A Kauffman Fellows Podcast series exploring six influential female investors’ careers, inspirations, and accomplishments.
Released in coordination with Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, Maddie Callander, VP of Accelerator & Portfolio at Boost VC and a member of KF Class 25, hosts and celebrates some of the most formidable female investors at the epicenter of deep tech throughout the month of March.
With new episodes each week, Maddie and her guests explore how deep tech has the potential to solve some of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. Deep tech is often referred to as “Sci-Fi Tech” because science fiction narratives often drive innovation. Sci-Fi books, movies, and comics present a vision of the future that can inspire and drive progress. But that progress does not come easily. Deep tech founders and their investors face many unique challenges, including trying to coordinate unmatched levels of collaboration between government, industry, and academia.
Click the links below to tune into each episode and catch a summary of Maddie’s mini-series below by flipping through an eBook summarizing some of the key findings from her conversations.
- Suzanne Fletcher (Prime Movers Lab): Opportunities in Deep Tech
- Deena Shakir (Lux Capital): Turning Science Fiction into Fact
- Abby Hunter-Syed (LDV Capital): Deep Tech for Visual Data
- Tess Hatch (Bessemer Venture Partners): What’s Unique About Deep Tech
- Maryanna Saenko (Future Ventures): Why Deep Tech is the Space To Be In
- Christy Cardenas (Grit Ventures): The Role of Universities in Deep Tech
To kick off her miniseries, Maddie welcomes her first two guests: Prime Movers Lab General Partner, Suzanne Fletcher (KF Class 21), and Lux Capital Partner, Deena Shakir (KF Class 23). Throughout their conversations, they explore what it takes to break into deep tech, the value of investing in an area that keeps you curious, and the challenges deep tech startups face.
This season of the Kauffman Fellows Podcast is produced in partnership with Mighty Capital. Together, we unravel what truly makes a great VC investor.
Prime Movers Lab General Partner, Suzanne Fletcher, on the Exciting Opportunities in Deep Tech
Maddie’s very first guest is the incredible Suzanne Fletcher (KF Class 21), General Partner at Prime Movers Lab. Suzanne invests in breakthrough scientific startups founded by the world’s prime movers. In this episode, Maddie and Suzanne explore what drew them to invest in deep tech, the qualities that make a great scientific startup founder, and how they reframe the challenges deep tech startups face into opportunities.
Tune in and catch some of our favorite soundbites below!
On her interest in deep tech
Fletcher sees the challenges deep tech companies face and views them as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.
“It is night and day for consumer apps or enterprise SaaS companies versus deep tech or med in the other bucket. It’s so much easier for consumer apps or enterprise SaaS to raise money. The process is easier, and they get multiple term sheets. There are so many funds interested in that. There are plenty of co-investors in the deep tech world interested in that, but few lead funds, do due diligence, price the round, or help them afterward.
It’s hard, but in that difficulty, it creates opportunity. My partner, Dakin [Sloss], had a thesis of leading rounds in breakthrough science companies and building a venture firm exclusively to do that. It resonated strongly with me. I believe deeply in our mission of science and service.”
On investing in deep tech
Prime Movers Lab’s ultimate goal is to support the teams driven to have a large-scale positive impact.
“At Prime Movers Lab, we invest in breakthrough science. We are high conviction lead investors and want to work with prime movers. Those are the entrepreneurs that we believe have the ability to impact billions of lives on this planet positively.
Deep tech means an incredibly high IP moat with what’s being built and the barrier to entry created. It’s a matter of why now, why this technology, why this set of founders is doing this.”
On the qualities that make a great scientific startup founder
For Fletcher, two main attributes make a great scientific startup founder.
“The qualities are grit and conviction. The best entrepreneurs have clarity of thought. They can sell you on the big vision and the practical go-to-market. I need to see an entrepreneur’s true love of a customer and not just a technology, which goes to solving a problem and being motivated to solve a problem. Not just to bring a solution to market, because what you need to go the distance is a true motivation and insight around solving your problem.
