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Maria Palma
November 9, 2023

Maria Palma: 2023 Early Career Award recipient

Written By: Staff


Maria Palma
BSIE ’07 (MBA ’13, Harvard University)
General Partner, Kindred Capital VC

Maria is an industrial engineer who is a venture capitalist and champions opportunities for underrepresented and underprivileged groups within the business world.

Which engineering classes made the greatest impact on you, and why?

I have had some special professors, but I would say Rajan Suri’s quick response manufacturing class was really phenomenal. It was very hard, and I really enjoy a challenge so it was great to be surrounded by great students and professors who all kept the bar very high. The theory behind quick response manufacturing is so all-encompassing that it only works if you do it across the entire organization. I think that that’s true of a lot of strategy in business: You could do something in one department or one process, but it probably won’t work as well as if you think about how it flows throughout the entire organization.

There was a design for disability course taught by Greg Vanderheiden. When you hear from someone who’s blind and he says this is my perspective, it’s very empowering and different from what you might have thought. … In my career, if someone has a different firsthand experience than you, being able to put yourself in that perspective and thinking through it is a really valuable skill to have.

Give us a few highlights of your professional career.

In one of my first roles, I was managing a three-shift manufacturing line and 19 55-year-old employees in a union environment. I learned how to think about teams and culture and people, and I learned so much from that team and was fortunate to have many great mentors at GE. I worked on projects with manufacturing sites abroad—China, India, Europe, Latin America, Mexico—and a very complex and global environment was a really important thing to see. I had this really powerful volunteer experience in the UK when I lived there with GE, working with children from impoverished areas of the country, and I wanted to make social impact a broader part of my life. I went back to business school for my MBA at Harvard, and I worked with startups and nonprofits in India and Brazil. I was involved for about seven years with a nonprofit called African Entrepreneur Collective, which helps founders in Africa, both in traditional city settings and in refugee camps. I think it’s important to give back and for me, that’s been helping founders in a variety of settings.

What do you enjoy about your career?

What I love about venture is the ability to see across a wide aperture of industries and meet so many incredible people from different backgrounds. You take an idea from one spot and apply it in a very different spot and context and see something uniquely. I meet with people who think about their field every single day; they share it with me, and I constantly learn. I get to build deep relationships with people and that’s really satisfying as well. Building a startup, especially one that sets out to achieve an audacious, important mission, is never easy and getting to help founders in any small way is a huge privilege of the job.

What do you like best?

Winter or summer in Madison?
Summer all day. Easy one.

Camp Randall Stadium or the Kohl Center or the UW Field House?
Camp Randall all the way.

State Street or Lakeshore Path?
State Street.

UW Arboretum or Picnic Point?
Picnic Point.

Sweet Caroline or Jump Around?
Jump Around. I had this Badger moment in the pandemic where I just missed people so much. And there was a video—I’m even getting teary thinking about it now—of the first Jump Around after the pandemic. You could feel the palpable energy. No matter what happened, no matter what the game was like, that was a moment.