Genoa Ventures invests at the intersection of biology and technology
Venture capital used to be a cottage industry, with very few investing in tomorrow’s products and services. Oh, how times have changed! While there are more startups than ever, there’s also more money chasing them. In this series, we look at the new (or relatively new) VCs in the early stages: seed and Series A.
But just who are these funds and venture capitalists that run them? What kinds of investments do they like making, and how do they see themselves in the VC landscape?
We’re highlighting key members of the community to find out.
Jenny Rooke is the founder and managing partner of Genoa Ventures.
Rooke has over a decade of investing experience beginning at Fidelity Biosciences in 2006 as a Kauffman Fellow. After Fidelity, she helped establish the investing function at the Gates Foundation funding companies in genetic engineering, diagnostics, and synthetic biology. She began 5 Prime Ventures in 2014 using the largest life sciences syndicate on AngelList and achieving one of the highest-performing AngelList syndicates in any sector. Her prior investments include Zymergen, Caribou, Accuri (acquired by Becton Dickinson), and Topaz (acquired by Sanofi).
Prior to her investing career, Rooke was a management consultant with McKinsey for the pharma and biotech sectors. She also served in executive management roles at U.S. Genomics leading Corporate Development and Research and Development.
She studied physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology and has a Ph.D. in genetics from Yale.
Rooke’s love for sailing led her to name the fund Genoa – the sail that increases the performance and stability of a sailboat. She aims to help her entrepreneurs and their companies navigate the start-up life cycle with the power of her network and her experience building and advising companies to get to the final destination – value creation and category creation.
VatorNews: Give me the general overview of the fund. Where do you fit into the ecosystem? What’s your philosophy about investing?
Jenny Rooke: Where we fit into the venture ecosystem, and the world needs yet another early stage venture firm, is an important question. Genoa is here to serve and support the companies that are innovating at that convergence of biology and technology, and what we observed, throughout our years of building and investing in such companies, is that they tend to fall between the cracks in the traditional venture landscape or ecosystem. You have the world of life sciences investing; often those investors have come up through healthcare professions, they’re very focused on human healthcare, on therapeutics, and we know the venture model works there. And then you’ve got technology and deep technology investors who are generally very comfortable with building and operating companies and scaling, but may not have any exposure to biology or healthcare. And so, you get a company that is incredibly exciting because it is bigger than the sum of the parts by combining the latest innovations in life sciences and tech in terms of data science, deep tech, materials, semiconductors, optics, just really looking across all these disciplines, but the venture ecosystem is not particularly multidisciplinary, it’s very siloed. I love those companies, my whole team loves those companies, that’s who we want to help achieve their full potential, because we think they’re some of the most transformative companies and innovations out there and they’re the most underserved at the earliest stages of venture, where, to underwrite those kinds of risks, you need to have both the deep life sciences training to understand the science and technology being applied, but also an appetite for building scalable businesses, as opposed to assets moving through the clinic. So, that’s where we sit, at that biology meets technology convergence, being built really bottoms up to focus on those kinds of companies.
VN: The intersection of life sciences and technology, can you give me some examples of what that means? What verticals are you investing in? How does that work exactly, that intersection?
JR: We see the kinds of applications for those innovations in a few different themes. One is technology driving biology; this tends to be your tools and diagnostics type companies. How instruments, consumables, and now data science, are applied to understanding the mysteries of living systems, cracking that mystery of biology that we still have, there’s still lots to learn there. That can be in the lab, it can be pure research, or more an applied setting, like in patient care, picking a great therapeutic, for example, or monitoring disease.
