Helping Entrepreneurs Flourish

Sep 11, 2019

Karen Griffith Gryga believes that the drive and passion of entrepreneurs derives from some deep genetic code within individuals.

“It gets in your blood,” she says. “It involves extreme highs and lows. Yet there is nothing in the world like it.”

Griffith Gryga, who has helped launch over 200 companies with nearly $2 billion in shareholder value, is the 2019 receipt of the Iris Newman Award, an honor bestowed by the Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) to a woman who exhibits a trailblazing spirit, inspiring leadership, and support for women in the entrepreneurial community.

“I’ve been involved with a lot of great companies, working with entrepreneurs who truly let their passion for their businesses shine,” she says.

With more than 25 years’ experience as a venture capitalist, investor and entrepreneur in startup and emerging-growth companies, Griffith Gryga is chief investment officer for DreamIt, co-founder of Dreamit Health and founder of the DreamIt Athena program which focuses on female founders.

DreamIt is a leading Growth Platform for entrepreneurs which has launched over 300 companies since 2008 including SeatGeek, Trendkite (acquired by Cision), LevelUp (acquired by GrubHub), Biomeme, Adaptly (acquired by Accenture), Biomeme, Wellth, Tissue Analytics, Redox, Eko Devices, Cylera, Raxar and Elevate. She is co-president of Wharton Private Equity and Venture Capital Association and co-founder of Wharton Women in Private Equity and Venture Capital.

Business and Technology

Her fascination with technology dates back to middle school, where she first became involved in programming software. After earning a BS in computer science from the College of William and Mary, she landed a job in defense contracting, working in imaging and data analytics.

“If you dive into the world of defense, defense budgets and research, you will soon see that they were an early player in many areas of technology that would become important in the business world,” she says.

Intent on coupling business with technology, she went on to earn an MBA with distinction from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. At the same time, she earned her master’s in Computer Science from Penn’s Moore School of Engineering.

Entering Venture Capital

She found her true calling when she was recruited into venture capital right out of grad school. She has thrived, personally and professionally, by helping other entrepreneurs to flourish.

Dreamit is the only Growth Platform designed for mature startups. The Dreamit Fund has been named as one of the Top 30 venture capital firms in the United States. In 2010, she was co-founder and CEO of FashInvest, "where fashion meets finance," a media, events and advisory entity that was acquired by Penske Media Group in 2017.

She advises nascent entrepreneurs to educate themselves on the fundraising process early on.

“Fundraising is a critical skill set. It’s like socializing. It just has more ‘nos’ involved,” she says. “Prepare for raising capital before you actually need the capital. That way you can gather input and advice and build relationships that will actually help you to raise the capital.”

Griffith Gryga also recommends a pragmatic approach to asking for advice: ask for a small chunk of time rather than a lengthy meeting.

“It’s hard to say no to 15 or 20 minutes,” she says. “Also, involve the customer as much as you can at every point of your development. Hire slow and fire fast. The wrong hire can hurt your company a lot more than you realize and the right hire can make you grow faster.”

On AWE

Customers, capital and community are all essential in growing businesses. Griffith Gryga says AWE excels in building a community for women-led companies.

“On the female side, there is a strong need for the community aspect: start-up expertise, capital expertise, networking guidance,” she says. “Women need mentors and connections who are also women and that’s difficult because women are still underrepresented. At AWE, there’s a great balance between seasoned, experienced leaders and founders who are just beginning to scale their companies.”

The Iris Newman Award is presented each year at The AWE Intersection. This event gives startup founders the opportunity to pitch for capital and also provides a platform to recognize a high-growth founder and a member of our larger community who have both moved the needle for female founders. This year, it will take place on November 4, 2019 from 3:00-8:00PM at Convene at the Cira Center.