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Smeal Alumni in Profile: Entrepreneur, Venture Capitalist Supports Disruptive Ideas in Japan

Though Marketing alumnus James Riney only graduated from the Penn State Smeal College of Business in 2011, he has spent the past three years building a varied and successful career in Japan.
June 9, 2014

Though Marketing alumnus James Riney only graduated from the Penn State Smeal College of Business in 2011, he has spent the past three years building a varied and successful career in Japan.

Riney, who began his career after college at J.P. Morgan, currently works as a venture capitalist at Japanese Internet company DeNA, where he focuses on consumer mobile and internet investments outside Japan.

“My main goal is not just capital gain, but to find and back companies that have the potential to create entirely new markets or redefine existing ones.”

“We get a lot of pitches from companies that want to meet with us, so I spend a lot of time thinking about the strength of the team and whether their approach fits with our investment thesis,” said Riney about a typical day at DeNA. “I also have a lot of ongoing meetings with portfolio companies to talk about their main challenges and how we can help. We try to provide value beyond just capital to these companies.”

Riney’s primary focus in evaluating company pitches is to seek out game-changing, disruptive ideas.

“My main goal is not just capital gain, but to find and back companies that have the potential to create entirely new markets or redefine existing ones,” he said.

Riney understands what it’s like to be in the entrepreneur’s shoes. Before joining DeNA as a venture capitalist, he founded STORYS.JP, a publishing platform that uses crowdsourcing to funnel real life stories to publishers and television networks.

The experience of starting and running a company gave Riney cross-functional experience in building a business from zero, he says.

“Living abroad also provides an outsider’s perspective that can help you think in ways you hadn’t thought before.”

“The experience you get as an entrepreneur is deeper, because it gives you more exposure to all facets of the business,” he said. “Just two years into my career, I was managing a team and making important strategic decisions for the direction of the company. It’s hard to get that kind of exposure anywhere else.”

Riney’s dedication and intellectual curiosity were already evident in his time as a student at Penn State. He graduated not only with a degree in marketing but also in international business and Japanese.

Riney, who has roots in Japan from his childhood, believes in the value of having a global mindset and encourages Smeal students to study or live abroad if possible.

“Being confined to one place really puts a limit on your own scope—there are a lot more market opportunities out there,” he said. “Living abroad also provides an outsider’s perspective that can help you think in ways you hadn’t thought before.”

Connect with Riney on Twitter: @james_riney

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