Increasingly, part of what really inspired me to do this work from a position of a new firm, as opposed to trying to invest in tools and diagnostics like a traditional healthcare fund, is we’ve got this other theme, which is biology as a technology itself. We live in a post-CRISPR world where the ability to engineer molecules, and even living systems, is increasingly coming online. And so, the ability to apply design and engineering principles to biology to solve problems is increasingly true. These kinds of companies that are either creating those tools, or using those tools, to make solutions is a really interesting category. And then the third category really overlays all of that for the theme, which is applying all of this outside of healthcare; we see companies in the agrifood space and industrial bio, even in consumer, that are using these principles of technology and biology to solve problems that are not about patient care, as important as that is, but may be about putting the next putting food on people’s tables, or providing energy in a way that is more efficient, or bringing consumer’s valuable products that they may not have otherwise. That was a gap in the marketplace, to think of biology is something other than healthcare,
VN: Do you do purely B2B, do you do any B2C? It sounds like you also do B2B2C.
JR: We let the entrepreneurs tell us where they think the opportunity is and what the right business model is, but you’re quite right that, in general, it looks like either B2B or occasionally B2BC. So, it’s a company selling analytical instruments to pharma biotech, for example, or to research labs. It’s companies selling diagnostics into the healthcare system; that’s a complex sale across payers, clinicians, and patients, so I suppose it’s B2B2C2P. One of our Fund II investments is called Stemson and they are using stem cell technology, so biology as technology, to generate hair for the hair replacement space. That is definitely consumer oriented but it’s not an on the shelf product.
VN: What about something like an Everlywell, for example, and at home diagnostics? We’re seeing more companies like that pop up in the last few years. Is that something maybe you would invest in?
JR: I love how you’re contesting the bounds of the thesis. Potentially, is the answer; what we have found as a barrier to investing in direct to consumer or B2C solutions is, so far, in general, the innovation there, the real breakthrough, tends not to be science-based. We are a science-based investor, we’re investing in translating scientific technology into products, that’s what we really understand as a team, and a lot of what’s happening in bringing interesting healthcare solutions to the consumer is more about channel and marketing and cost reduction and things like that, which is exciting, and I’m happy to be a customer of some of that, but it doesn’t really focus on this need that we’re meeting in the marketplace and this set of skill that our team has, which is really rooted in the science.
VN: How would you define the macro trend you’re betting on?
JR: Many people are talking about the “bio revolution” or the “century of biology.” If the 20th century was about semiconductors and computers, the 21st is about biology. I mean, that’s the big trend, that we think this is the century when just the explosive innovation in our ability to understand and engineer biology will transform everything. And that’s, again, not limited to human healthcare.
An undercurrent in all of that is that is that crossover, or interdisciplinary idea, we were talking about, which is practitioners and innovators and entrepreneurs from other walks of life getting excited about that bio revolution and bringing their frameworks, mindsets, perspectives, and best practices from these other worlds. That’s where we’re getting such an exciting melting pot of innovation.
VN: I know that you just recently closed your second fund, so what’s the size of that fund? How many investments do you make in a typical year?
JR: Fund II is $84 million; that’s a 2021 fund. We just announced it, but it’s a last year fund, so we’re about halfway through the investment period. We right size our funds to be able to lead or co-lead the first round, so we’re mostly investing in seed and A, focusing on that science to product journey. Our bottom up portfolio construction means that, with a fund of that size, we will invest in about 15 companies, writing first checks of $1 to $2 million for a seed, $2 to $5 million for an A, and then heavily reserving for the capital journeys; as we know, these companies take a long time to get there. So, in any given year, we might invest in, on average, five companies in this fund.
VN: There’s obviously a big difference between seed and series A in terms of where the company will be at that point. I’m assuming for the seed companies, there really wouldn’t be traction at that point; maybe there wouldn’t be numbers that you’re looking for. But maybe in Series A there would be. Is that accurate? And, if so, what do you want to see from those companies to want to invest?
JR: Actually, the word “traction” typically does not enter into our vocabulary for the investments that we’re making. These companies are pre-product and so, at seed, there is generally proof of concept for the underlying science and technology; at A, there’s often what we might call a prototype. We know what the product is, but they’re still in that stage of science and technology risk that needs to prove product market fit. The lines between seed and A have been blurring and particularly so for companies in this category; these are not B2B SaaS companies, where you’ve got really clear definitions around what they need to be. A helpful metric that not many people know is the technology readiness level metric that the government uses when DARPA or NIH is funding technology development. So, these are TRL 3 and beyond companies are not pure concepts, there is data that supports the idea of what they want to do, but they definitely don’t have a product on the market. That’s what Genoa is here to do, to help them get that on market and prove that product market fit.
