From Farm to (Financial) Table: Holt Ventures Partner Meg Paulus

San Antonio—Meg Paulus gets a sense of comfort when she walks around the campus of her work at Holt Cat, a San Antonio-based heavy equipment and engine dealer focused on Caterpillar tractors.

Paulus grew up in rural southeast Wisconsin where she raised sheep and chickens and showed them off at annual 4-H fairs. Those memories come back to the 26-year-old when she sees the various farm equipment and heavy machinery sold by Holt Cat, one of the largest dealers of Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT) products in the country.

“I feel like I’m at the fair,” Paulus says about Holt Cat. “I feel really at home in that environment.”

Notably, Paulus doesn’t work directly with the equipment the company sells. She is the partner of Holt Ventures, the approximately $25 million venture arm that Holt Cat established in 2016.

Paulus has been in the lead role of Holt Ventures for just a few months, taking over for former partner Adam Bridgman, who left to run another investment firm with Peter Holt, the CEO of Holt Cat. (Holt’s family has deep roots in the Caterpillar industry.) Paulus has now closed a few deals as the partner for Holt Ventures, including participation in a $5.5 million Series A funding round last week for Interplay Learning, which offers training for workers in electrical, mechanical, and industrial fields using virtual reality and 3D simulations.

That’s the type of business the venture fund is looking to invest in: something that could benefit the technicians or other employees at Holt Cat, or the customers of the business. Paulus says she has potential investments run pilot programs at Holt Cat to test whether the product will aid the company, and has people who work there voice whether they’d actually use or invest their own money in the startup.

“This isn’t just a financial decision, this is something that will affect you,” Paulus says. “We make investments that benefit either our customers, our employees, or both.”

Holt Ventures now has made nine investments, deploying about $5 million, Paulus says. The firm may invest about $20 million more, but the fund also has an evergreen structure, meaning more may be added, she says.

While Paulus appreciates Holt Cat in part because of her rural roots and the company’s values, her experience in finance didn’t hurt. Before joining Holt last year, Paulus was an investment analyst in Princeton, NJ, for investment firm BlackRock (NYSE: BLK).

The experience taught her a great deal about financial modeling, due diligence, and caused her to “grow up” and think differently quickly, she says. (“I try to gloss over my age but yes I have been really lucky to have meaningful experiences early on in my career,” she says.)

Moving to Holt Cat, where she was considering potential investments in startups that have less financial data or other concrete information for her to analyze, initially gave her pause. At BlackRock, she could always evaluate things by cold, hard financial facts. Now, she was considering investments that might be less about financial returns and instead more holistic ones. Eventually, Paulus says she found more creativity in the process.

“I have part of the addressable market sitting right behind my office,” Paulus says. “I’m going to go talk to them to see if it’s something they want to use. For me, it’s the best hands on approach.”

If we were to look at the odds of it, Paulus probably shouldn’t be working in finance. She should be a doctor. Three of Paulus’s four siblings practice medicine, following in the footsteps of their father, who can count most citizens of her 10,000-person hometown as patients. Paulus realized at a young age—when she took chemistry in high school—that medicine wouldn’t be for her.

Business was something she knew was important, which she could use to make positive impact. That’s what Paulus says she appreciates about her role at Holt Cat, a place she can feel at home in while investing in products that may help the company, its customers, and employees.

“From an emotional standpoint, I’m way more fulfilled than I’ve ever been because I’m problem solving,” Paulus says. “Having a problem in front of me and having real people that are affected by that problem, or finding something that could make their day a little easier, has let me tap into the creative side.”

David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at dholley@xconomy.com Follow @xconholley

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