Manuel Henriquez, BA’87

What did co-op do for Manuel Henriquez?

Oh, not much.

It just taught him how to deal with racism in the workplace. Gave him a chance to supervise approximately 30 people as an undergraduate. Helped him learn the ropes of high finance so well that he became head of a successful venture capital firm.

Perhaps needless to say, Henriquez is a big supporter of co-op.

Co-founder, chairman and CEO of Palo Alto-based specialty finance firm Hercules Technology Growth Capital, Inc. (NASDAQ: HTGC), Henriquez, BA’87, was the first in his family to go to college. Originally from the Dominican Republic, he didn’t become a U.S. citizen until after he graduated, in 1991.

But at Northeastern, on co-op, he learned much about the U.S. business world. He worked on co-op at Merrill Lynch, Bank of Boston, and the Boston Company. The Boston Company liked him so much, in fact, that they wanted him to put off graduating from college to work for them full-time. “As a co-op student, I was running a division of approximately 30 people,” Henriquez recalls. “Senior management didn’t want to tell anybody I was a co-op student. They wanted me to have the persona of a full-time division head, running a group. It was pretty scary, actually.” But what an opportunity.

Being involved in the world of work also taught Henriquez how to handle racism. “I remember, in interviews, people would sometimes say, ‘Oh, you’re white,’ ” he says. “It hurt, it stunk, but you have to be able to move beyond that. Rather than take on the fight, you’ve just got to prove them wrong by executing and delivering on your own. Northeastern educates you to the realities of life and teaches you resiliency.”

After graduation, Henriquez received job offers from all of his former co-op employers. Before cofounding Hercules in 2003, Henriquez worked in venture capital at BancBoston Ventures, CrossLink Capital, Comdisco Ventures, and VantagePoint Venture Partners. And what goes around comes around: These days, both current and former Northeastern co-op students work for him.

To Henriquez, having Northeastern students work at Hercules is a no-brainer. “I support the co-op program to the nth degree,” he says. “I compare Northeastern kids to kids from Stanford, Harvard, MIT, or UC Berkeley — and I’ll take a Northeastern kid any day of the week. They’re not pretentious, they’re hardworking, and they want to be here; they have to learn practical business.”