VN: It’s interesting that you said they’re pre-product, even at A. Is that just because, with life sciences, especially, it’s just a longer life cycle? Because you have a consumer app and the expectation now is that, even by seed, you’re going to have, not just the product, you’re also gonna have customers and traction and all that stuff. But healthcare and life sciences, especially, just take longer, it’s just harder to get off the ground.
JR: That’s right, yeah. If you think about an instrument company, like a next gen DNA sequencer, for example, the seed round might be just around some experiments to show that the chemistry works. The A round may be to build a prototype of the instrument and get some customer interaction, usually in the form of beta testing, and the B round might be to actually get to product launch and early traction.
VN: If there’s not a product, one of the other things that venture capitalists, especially in the early stages, will look at is the market. So, how do you determine that there is a market for this product? How do you determine that it’s a product that is going to have customers once it actually launches?
JR: It’s a super important question for being so early and being so science-based. When we look across our 14 categories of risk, we’re almost always taking high risk on science and technology and the long term capital journey. And so, we have a pretty high bar around market risk. Unlike in tech, where you might say, “well, let’s just build the thing and see if we can prove out a market,” we don’t do that, we don’t invest in technology and hope there’s a market. I have seen newer investors to biotech take that approach, misapply that approach from tech to this world, and it’s a great way to waste a lot of money over a long time period, because, as you observed, these are long cycles. So, you can spend tens of millions of dollars making a thing and then find out there’s not a market for it, and then you can’t pivot, you can’t iterate, because it does take so long. So, we look for hyper clarity and conviction from the team and we look to get that conviction ourselves about the market opportunity in the specific market, customer, customers need, value proposition that the company’s looking to address.
VN: What’s the diligence process there? How do you determine that?
JR: I should mention that on the general Genoa team, there’s 10 of us, and all of us are scientists by training, so we’re bringing that deep expertise. We’re also operators, so we’ve all been company builders in these various spaces. In some cases, we know these markets very well; we’ve sold, or failed to sell, products into these markets and we know how they work and what buying cycles are like, what price points are like, value props, and all of that good stuff, where we have a lot of familiarity. In some cases, in these more emerging spaces, like agtech and industrial bio, it’s a little less clear; they’re not as well trodden as other venture spaces and so it’s very, very important to do diligence with those customers, to have partners who really know those areas. When we’re investing in these other verticals, we love to build syndicates whenever we invest, and in those, in particular, we will look to co-invest with specialty funds who really know those markets and those customers.
VN: You briefly mentioned the team in your previous answer. When I first started doing this column, I would ask the question, “what’s the most important thing?” and almost every single VC I spoke to said, “the team.” Especially at the early stages, and you’re talking about pre-product, the team is really, really important for you at that point. So, what are you looking for from that entrepreneur and team? What do you want to see that makes you want to invest in them?
JR: I want to talk about that, but I also want to talk about the way this question gets asked. “What’s the most important thing?”, as if you could pick one thing and then let everything else slide up. That’s not how we invest. It’s like, “do you have kids? What’s more important, that they have arms or legs? Are you buying a home? What’s more important, having bedrooms or bathrooms?” It has to have both to meet the need. So, is team essential? Yes, and we’ll talk about what that means for us. The technology has to work, the market has to be there, the intellectual property situation has to be attractive, there has to be a financing path. We have a list of criteria and it doesn’t make sense to us to say one is more important than the other because they are all essential. We won’t let one slide because another one is really strong.
VN: That makes a lot of sense. It’s all got to work together.
