26 – 100 in alphabetical order: Natalie Hwang, Simon Ventures

Natalie Hwang is the managing director of Simon Ventures, a multi-stage corporate venturing unit oriented towards innovation for “the future of retail and commerce” on behalf of parent corporation Simon, a Standard & Poor’s 100 company and one of the largest real estate enterprises in the world.

Currently a one-person investment team following the departure of founder Skyler Fernandez in early 2017, Hwang is admired by her peers for running the corporate venturing unit of a Fortune 500 company while in her 30s.

In a keynote debate at the GCV Synergize conference in New York City in November 2017, Nicole Quinn, a partner at VC firm Lightspeed Ventures, said: “I totally respect Natalie’s vision when we have been looking at opportunities. She really understands the increasing speed of retail, such as the use of SMS to order products.”

David Simon, chairman and chief executive of Simon Property Group, also attested to the unit’s accomplishments. “We are committed to supporting the health of the broader retail ecosystem through Simon Ventures. The initiative is proving itself to be an impactful and leading platform in driving new sources of value for its range of stakeholders.”

Reviewing last year’s achievements, Hwang affirmed: “2018 marked a particularly active year for Simon Ventures as we scaled our portfolio by an additional five new investments and supported follow-on rounds in existing companies that continue to demonstrate best-in-class traction for their categories.”

New investments in 2018 included the following:

  • Simon Ventures co-led the last round of financing with VC firm Union Square Ventures in US-based consumer app Foursquare that has since evolved to become a fast-growing location intelligence platform.
  • Participated in an early round of financing in US-based e-scooter rental service Bird that has scaled to more than 120 cities and five countries in the past year and a half.
  • Supported the last financing of US-based women-focused publisher Bustle Digital Group, having scaled its monthly readership to more than 80 million women.
  • Supported the first round of financing in Verishop, an e-commerce platform being launched by Imran Khan after his departure from Snapchat as chief strategy officer in November 2018.
  • Supported the first round of financing in US-based online community platform provider 9 Count, the latest venture from Alex Hofmann – former president and founding team member of China-based social video app developer Musical.ly that was sold to China-based digital media company ByteDance in 2017.

Follow-on for existing portfolio companies included:

  • US-based lifestyle membership company FabFitFun raised a significant growth round from VC firm Kleiner Perkins in January 2019. Simon Ventures had taken a lead role in the company’s first two rounds of financing before this recent capitalisation.
  • US-based men’s fashion e-commerce platform operator Grailed led a growth round sponsored by VC firm Index Ventures with Simon Ventures and fellow VC firm Thrive Capital supporting the round.
  • US-based organic lemon juice brand Dirty Lemon raised a round of financing by beverage producer Coca-Cola’s Venturing & Emerging Brands unit to support further business expansion.

Hwang said: “We continue to leverage our operational platform of assets, resources and connections to support tailored operational initiatives and help fuel accelerated growth.”

Hwang graduated with honours from Duke University – awarded Best Honours Thesis in her class for public policy studies. She went on to study at University of Virginia Law.

She started her professional career at law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, which later helped her dive into the world of venture investing. At the time she was involved in “a lot of deals, including private equity and hedge funds investments as well as M&A side work, many of which were highly-publicised transactions”.

Subsequently, she joined alternative investments manager Blackstone Group. She also ran, “on her own time”, a personal early-stage fund focused on retail and commerce, “leveraging a lot of the insights from my experience there to making early-stage investments in the next-generation commerce and retail tech space and participating alongside top-tier VCs like Thrive Capital.”

Today, she directs a corporate venturing unit with a clear preference for enterprises from those fields, albeit at a later stage of development. Simon Ventures’ investment philosophy places a substantial weight on the financial side.

Looking ahead in 2019, Hwang said: “Simon Ventures will continue to partner actively dynamic founders who are at the forefront of leading consumer innovation and to leverage Simon’s leadership in retail distribution to collectively define the future landscape of commerce.

“Three years in, we are proud to have backed companies that are exerting real impact as they scale and offer Simon a pipeline of significant opportunities for financial return as well as new sources of value creation.

“The response from the venture and tech community to our involvement has been enthusiastic. We are seeing tremendous opportunities to access dynamic growth and I am excited about building upon our momentum at Simon Ventures and to continue to position Simon as a thought leader in the world of innovation.”