By the time Cindy Padnos founded venture-capital firm Illuminate Ventures in 2009, she'd pretty much done it all. She had worked the tech circuit in corporate America, provided management consulting for companies from Apple to Boeing, and even launched her own software as a service company, Vivant. She felt her foray into venture funding was the natural next step. "I have had a very unique opportunity to leverage all those skills as an investor," she says. "I have the most fun job in the world."
And one with a healthy dose of influence: Illuminate Ventures is a VC firm focused on early-stage, high-tech investing, with a special interest in supporting women in business. "We invest in great opportunities, period," she says. "We try to capture some very interesting—and not very sought after—deals, where other firms don't recognize the value because it looks different." Her investing portfolio ranges from Internet advertising and 3-D browsing to SaaS applications and SEO management.
In her slim spare time, Padnos also serves on the advisory board at Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business, where she received her MBA. When she joined the board, she was the only woman; there are now three. "I don't have to fight for a stall in the ladies' room yet, but I'm looking forward to that day," she says. "If we want to encourage more women to enter this industry, we have to have a critical mass."