In a city brimming with venture capitalists, Ernestine Fu has found her place, disproving any doubts about young entrepreneurs along the way.
At 19 years old, the Stanford student is working as an associate at Alsop Louie Partners in Menlo Park, she's publishing a paper on global construction capacity (normally a grad student gig) and she's co-authoring a book—in her spare time.
Impossibly mature for a college sophomore, the Civil and Environmental Engineering major can't decide what she wants to grow up to be: a venture capitalist, an engineer, a philanthropist, or some combination of the three.
"The only person who astonished me as much as Ernestine was Bill Gates when I met him for the first time," said Tom Kosnik, the Fenwick and West Consulting Professor for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. "Both have big brains, amazing energy, and love of the game."
Kosnik is working with Ernestine and Cleantech Open on a project comparing the clean tech entrepreneurial ecosystem in Silicon Valley and Beijing.
A San Fernando Valley native, Fu started her first venture at the age of 10, gathering neighbors for everything from bake sales to musical performances and selling handmade greeting cards.
In high school, she founded the now internationally-recognized nonprofit, Visual Arts and Music for Society, an initiative using live music and art as a social buffer for the homeless and orphans. The nonprofit grew from 7 volunteers to 200 by the time she graduated.
"Being young, there have been a lot of challenges," said Fu. Adults don't always trust young entrepreneurs. "It definitely has been a good learning experience. I've learned to just push forward and try to act mature at an early age."
While many students her age are still debating majors and life direction, Fu knows what she wants and goes for it.
"She's very professional for her age. She's had a lot of really interesting, unique experiences—she brings a lot to the table because of that," said Elaine Albertson, an Environmental Studies co-terminal masters student who runs freshman intern meetings with Fu for Stanford’s Student Services Division. Oh, did we forget to mention, Fu is the Executive Director of Stanford’s SSD, a branch of student government and, to add another line to her impressive resume, one of 17 full board members for State Farm Insurance’s largest service-learning initiative.
Today, Fu readily listens to new startups' business pitches as an associate at Alsop Louie Partners.
"Usually when people enter the VC industry, you're doing back-end work," said Fu. "I actually get to look at all the startups and have my eyes open at Stanford and see which ones are potentially interesting." Fu is currently helping market Scoop, an iPhone app released last week that's aimed at helping students find college parties.
So what does Fu do for fun? "Listening to a student pitch a startup—I don't find that work," she said. "I went to Motorola Ventures social mixer; I don't find that work. It's just talking to people and having fun." And on rare occasions, Fu relaxes by baking—brownies, or cupcakes.
"I do have a social life," said Fu. "I (occasionally) party on weekends." Phew.
According to Kosnik, Fu is in the top .5 percent of over 6,000 students he's worked with in his 25-year career teaching young entrepreneurs at Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business and Stanford School of Engineering.
She's currently co-authoring a book with Former Dean of Stanford Law School Dr. Tom Ehrlich to relate and compare their lives in service learning and education.
For Fu's paper on global construction capacity, she's studying the effect of global climate change by developing "Hurricane Ernestine" scenarios with Disney's Chief Scientist Ben Schwegler and Stanford CIFE Director Martin Fischer.
Fu describes herself as "the type of person who wouldn't turn down anything." No kidding.
This summer, Fu is off to Alaska to work for Schlumberger Limited, the world's largest oil field services, to do an internship that grad students would kill for.
"She simply outperforms almost everyone, most of who are MBAs, Masters in Engineering, or Ph.D.s in a variety of engineering disciplines," said Kosnik. "People talk about prodigies. She is one."