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Associate to Assistant Director Spotlight: V. Cary Ritter

Dr. Cary Ritter has been with Duke Capital Partners for 1.5 years, initially as a technical associate during her PhD training with Dr. Stephen Craig and postdoctoral research with Dr. Matthew Becker in the Department of Chemistry at Duke, and since mid-2023 as Assistant Director. Before attending Duke, Cary worked in a materials science lab, studied nanotechnology, and worked at a corporate law firm. 

Cary leads the screening, sourcing, and due diligence efforts for many of Duke Capital Partners’ investments.  She also works with DCP’s investor base to close investment transactions. In her role, Cary also supervises and guides the associate team in their learning and diligence—a responsibility made easier due to Cary’s experience as an associate herself. 

What led you to join Duke Capital Partners? 

A very thoughtful mentor. I was heads-down during my PhD, focused first on my coursework and then on my research in materials science. As I was wrapping up my dissertation in the summer of 2022, I had invented a new type of mechanochromic material (which, like its name says, changes color as a result of mechanical force). I wanted to see if I could commercialize this new technology, and my co-inventor Dr. Becker suggested that I join his lab as a postdoctoral researcher, pursue the commercialization effort and get exposure to the VC and startup ecosystem through DCP. I’m glad he suggested it, as I found that it was really satisfying to be able to use my skill set to understand and analyze start-ups in the Duke ecosystem.

How has your research experience at Duke Chemistry influenced your work at Duke Capital Partners or vice versa?

I learned that it takes years and years and years to develop a new technology! But in all seriousness, the methodical and rigorous approach to research that I learned at Duke Chemistry is incredibly useful when screening over a thousand start-ups a year to evaluate and assess which ones might be consistent with the mission and investment focus of Duke Capital Partners. Working in a lab for years under thoughtful mentors and reading countless papers in the literature obviously helps me develop a more informed view of the STEM-related start-ups we meet, but frankly the tools you learn as a PhD to sift through vast amounts of information help when evaluating start-ups in other fields like cybersecurity, fintech, digital health, ecommerce and SaaS.

What prompted your transition from associate to assistant director? What are some moments/experiences that you want to highlight during these roles? 

I was offered the position! Kurt and Dave knew what I wanted before I wanted it, and I’m glad they did so. To me it’s been exciting to take a leadership role in DCP and be a part of our decision-making on what opportunities merit additional diligence and analysis from our associates, what transactions will be attractive to our investor base, and how we can best support the Duke startup community.

One item I want to highlight is just how engaged and active our investor base has been. Our investors are successful, driven Duke alums who have a real passion for Duke and the Duke start-up ecosystem. Working with them has given me insight into how they think about investment opportunities in their professional careers, but it’s also been energizing to see their support for what we do.

Having studied and worked in many different fields, could you share some wisdom on how you navigated these academic and professional transitions? 

Hard work and good mentors. There’s no substitute for putting in the time and effort, day in and day out, especially during a transition when you face a steep learning curve.  I also find it important to seek out good mentors who are willing to put in the time to help navigate those transitions and support you through the feelings of uncertainty and self-doubt that, at least for me, and I suspect many others, show up during those times.

What are your long-term career ambitions?

Long-term, I want to continue contributing to the start-up ecosystem, both at Duke and nationally.  I’ve been lucky to have thoughtful and positive mentors in my career, and I believe it’s important now to give back to them, especially within the Duke startup ecosystem, and also share my experience and skill set with others who want to pursue a similar career.