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An ex-Goldman associate just set up her own San Francisco-based start-up advisory firm

Leaving Goldman Sachs

Setting up your very own advisory firm has traditionally been the province of extremely senior, extremely seasoned investment bankers focused on M&A. Think PJT Partners, the advisory firm set up by Paul J. Taubman, the veteran Morgan Stanley dealmaker in 2013, or Robey Warshaw, the London-based boutique founded by Simon Robey, Morgan Stanley’s former head of investment banking in the UK. But what if you see an advisory opportunity sooner?

Ex-GS associate Katerina Barilov just set up ‘Sparkplug capital’ in San Francisco. She aims to help early-stage companies with business development, investor relations and business strategy. “After just a couple of months of leaving GS, I had so many early stage companies reach out to me that I decided to start my own consulting and advisory practice,” Barilov tells us.

Specialized in robotics, AI, machine learning, autonomous tech, and sensors (specifically smart camera development), Sparkplug’s focus is companies in highly complex and regulated industries such as transportation, natural resources, and aerospace and defense.

This isn’t Barilov’s first job since leaving Goldman after nearly two years in March. She spent March and April working in business development for Blackbird Air, a budget private flight company.  “‘I’ve been in the aviation industry since 2010. When I started, there really hadn’t been a lot of innovation and the whole business has been very depressed. Because of how slow it was. I decided to do my MBA and then investment banking,” she says, adding that she left Goldman because the firm’s focus is, “traditional, larger clients.”

Barilov isn’t the first ex-Goldman junior to shortcut the long and arduous process of climbing the hierarchy in an investment bank before setting out on your own. As we reported last week, Stuart Smith, a former associate in Goldman’s natural resources division, also quit after 22 months and set up his own Houston-based private equity fund.

Are today’s young bankers less patient than their predecessors? Or can they simply see opportunities that they don’t want to miss?

Barilov stresses that she’s drawing on the expertise of others in the industry: “I’m right now in the process of forming an advisory board of senior mentors in the aviation and VC communities (I have experience working in venture capital and a strong network in Silicon Valley) and am now working to help founders realize their dream full-time.”


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