The current view of network emergence is predominantly influenced by path-dependent mechanisms where immediately preceding network structures inform current network positions. However, less explored is the ongoing sensitivity of future network positions to the composition and structure of newcomers' first partnerships. Building on the social categorization literature, we develop a model of the ongoing direct and moderating effects of newcomers' first network partnership on their status. We test our model using a panel of 272 U.S. venture capital firms from the 1980 to 2004 period and show that the reputation of newcomers' first partners exerts a positive influence on their future status (over and above intermediate network conditions). We find that this positive influence is stronger for those newcomers whose first partners formed a cohesive network. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.