ob Higgins, Founder and Managing Partner of Highland Capital Partners, mentioned to Fergal a fabulous student in his Healthcare Entrepreneurship class Harvard Business School. Fergal took the hint, and Irena visited the Highland office just outside Boston in full professional gear, armed with her CV, which was supposed to guide the discussion.
Fergal recalls turning the CV upside down on the conference room table and saying,
“tell me your story.”
Irena described her family’s clandestine departure from the Ukraine, via Austria, and a prolonged stay in Italy, towards an unknown destination. The journey took nearly a year before the family landed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin days before Thanksgiving.
About three minutes in, Fergal recalls thinking to himself, “done deal, I’m hiring this young lady and together we are going to launch Highland Capital Partners in Europe – I just need to stack the process so that all my partners agree.”
Irena’s due diligence efforts on Fergal were definitive:
“He was universally respected and told the best jokes – I was in.”
Irena joined Highland’s Boston office while finishing HBS, and then moved to Europe together with Fergal in 2007 to launch the business from Geneva. Investments followed in Privalia, Spartoo, and Wooga.
Inevitably, Fergal and Irena started to dream about a dedicated expansion-stage technology fund. Highland Europe’s first fund launched in 2012, focused on supporting founding teams behind category-leading technologies.