Kauffman Fellows Turned Founders

At Kauffman Fellows, we’ve long debated and analyzed the common (and sometimes contradictory) traits of successful founders, but does having an investment background mean you’re a shoo-in for entrepreneurial success? Funders-turned-founders certainly have some key advantages — from access to funding networks to long-term business vision, a laser-sharp focus on capital efficiency, and years of learning from others’ missteps, among other factors. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that over 90% of startups fail.

While it’s true that Kauffman Fellows remain in the venture industry for an average of 15 years post-Fellowship, we’ve seen several Fellows who’ve successfully charted a new path on the other side of the table.

They’re shaking up industries from genomics (Julia Fan Li) to cannabis (Kim Sanchez Rael) and reshaping everything from the future of family (Claire Tomkins) to the future of work (Lisa Skeete Tatum) — even reframing public policy to positively impact the economic lives of millions (Victor Hwang) and using data analytics to save premature infants (Tammi Jantzen).

This week we’re highlighting Fellows-turned-founders who have not only taken the entrepreneurial leap, but have also recently raised fresh rounds of capital (in some instances, from other Kauffman Fellows!) in pursuit of the next big breakthrough.

Creating single-family homes for the homeless using 3D printing robotics. Developing construction systems to create infrastructure and habitats on the moon, and eventually Mars, with NASA. Delivering what is believed to be the largest 3D-printed structure in North America — a barracks for Texas Military Department. These are just some of the things that Austin-based construction tech startup ICON (co-founded by Evan Loomis, KF Class 21) has been working on. With 400% revenue growth nearly every year since inception, ICON just added a massive $207M Series B raise to its list of accomplishments. Read the full story over on TechCrunch.

Lisa Marrone (KF Class 22), founder of the social media app Revel, is building communities for women over 50, creating networking opportunities, and solving loneliness through curated collaborative events. Earning a spot on Fast Company’s “10 most innovative social media companies of 2020,” Revel serves a diverse group women: single and partnered, queer and straight, working and retired, kids and no kids. When asked about why the team targeted women over 50, Lisa points out, “Women get more invisible each year that we age while men experience the reverse. Men with gray hair are seen as dignified and wise. It’s not the same for women. We want to make sure women are fully seen, embraced, and valued by society as we age.” With 50 million women over 50 who control $15T, Lisa knew Revel had incredibile market potential — and she wasn’t alone. With a commitment from Y Combinator, Revel officially launched in June 2019 and quickly caught the attention of other big-name investors, including Forerunner. Earlier this month, Revel closed $3.5M in Seed funding in a round that was co-led by Kauffman Fellow classmate Andy McLoughlin (KF Class 22).

Recently recognized as one of EY’s “Entrepreneurs of the Year,” RA Session II (KF Class 19) just entered into a loan and security agreement with Silicon Valley Bank that provides his company Taysha Gene Therapy (of which he is founder, president, and CEO) with up to $100M of borrowing capacity. Since emerging from stealth in April 2020, Taysha saw an explosive start raising $125M in Series A and B funding, followed by a $157M IPO in under six months. On its first day of trading, Taysha saw a 20 percent rise in its stock price, despite launching during a global pandemic. A biotech with big plans, Taysha has stayed focused on its primary goal: wiping out monogenic disorders of the central nervous system. Last year he spoke with PBS about founding the company and how they’re using a portfolio approach to take advantage of economies of scale by developing 18 products at once, with the first set to reach consumers in 2024.

The pandemic spurred interest in saving and investment apps around the world, especially ones geared toward newer investors. James Vuong (KF Class 12) saw consumers rapidly switching to digital banking services, and knew it was time to make financial investments more accessible to consumers as well. In January 2021, James launched Infina, a consumer investment app that targets millennial, Vietnamese investors. In a recent interview with TechCrunch, James said he believes Vietnam is entering a “golden decade of hyper uninterrupted growth as other Asian Tigers have had in the past,” and wanted to give retail investors a chance to partake in Vietnam’s financial trajectory. Within 6 months, Infina has raised a $2M Seed round and been dubbed the “Robinhood of Vietnam.” First-time investors flocked to the app, whose minimum investment is only $25 USD. Infina’s success has not gone unnoticed — this week, James announced that Infina has been backed by Y Combinator.

From law to VC to entrepreneurship, Liat Aaronson (KF Class 22) has explored a variety of unique industries and leadership roles throughout her career. Her latest focus, Horizen Labs (of which she is both co-founder and COO), is a blockchain-first ZKP circuit building company that just raised $7M in a Seed round. Jehan Chu (KF Class 24) of Kenetic Capital led the round, which Horizen will use to kick off a massive ecosystem growth phase. Earlier this year, Liat was a guest on 20 Minute Leaders, discussing her path from Fellow to founder and what led her to make the jump. “Entrepreneurship is not about sitting around with a laptop and thinking about ideas; it’s about understanding risks and downside.”

Originally published at www.kauffmanfellows.org on August 27, 2021.

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