Maria Toler Velissaris (MBA ’09) is Fulfilling Her Destiny by Investing in Startup Ventures

Maria Velissaris
Maria Toler Velissaris (MBA '09) is a serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and founder/managing partner of SteelSky Ventures, which focuses on companies that are working toward improving access, care, and outcomes in women’s healthcare. Since its 2017 founding, SteelSky Ventures has invested in 14 women-led and women-oriented healthcare start-ups, as well as DNA-test industry star 23andMe. In March 2021, Maria was named by Forbes as one of eight female venture capitalists to watch.
Velissaris’s entrepreneurial bent emerged during college at Wake Forest, when she and a friend created Wakeboxes (now Collegeboxes), a student storage and shipping service that was later bought by U-Haul. That experience inspired her to acquire the variety of skills it was clear a successful founder would need, she explained. “I carefully curated the next several years of my career, working at different types of companies, developing a diverse set of skills that I knew I would need to build my next empire.”
That was an eclectic journey that started with five years with Booz Allen, ultimately as an associate in systems engineering working on the US Air Force Transformational Satellite System (TSAT). Next came a stint at Kraft Foods as an associate brand manager, followed by a year at Siegel + Gale, the brand consultancy, and then a global travel assignment for EMM Group as an international marketing consultant, during which she also developed a corporate beauty outsourcing service called La Voila Beauty LLC. Next stop was as a marketing and product development vice-president for a New York-based dermatology group.
On-the-job experiences thus rounded out, Velissaris turned to the venture investing space, founding SteelSky Ventures. The fund focuses on women’s healthcare startups, which have historically been overlooked. She explained, “Investors like to invest in companies that they understand, in sectors that excite them. The venture-capital industry is very male-dominated, and therefore women’s health products and services don’t tend to resonate with the majority of these investors. As more women and diverse investors enter the landscape, we will see a shift in the types of companies and the types of founders that get funded.”
In addition to connecting to other female and nonbinary investment groups through Golden Seeds and Pipeline Angels, Velissaris maintains her connection to Stern, helping out with interview days, attending Reunions, and networking with alumni through social media. And she was recently named an NYU Alumni ChangeMaker, which she called a special honor, attributing her entrepreneurial spirit to her grandmother’s favorite saying: “If you don’t see it, build it, and if you don’t like it, change it.”