I met Itxaso after she delivered a fantastic workshop for The New Entrepreneurs Foundation on entrepreneurial finance and raising investment. As a fellow breakfast enthusiast we met again for the interview at Granger & Co (amazing!). Itxaso must have the most envy inducing network after her PHD in Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital transported her to the start-up hubs across Europe and America. She founded her own startup Founders Fit and subsequently traversed into venture capital whilst keeping her foot in academia as a teaching fellow at UCL. She is currently investing in high growth media and consumer companies at Lepe Partners. Read on to find out how to literally do it all!
Current Job Investment Director at Lepe Partners
Education Chemical Engineer and PhD in Entrepreneurship.
First Job I worked at DaimlerChrysler in Berlin as an engineer just after uni. It was boring!
Go to meeting spot Breakfast is always best! Lantana for an informal meeting and The Wolseley for a more formal breakfast.
Necessary extravagance Comfortable heels! Cole Haan are great.
How do you switch off Working out. Anything from running, spinning, yoga.
Favourite place in London Barry’s Bootcamp at 6am!
Female inspiration in business Ana Patricia Botin, Executive Chairman of Santander.
Top networking tip Following up with people and mention something that they might be interested in.
After a brief stint at Chrysler you returned to academia, embarking on a PHD in entrepreneurship and venture capital, involving research stints at Berkeley, ESADE and Harvard. What was the premise of your PHD and what were some high level take-aways?
I studied entrepreneurial ecosystems and how the stakeholders within those ecosystem interact with each other and the elasticity of networks traversing from local to global. Specifically I analysed how the VC industry affects and determines how this ecosystem works and how government interaction affects the different cycles of technology.
At a high level non-entrepreneurial ecosystems have higher government involvement than in the more entrepreneurial ones and government actions have a much higher impact when they reduce barriers and create incentives instead of taking the place of private entities by investing directly.
Following your PHD you became a visiting scholar at Berkeley - researching global networks of clusters of innovation. Can you elaborate on the significance of these innovation patterns and what more could the UK do to accelerate innovation?
The UK has done really well in supporting innovation and accelerating and helping start-ups. They have not taken direct action but facilitated it. For example, SEIS has done a phenomenal job of increasing the quantum invested in early stage startups. Furthermore the UK made a significant effort in marketing across Europe generating hype and awareness, particularly for London, as a destination for startups and technology. This subsequently has attracted fantastic talent here. Innovation could further be accelerated by continuing to address talent and welcoming individuals from across the globe with well thought out visas. I also think there is an investment gap post seed/series A - and if the government could undertake action to facilitate investment at this round that would be great.
Despite traversing into venture capital you still have a foot in academia - as a teaching fellow in entrepreneurship finance at UCL. What is your top financial tip for current and aspiring entrepreneurs?
My tip for entrepreneurs is to seek investment from the right investors. There is a lot of money out there but very few right investors for each business. Entrepreneurs, particularly first time & early stage, require a lot of support and will benefit immensely from investors with the right mindset, connections and industry knowledge. I encourage my students to have the confidence to reject money if the offer doesn't substantiate the aforementioned.
Startups and Venture Capital
You launched your own startup, Founders Fit, after curating what must be one of the most envy inducing global networks during your time at university entrepreneurship hubs. What was the premise behind it and the biggest challenge you faced?
When I was working at Imperial College they mixed students from the Royal College of Arts, the research labs and business departments to work on new start-ups together. These predetermined teams never worked and the individuals had very different mindsets. I learnt the importance of alignment of goals and strategy in a team in order to build something meaningful.
I quit Imperial after two years and subsequently founded Founders Fit. Founders Fit aimed to help entrepreneurs find co-founders. Entrepreneurs would be matched online based on their skills and personality, and potential co-founders would get to know each other in the off-line Founders Meetups and Founders Workit. There was voracious demand however, I found it hard to monetise!
In 2013 you were selected to join the elite, highly sought Kauffman Fellowship. Tell us more about the program and what you gained from it?
The Kauffman Fellowship is a highly sought-after two-year program dedicated exclusively to the world of innovation investing. The program connects you with the best investors in Silicon Valley and around the world, with the aim of building the next generation of investors and giving them the tools both in content and network. The Fellowship selects around 30 individuals and over the two years the Fellows receive professional training in Palo Alto, including talks from the likes of Greylock/Benchmark, whilst working full time in an investment organisation. The Program was amazing and it gave me a different attitude in the VC space. Since graduating I have co-invested with Fellows in San Francisco, connect my portfolio companies to investors in China and Singapore and regularly meet up with Fellows as they pass through London!
You are now at Lepe Partners. Can you tell us more about Lepe and your investment thesis?
Lepe Capital is an only ever co-investment fund focused on the media, internet and consumer sectors. We invest in growth stage businesses and are looking to back founders with companies in industries that we can add value through our network. This year (2015) we invested in CreativeLive (an online education platform for creative skills), Paddle8 (online auction house) and Masabi (mobile ticketing for transport). We have co-invested with fantastic partners including MMC, Greylock, Google Ventures, Atomico and Mastercard.
What tech trends excite you right now?
- Health - There is a lot happening in health right now with particular momentum in consumer health and awareness. This has resulted in a lot of companies that are tracking data and using it to prevent deceases and in general to help people manage their health.
- Fintech - Blockchain is attracting a lot of attention, on a broad sense as a way to optimise transactions. Banks are also getting active as investors as they recognise the need to innovate and provide better services to consumers.
- Media - There is a lot happening on video, content marketing, messaging, and online solutions targeting millennials. Big players in media and publishing houses are actively engaging with innovation. The google fund focused on media is a good example of that.
What investment opportunity did you turn down that you regret?
I don’t have the feeling of having missed an opportunity… I am confident about the companies that I turned down. I did not have the chance to see some good investment opportunities, but this is probably not the same as turning down a good deal. Now at Lepe I am about to invest in a Series B of a company that I passed on the Series A (while I was at EC1 Capital), which I am very excited about.
What are your future ambitions?
At Lepe I would like to raise a bigger fund as we have great deal flow so I would like to be able to monetise these opportunities. Personally, I am passionate about health and I would like to get involved in more health-tech companies that will help people to be healthier and happier.
Women in Tech
What is your opinion on impact investing? Would more female investors result in more of it?
I am a great believer that technology and information can change the world and improve the lives of many people. There are ways to do that by creating attractive, financially sustainable business models. I think impact investing attracts both male and female investors who are equally seeking impact and financial return. I think impact investing will attract more money if entrepreneurs are able to design suitable business models.
What is your opinion on the women in technology debate?
I am very positive about it! The number of women in tech is growing all the time. I think technology is one of the spheres where men welcome women in management roles. Women are the decision makers at home when it comes to kids and grandparents health, shopping, activities...who better to design and manage consumer tech companies than women, given we know our target market!
What advice do you have for women looking to start their own business or enter the investing landscape?
I will probably say the same to a man who wants to start a company...
- Start a company in an industry you know well
- Be focused
- Hire the best talent
- Get the best investors on board
- And just make it happen