I like founders that have experienced those hard times, often called that Valley of Disillusionment, where we can meet them on the other side. It’s really important to understand if someone has the conviction and ability to go the distance with what they’re doing.”
On today’s challenges in deep tech
Seeing how far we’ve come offers motivation to face the challenges that remain.
“There are certainly a lot of challenges, but I try not to lose sight of the fact that this is the best time to be alive in human history. I use that as fuel to think about how much further we can go. When you watch the news, every day you see what’s wrong with the world. I go back to that touchstone of understanding how far we have come and being motivated by what humanity has achieved.
Some of the important challenges that we’d like to play a role in trying to help fund and solve are energy, decarbonization, affordable/attainable housing for people. Food and the entire agriculture and industrial systems around it. Lastly is human health. Those are massive opportunities for humanity in front of us.”
Lux Capital Partner, Deena Shakir, on turning Science Fiction into Fact
In this week’s second episode, Maddie welcomes Deena Shakir, a member of Kauffman Fellows Class 23 and Partner at Lux Capital, a VC firm investing in emerging science and technology ventures, exploring the edges of what is possible. Throughout the episode, Deena shares what Lux Capital looks for in deep tech startups, her advice for VCs considering investing in deep tech, and the area of deep tech she’s currently the most excited about.
Tune in and catch some of our favorite soundbites below!
On Lux Capital’s investment thesis for deep tech
Lux Capital believes a unique mix of traits creates a great, investable deep tech startup.
“Lux Capital has been around for about 21 years. Our co-founders, Josh and Peter, had this ambitious and contrarian idea that there was an opportunity to invest in the earliest days of company creation with overlooked, rebel entrepreneurs who were turning science fiction into fact. Back then, there wasn’t such a clear venture return profile for those types of companies. They created a category in venture capital.
We don’t necessarily need to define what deep tech, hard tech, or any of that is. We do have interest areas and thesis areas that often would fall into those categories. We’re not afraid of companies that require patents, that require long-term capital, that require extensive hardware, and/or software innovation that are first of their kind. We don’t fund science projects. We do invest in that sort of rare combination of deeply technical teams, grounded in the industry, but also know how to commercialize, know how to tell a story, how to pitch, how to sell, and how to recruit. That is the dream team that we look for in our companies and what has led to some of our best exits.”
On advice for VCs considering investing in deep tech
Investors must understand that what works in other areas won’t necessarily work with deep tech companies.
“We talk about pattern recognition. However, to apply patterns you might see in enterprise SaaS, or perhaps you see in consumer to deep tech, that’s not the way you invest in those types of companies. That’s not how they’re valued. It’s not the type of capital it takes to get there.
That transition does require a little bit of grounding. Everything that you do as a VC, if you’re entering a new space or a new market, it’s about what your superpower is. If you have relationships with the types of customers, hires, board members, or investors for a specific type of company and you want to transition to another, that’s not easy.
That being said, I do think the definition we talked about earlier on the scope of what deep tech is, is evolving. Perhaps deep tech will come to mean much more or, in some ways, much less as it transcends the rest of technology.”
On staying curious
It’s not hard to stay curious when working in an area that you find truly fascinating.
“Staying curious is part of who I am. It’s an important characteristic. Anyone in this job needs to have that baseline. One of the reasons I wanted to do this is because I wanted to be somewhere where it’s my job to learn. I read all sorts of things. Because I’m interested in healthcare, I read medical journals for fun. I get fascinated by some of these early innovations that might be commercialized. I read Scientific American. I also have to keep up with what’s going on in the world all the time. I love Protocol, Morning Brew, TechCrunch, and so on.”
On the areas of deep tech she’s currently exploring
Shakir keeps an eye on future generations as she looks to invest more in deep tech.
“When it comes to investment areas that I’m digging into, I am spending a lot of time in family health. That’s everything from fertility, family planning, and contraception. I’ve made a few investments there. I’m looking a lot at maternal health, pediatrics, and of course, mental health is top of mind for so many. I’m very interested in technologies that will not only scale care delivery, using technology but actually improve outcomes.”