JR: Yeah, that’s right. When we’re looking at a team, you’ve heard all of the answers about what one looks for: about passion and conviction and all of the general things, so let me focus on the specifics for what we do: we prioritize experience more than your typical early stage venture investor and there are several reasons for that. One is the complexity of building these sorts of companies that do have all of these elements of science and market and intellectual property, and often regulatory; it is very hard to learn that on the fly. And so, those who bring the wins and the scars from having operated in these spaces before can really cut through a lot of that. Early stage companies, startups on a seed round, have to get things done very quickly on very scarce resources, so they don’t really have time to figure it out as they go; they need to be really focused, they need to be really efficient, and they need to not really have any ego about it. And so, we love mid-career professionals who know a market, know a set of customers, know what they need, that thing we were talking about before, the, “how there’s going to be a market?” They have an insight into that market based on their own experience, and want to apply science and technology to it. That’s a great blend we find.
VN: How important is it that they’ve started a company before? Will you invest in first time founders or do you want people who at least have somebody on that team who has that experience? Even if it’s not the CEO, just somebody in the founding team who has been through this before and knows what they’re doing.
JR: Most of our founders are first time founders, first time CEOs, so we do really take bets on people. That being said, they’re usually not straight out of school either, so they have spent five to 10 years, could be in another startup, could be in one of the leading companies in their space, could be in multiple leading companies in their space, where they’ve really seen what it takes to run a great business in the market they want to serve, and they have an idea for how to do it better.
VN: Let’s talk a bit about valuations. It’s a really interesting question right now, because digital health, especially over the last couple of years, we all saw the pandemic boom. Telemedicine and digital health and all that stuff really rose very, very quickly, because that was the only way people could really get access to care, and that’s really come down in the last six months, especially for the companies on the public market. So, I’m wondering if that’s what you’ve seen also in your space? Was there that boom and has that come down? And how is that changing the way you invest?
JR: That’s an important question and I do appreciate the distinction, because we’re not a digital health investor, so we definitely didn’t really have any exposure to that telehealth push. In parallel, though, and long before COVID, the last eight or so years, we have seen more and more investors, and more and more entrepreneurs, getting excited about this bio revolution. And so, that’s meant more companies, more visibility, and a lot more capital from other kinds of investors, traditional tech and generalist investors, later stage investors going earlier. So, there has been quite a lot of upward pressure on valuations, particularly mid and late stage, when some of that early risk has been retired. As well as, if you look at the rise of early stage emerging managers, there’s been a lot of seed capital as well, people are quite rightly excited about these kinds of companies. So, a lot of capital. And then, if you combine that with the last few years of public market appetites for bio-based companies, the M&A activity, it’s all just been very strong. And so, yes, lots of valuation pressure upward.
It tends to be, like I said, mid and later stage, Series B and beyond; it has tended to be in very specific themes. So, you mentioned digital health and telehealth, and that’s one. Clean meat has been another one, AI/ML based drug discovery, though that’s more like five years old now. Those are hype cycles that happen when the investor community gets excited about a theme, but it neglects the much broader opportunity space. It’s been a not bad time to be an early stage investor, to be honest, because here we are sitting at the very beginning, trying to solve the problem of being an institutional, quality lead at the earliest stages, setting valuations in such a way that sets companies up for a successful journey, keeping in mind historical valuations at each step of that journey. I think we’ve been, though time will tell, quite disciplined with our own valuation setting when we’re leading and valuations we’ll sign up for when we’re joining rounds, to keep those historical numbers in mind and not so much the recent 18 months. As a concrete example, in our returns model, which we do for investments, the set of comparables that we use for thinking about multiples, we just have not added in data from the last 18 months. We have tried to not incorporate the very recent spike and correction into our early stage discipline approach.
VN: It sounds like what you’re seeing is that life sciences and the space that you invest in were not really affected as much over the last couple of years. Am I understanding that correctly?
