Connecting Innovators

March 1, 2016


Growing up in Tucson, Arteen Arabshahi, Eller BSBA Finance and Entrepreneurship ’13, said he spent most of his life wanting to be a surgeon. “I started in premed and biology at Santa Clara University,” he said. “But I’d always been interested in entrepreneurship too, and I decided I didn’t need the biology major.” He hit a roadblock when he tried to add a business minor, so he submitted a transfer application to the UA and was back in Tucson for classes in January.

By that time, he was having doubts about medicine. “I didn’t want to wait until I was 35 to start my job,” he said. Finance and entrepreneurship seemed most aligned with his interests. “It was a good mix of technical skills and it felt like the right thing,” he said, “but what I realized after dropping pre-med was that there’s a very clear career path and structure for physicians. In business, you can try hard, but it’s not clear you’ll be successful.” The moment he dropped pre-med, he felt all the answers change on him. “

The summer after my sophomore year, I had an internship opportunity in investment banking in New York. As a finance major, it seemed like the right thing to do.” But he found quickly that it was not the right culture for him. “So I checked that box early and moved on,” he said. “I was finding that a lot of my interests weren’t aligned with my friends.” He cold emailed 150 people and Excelerate Labs out of Chicago followed up with him. “That was when everything clicked,” he said.

His internship with the intensive startup accelerator was transformational. “These were smart, motivated, compassionate people,” he said. “They were working on tech startups and trying to change the world. It made me realize what I wanted to do.”

He didn’t waste any time. “The joke is that I graduated in ’13, but I started working in ’11,” he said. He spearheaded the launch of Built In LA, an online community for digital entrepreneurs, then joined Karlin Ventures as the second member of the team. “We are a venture capital firm focusing on enterprise software and marketplaces,” he said. “We have 42 investments in L.A. and the Bay Area. We’ve had six companies acquired in the last three years, and the rest are growing.” In addition to working with the firm’s companies and doing due diligence on investment opportunities, he works to facilitate connections in the community. Last year, he launched Karlin Fellows, a peer-to-peer fellowship program filling the void of mentorship for LA’s rising tech leaders.

Arabshahi’s investment in network building and connectivity is paying off: “Last year, I did my first deal, and I’ve sourced eight of 40 other deals,” he said. Others are noticing: Forbes named him to its “30 Under 30” list of venture capitalists.

“I think tech is the industry I’ll be in forever,” he said. “What’s more fluid is which side of the table I’ll play on. I’d love to go back to the operating side someday, but I can see myself returning the investing side, too. I don’t identify as one or the other.”