Podcast: Empowering Underserved Markets with Monica Brand Engel, Co-Founder & Partner at Quona
In our latest episode of the Wharton FinTech Podcast, Miguel Armaza (WG’21/G’21) is joined by Monica Brand Engel, Co-Founder and Partner at Quona, a venture capital firm that invests in growth-stage financial technology companies in emerging markets.
Quona Capital is a venture capital firm that invests in growth-stage financial technology companies in emerging markets. The firm was formed with a simple idea — technology has the power to radically improve the quality, access, and affordability of financial services for underserved consumers and businesses in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Quona invests in disruptive innovations to create a more financially inclusive world.
Monica Brand Engel is a Co-Founder and Partner at Quona, where she focuses on global investments. Monica is an investor and entrepreneur, having launched a number of investment vehicles and products aimed at broadening financial inclusion.
Before co-founding Quona, Monica was the founder and Managing Director of Accion Frontier Investments Group, a growth stage fintech portfolio. She also launched and managed Accion’s Marketing and Product Development Unit, where she oversaw the creation of new financial services to move the industry beyond microcredit, and worked in Mexico with Compartamos Bank, the largest microfinance institution in Latin America which IPO’d in 2007.
Prior to Accion, Monica worked with Anthuri Ventures, an early-stage equity fund based in Cape Town, South Africa and founded Anthuri Catalysts to help prepare potential portfolio companies for investment. Monica also worked at Calvert Ventures, the early-stage equity arm of the Calvert Mutual Fund. Monica spent her formative years in Silicon Valley as a commercial loan officer of a clean technology fund, and separately helped launch a $50 million multi-bank lending intermediary to finance small businesses and community facilities in California.
Monica started and co-taught a graduate level course on financial inclusion and impact investing for over a decade at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, with the goal of disseminating lessons learned and promoting investment approaches that will help mainstream the industry. She has also co-authored a chapter on equity in impact investing in a book, New Frontiers of Philanthropy, and was a founding member of the Impact Investment Advisory Council established by the Emerging Markets Private Equity Association.
Monica has served on the boards of Sokowatch, Yoco, Azimo, Zoona, GloboKasNet, Shubham Housing, Paralife, Compartamos Bank, and Pay Rent Builds Credit. Monica chairs the Investor Representative Committee of LeapFrog Financial Inclusion Fund I, the world’s first microinsurance fund.
Monica holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, a Master of Arts from Stanford University, and a Bachelor of Arts from Williams College.
In this extensive interview, Monica shares:
- Her personal background. How growing up in a multicultural and multi-religious family, shaped her belief that what connects us is much more powerful than what differentiates us
- Why she is convinced Venture Capital can be a powerful tool for good
- How she became a big believer in the power of financial services to affect change in underserved markets
- The notable challenges of launching a VC firm aimed at financial inclusion in 2014
- The most important lessons she learned from her mentor and former boss, Michael Chu
- How to succeed in VC. The importance of building a good team with strong track record and relevant operational expertise, while having a clear and specific thesis
- Why “panicking” early is an important philosophy in business and the value of always preparing for the worst
- Monica’s take on the lessons COVID-19 has brought to light and why Quona could not have existed 15 years ago
- Why Quona remains super bullish about the future of financial services and financial inclusion and why she’s excited about the Alternative Lending and Neobanking spaces