JR: Sorry, I must have used too many words if I left you with that impression. No, quite the opposite: if you look at a year ago, what most people will call life sciences, which is mostly therapeutics, the number of preclinical companies that went public at extraordinary valuations was unprecedented. At the peak, which was Q1 or Q2 of last year, we passed on companies that we considered too early for us, because they had insufficient proof of concept data around their science and they went public and got SPACed, some of those. So, we saw this huge discontinuity in later stage private and public markets being willing to take enormous science risk at very high valuations that we believe is not supported by historic risk evaluation trends. So, absolutely it was affected, and we tried not to let it get us all wound up. It was probably a much harder time to be a Series B investor, where you’re in the midst of all of that valuation discontinuity, whereas here we are, personally, at the very beginning of all that, watching it happen later.
VN: So, what does that mean for the companies, especially the ones that raised during that period where the valuations were really inflated? Now they’re deflating, and they’ve got to go raise their next round, it might be a down round as a result. What do you think is going to happen? Is that already happening? Are you seeing that? And what do you think that’s going to mean for them?
JR: We’re already seeing that, that’s always challenging, and it’s a tough place to be as a company, and as investors trying to support a company because you have the temptation, the draw, of taking that big valuation. That feels good, it’s good for numbers but, again, if you’re thinking about the long term success of the company, you have to take into account every stage of the capital journey, and what’s going to come next. In our own portfolio, we really tried to resist that when we saw numbers that just do not make sense to us for some of our companies, and, fortunately, we were able to partner with them to get good outcomes there. But, yes, we’re definitely seeing both public companies that are now trading way below their IPO prices in life sciences, as well as private companies that are going to have to figure out how they’re going to catch up to some of those valuations.
VN: Let’s talk about your differentiation as a firm, starting with your LPs. What’s your pitch to your limited partners when you go to them and you say, ‘I’m a life sciences firm, here’s why I’m different from every other firm that you’re looking at. Here’s why I should deploy your capital”?
JR: One of the benefits of being formed to fill a gap in the venture landscape is what we are doing is unique and that is not my word, that is what we’ve heard from our LPs pretty consistently. They’ve looked and no one is operating at this true convergence of biology and technology at the earliest stages, leading those first rounds, and bringing venture best practices including the valuation discipline you were just talking about. So, we are different. We’re different from those where life sciences firms and not a therapeutic experiment; we do no therapeutics investing. We are also different in how we do it: like I mentioned, everybody on the investing team has an advanced degree in the sciences, we also all have been operators, and so we’re really bringing a level of depth of expertise and empathy, if not wisdom, of experience to those first few steps of a startups journey. And that blend is pretty specialized in the marketplace.
So, it’s really clear LPs are excited about what’s happening in this bio century and bio revolution, they want exposure to that. Many LPS who have not invested in biotech in the past, because of the binary risk associated with therapeutics, because of the regulatory risk, find what Genoa is doing is an interesting onramp in the world of bio, because it is bio-based products. And so, they are accustomed to what it means to invest in venture backed companies that are bringing products to market and trying to scale over time. It’s a set of business models and dynamics, and, frankly, metrics and milestones, that are a little more comfortable than phase one, phase two, phase three FDA.
VN: What about your differentiation to entrepreneurs? Especially these days, the best companies have a lot of different options for where they can take capital. What’s your pitch to the founders to say, “here’s why I’m a good partner for you”?
JR: I’ll first point to that combination of science expertise and operator experience. And so, when great science-based founding teams walk into the room, they find people who relate to them, and that they can relate to, and that happens in a couple of ways. One, they start talking about their science, and they don’t have to use metaphors, they can just literally tell us what’s happening, what experiments they’ve done, what data they’ve got, and we get excited about that with them. And so, getting excited about the innovation core of these companies is something we offer and that founders appreciate. And then that operator piece where we’ve walked the road, we’ve been in their shoes, we know we’re not in their shoes; it’s very important to know that it’s not our company, it’s the management teams who are putting their lives on the line every day and are going to be living this journey. We’re there to support them. We know how hard that is and so we hopefully can provide some hard won wisdom that helps them on the journey be more successful, more efficient, but also some empathy in the travails.
