionally generate positive social impact was being overlooked.

I’ve also had a focus on investing in new managers and noticed that PE managers have a disproportionately difficult time launching a new fund compared to emerging managers in other asset classes. The high barrier to entry stems not just from large fund sizes but also an industry culture that is not as open to new people and ideas compared to other asset classes. That barrier felt like a disadvantage to me as someone who believes diversity of thought and experience is an advantage. I thus felt compelled to jump into PE as a general partner to help create the change I wanted to see.

Q: Why do you actively support providing capital to women entrepreneurs?

PP: Our firm is proud that 70 percent of our portfolio companies are led by women or minority CEOs. We believe this is attributable to the diversity on our team, and companies that are driving positive social outcomes are more often led by people who have experienced the effects of social inequities. We believe that solutions to better health, education, economic empowerment and environmental sustainability outcomes are huge market opportunities, which is why we focus on companies pursuing these goals with innovative products and services. Companies that are led by entrepreneurs who understand the core problem because of their life experiences have an advantage in developing strong product market fit, attracting and retaining talent, and generating measurable social outcomes, which translates into a competitive advantage.

Q: Why is it important for more women to pursue careers in PE?

PP: Our life experiences influence the opportunities we see as investors. The more women, people of color, and LGBTQ people pursue careers in PE, the more likely our industry is to invest in companies that are solving challenges facing society. For example, if no one on your team has experienced or is familiar with the challenges many people face gaining access to high-quality K-12 education or healthcare services, your firm may not fully understand the market opportunity for companies solving the access challenge that is also an enormous market opportunity. The PE industry is incredibly powerful and having more women in leadership positions can enable the massive amounts of capital in PE funds to better serve society and still drive strong returns for investors.

Q: Why is it important for more women to pursue entrepreneurship?

PP: I started a number of businesses in high school and college that changed the trajectory and fabric of my life. Not only did these make me financially secure at a young age, but the experience of creating something from nothing gave me the courage to live the life I wanted. It set me free from society’s expectations, and I began making decisions to create the life I wanted to experience rather than avoid the risk of failure. Finally, it made me realize the potential to contribute something meaningful to society immediately, expanding my view of contributing beyond philanthropy.

The entrepreneurial spirit is not about starting a business but seeing the world’s challenges as opportunities to contribute. We need more women pursuing this path in order to reinvent capitalism in this time of great uncertainty and injustice.

To contact Parrish, email [email protected].