VN: I’m sure that they get very excited talking to somebody who understands what they’re talking about, and then having to dumb it down.
JR: There’s often this moment where founders are pitching us and they’ve clearly done a lot of pitches by now and they’re keeping it high level because that’s what someone told them to do. And we ask some questions behind the science, and they give the answer, and we ask the next level down, and we keep double clicking, and there’s a moment when they realize, “they get it, I can tell them, I can draw it on the whiteboard,” and their shoulders relax and their eyes light up and it’s just really fun. That’s a great moment for us all.
VN: Talk about some of those companies, maybe two or three of them, that you’ve invested in and tell me what it was about those companies when they initially pitched you that made you want to invest.
JR: One is called into Intabio, it was a company that was bought now a couple of years ago by SCIEX. They are an analytical instruments company, they make instruments that people in the lab can use to accelerate their development of new drugs and they do that by more rapidly getting more information about the biology into that drug developer’s hands. It’s a recurring theme for us, we’re looking for those tools, again, that help us crack the mysteries of biology. So, that was the first thing that was appealing: a new approach to using things like microfluidics and data analysis to understand biology. We’re constantly looking for those better microscopes. The founders were really compelling; they were both, again, experienced, mid-career professionals that had worked together before. The founding CTO and innovator had been in customer-facing roles in one of the leading companies in the industry, so knew what customers needed, but also happened to be an engineer, so we knew he could innovate toward what customers needed. Then his founding CEO partner had the business development skills to really focus the company around a business model and operating plan to bring that innovation into product and get it to market with customers in a very efficient way. So, we loved the solution, we loved the clarity about the market needs, and we loved the focus of the business plan to really prove out the product market fit with pharma and biotech customers.
Another one that’s also in that more classic biomedical world of life sciences is our company InterVenn, which is applying the science of glycoproteomics to diagnostics discovery and development. We talked about tools and diagnostics, it’s still that same new technology used to understand the mysteries of biology but, in this case, translating that into the clinic and into patient care. We love the novel science component of it, where we think there’s going to be better information that’s going to lead to precision medicine. We also love the team, which brings skills from genomics, from AI/ML, from the tech world, building businesses at scale, and their ability to bring all those different pieces together to do something truly different, with a novel take on biology. They’re doing quite well, there’s a lot of visibility about them.
Then the story wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t mention something from these non-healthcare areas, so I’ll mention Meiogenix, which is a company that operates in this post-CRISPR era to accelerate the development of new crops with better traits and more efficiency. The way they’re doing that is, if CRISPR lets us edit specific spots in the genome, Meiogenix is allowing wholesale rearrangement of genomes to bring all of those edits together. So, it’s a little bit like getting to cut and paste from a bunch of different documents, rather than going into just the one and editing, so you can really put together a magnum opus in the form of a crop, with better nutrition, better growth characteristics, more attractiveness to both consumers and farmers.
VN: Let’s learn about you. Tell me a little bit about your story and your background. What was it that got you into VC? It sounds like you were an entrepreneur and working in startups, so how did you make that transition to being a venture capitalist?
JR: I’m a scientist by training, my undergraduate was in physics and software engineering, then I fell in love with genetics, my PhD is in genetics. Then I went through a process of figuring out where to apply that expertise. I moved into the business world and worked my way toward a startup in the Boston area that was developing new ways to look at the genome. That was perfect, that very early stage, 10 person, how do we get products to market? And so, that combination of business strategy, but taking into account the underlying capabilities and limitations of whatever the technology was. I loved doing that, raised over $100 million in capital for that company through both venture and non dilutive, got it to about 100 people and products on market. I wanted to do it again, and was looking for the next iteration of that and someone recommended that I consider venture capital. I didn’t know what venture was, despite having raised a fair bit of capital, so I went and talked to our investors and asked them, “what do you do every day when you’re not funding our company and sitting in our boardroom?” What really appealed to me was the opportunity to learn, through looking at hundreds and hundreds of companies, what makes a great science-based startup. Rather than learning that in serial, every five years doing a new company, try to parallelize some of that learning, almost like a case-based education in high growth, science-based startups. So, that was the real draw and then what kept me there, and since brought me back, there was some winding, was my excitement about this category of companies, which are, again, biology meets technology, and super early, not particularly well served by that more traditional life sciences based venture world.
VN: Since making that transition to being a venture capitalist, what are some of the things that you’ve learned? Let’s say that somebody was coming to you and they said, like you did, “I want to become a venture capitalist.” What’s the advice that you would give them?
JR: One surprising lesson, which cuts both ways, is that venture capital is a finance job. So, we are thrilled about the science, honored to support founders and, ultimately, our job is very simple: through all of that, it’s to, with our LP’s money, buy partial ownership in companies and ultimately sell that ownership for, hopefully, 10x more. That is our job. So, what I tell people is, if that doesn’t also interest you, find some other way. Work with startups, write about them, there are great ways to be involved, but to be a venture capitalist you have to care about that financial performance. It doesn’t mean you have to know it is going in but you have to be curious and want to learn it and want to be excellent at it, because you don’t get to keep playing this game if you don’t want to win it.
VN: What’s the part of the job that you really love the most when you go to work every day? What motivates you to be a venture capitalist?
JR: There’s three favorite moments: there’s that period when we’re meeting an extraordinary founder or founding team, and they’re explaining their underlying science and technology, and we get to really dig in and understand it, and the science just still excites me so much. Whether that’s looking at the data, reading published papers, looking at their grant applications, I just love digging into these innovations with the great minds that are driving them.
I love talking to customers, love talking to the researchers in the lab who are going to get to use this instrument and are going to learn more about their biology, the clinicians who are going to get an answer from a test and be able to deliver more patient care. That’s really exciting to me, that clarity of what problem we’re solving and for whom.
Then the last part I love more and more is the team we have at Genoa: it’s a really special group of people who are bringing their science, their curiosity, their respect for each other, and for founders, into the room. It makes for a really delightful day to day work experience and also makes me really proud in how we take our job as stewards of this ecosystem really seriously and try to bring that to every founder we interact with.
VN: Is there anything else that you want people to know about you or about Genoa or the space?
JR: You didn’t ask about the name. So, our philosophy of our role in the ecosystem is embedded in the name Genoa Ventures. The genoa is a type of sail that goes on a sailboat, a larger version of the jib and the reason for that choice in naming it Genoa, I wanted to be really clear about what I think venture’s role is in the ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship and company founding and building, which is just a clarity that it’s not our ship. We’re not the captains, we’re very excited to support the incredible adventures that are the founders and innovators on their journey, but we know it’s their ship and their journey, and we’re here to help them get there faster. It’s a little bit of extra power. The genoa is not for every sailor;, it’s a lot of power, it’s a lot of trouble to use. In most cases, you can get there just fine without it, so there’s also some humility embedded in that as well. Most companies don’t need, and shouldn’t, raise venture capital. That’s something we encourage people to really think about like, “do you want to be on the journey with VCs? Because we can be terrible.” But if it’s what you need to get where you want to go faster, and with that extra skills involved, then we’d love to be a part of the journey.
VN: That’s fascinating. You really put a lot of thought into the name, it seems like, much more than other firms that I’ve spoken to. There’s a lot of metaphors in that: the sails are your power, but you also don’t need it.
JR: I was investing a deal at a time solo, before I founded Genoa, for about four years, I could have kept on doing that; certainly, there’s a lot of benefits to that, it’s very nimble. But I really wanted to build a firm that would be bigger than me, that would address this need in the marketplace, and would be the kind of partner that these founders deserve. That definitely takes a team and takes a firm and all of the tools in the toolkit of venture. And so, in thinking about how to set that up, I wanted to make sure we picked something that would outlast me. It was bigger than, like, “I love genetics.” There’s other parts of biology I don’t know as well that my partners do, so it needed to be bigger than just what I was excited about, but really about what we’re here for.
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