Why am I a VC?

Last March, Whitney Johnson and I were dining on exquisite sushi in Boston celebrating the upcoming launch of her powerful book, Dare, Dream, Do.  We also discussed the lack of women in Venture Capital (VC) because I had never noticed I was the only female partner in mine! While this subject is a blog post I been asked to, but not yet written, two things happened today, 1 in Cleveland, 1 in California, that made me write this from Maine:

  1. Neuros Medical, a company my VC firm, Glengary, invested in at its very early stage, closed a second round of $3.5M led by Glengary and Boston Scientific.
  2. My friend, Adrian Ott, responded to my tweet about Neuros thanking me for supporting neuro-medicine.

So what’s the big deal (no pun intended)?  I felt overwhelmingly privileged and honored to be able to invest in a company like Neuros Medical!  Wow! I have the ability, albeit insignificant, to make a powerful difference in someone’s life – to give a quality of life he or she didn’t have or dream of having (ah! Back to Whitney’s book!). 

Neuros’s device is designed to reduce amputees’ pain when a neuroma (a bundle of the cut nerve endings that form a ‘tumor’) develops at the end of the amputated limb continually firing intense pain signals to the brain (not phantom limb pain).  This is usually treated with narcotics – obviously not a great option that also isn’t very effective.  In clinical trials, Neuros’ device greatly relieved, even eliminated, pain beyond our expectations, allowing people regain their lives.  It’s not every VC whose deals bring tears of joy and amazement to their eyes.  

Another one of our investments, Cleveland HeartLab, was at TEDMed 2012 demonstrating their blood marker test for MPO (Myeloperoxidase) that predicts the odds of a cardio event based on atherosclerotic plaque.  Talk about having an impact – this test has tremendous implications for improving and saving lives.

For me, being a VC is not just about profits and money, it’s about purpose and meaning.  In my own small way, with the help of so many others (my partners, our investments, the ‘network’ that supports all this), I can improve, even save, lives and the families around them. 

If that doesn’t get someone jazzed, I don’t know what will.


Side Note: Neuros Medical and Cleveland Heartlab’s successes are two of many successful and impacting startups in Northeast Ohio and Cleveland.  The city of 19th & 20th century startups – from oil to steel to automotive to polymers to coatings is undergoing a renaissance on many levels and let me tell you, it’s one exciting place to be a VC – there is no shortage of quality deal flow and the excitement is palpable – economically, socially, culturally, recreationally, you name it.

Medical Innovation in the Corn Fields of Ohio

In rural Birmingham, OH, about 40 miles west of Cleveland, one of the world’s leaders in meat processing and food service is innovating in unexpected ways.  Bettcher Industries, founded in 1944 with $800 in a small machine shop in the Cleveland meat district, is innovating in very non-traditional markets and making an impact.

Bettcher’s history of growth lies in understanding and leveraging customers’ needs.  In the 1940’s, when meat companies didn’t have the money to buy new equipment because of the war their old machines were kept running by Louis Bettcher who made parts that couldn’t be replaced. Louis knew repairing these machines was temporary; the meat companies needed entirely new types of machines and systems, so he invented them!  Over time, Bettcher expanded the types of meat to be processed and added foodservice equipment.  Several of itsinventions have won global awards.  In addition to making meat processing more efficient, productive and safe, Bettcher ergonomically designed its equipment to minimize its customers’ employee injury and strain.  For Bettcher, a second generation family business, it’s customers’ employees are an extension of it’s own family of employees.  The strong family, compassionate culture, is palpable when you walk through Bettcher’s halls.

Even though Bettcher has successfully grown globally, it hasn’t rested on its laurels.  Bettcher has explored other markets to leverage their core competency in automating cutting operations and processes.   They realized their expertise and equipment was well suited for the medical industry.  For instance, the process to increase burn and wound healing includes removing the dead or decaying flesh in a way that leaves a smooth, evenly thick surface for grafts and healing.  Bettcher’s equipment dramatically improves the efficiency, quality and safety of these procedures over existing medical tools.  With Bettcher’s tools, the physician’s procedure time is reduced by 80%, which also reduces risk of infection and cost.  The design of the tools reduces the number of parts to be sterilized, reducing risk of cross-contamination and cost.   The tools also improve the quality of tissue and bone grafts.   And, given Bettcher’s emphasis on ergonomics, the design, material and efficiency of the tools reduces user injury. For the patient, the benefits are iterative since these procedures are repeated frequently:  shorter and easier procedures with less risk of infection, and hopefully less pain.

To commercialize the product line, Bettcher is collaborating with Community Tissue Services in Dayton, OH for additional testing and evaluation. Because of Bettcher’s collaborative culture, unique technology and job creation potential, they were granted $1MM by the Ohio Third Frontier to commercialize this new product line.  Who knew that in the farmland of Northeast Ohio, in an area dominated by corn and soy, tremendous advances in healing were being made?  You just may be surprised!

Innovation Relies on Hope

Friday, April 15th, was an amazing day for Cleveland, Ohio: the 2nd annual TEDxCLE.  Let’s put this in perspective. The theme was “Guardians of the Evolution: We are the guardians of Cleveland’s future; We are responsible for its evolution; Success is only possible through collaboration.”

The logo was based on the Hope Memorial Bridge’s “Guardians of Traffic” powerful historic sculptures. The metaphor of the Hope Bridge AND Guardians is real and happening now. Let me recap some of my favorites because they highlight the necessity of Hope for Innovation for any community and organization.

The theme was set with Ari Maron, driver of East 4th Street project, on the wonderful future for urban Cleveland. He is one of those that has great dreams and visions for Cleveland AND actually does something about them.

His challenge? The people in the community make a world-class city happen; put your ego aside and go for it. Since Ari has done what he advices, his words are powerfully real and hopeful.

One of my favorite talks was by Matt Hlavin of Thogus, ‘not your father’s injection molding company’, on the New Industrial Revolution.  He’s changed the rules of the game…they are an engineering company that also manufactures, and with some cool (very) rapid prototyping equipment for polymers and metal. As Matt said, “It’s no longer about mass production, it’s about mass customization.”

He wants the next generation to think manufacturing is cool, so he invests in coops and interns, providing housing (all they need is gas and food money). Taking care of his people--giving them the tools, training, and support to succeed--is critical.

One of the many benefits includes innovative health and wellness programs for employees and their families. For Matt, success is the day one of his employees tells him they’re leaving to start a company because of what they learned at Thogus. This ‘little manufacturing’ company in Avon Lake, OH, is so leading edge that internationally renown author Steve Denning cited Thogus in his recent book, Radical Management as leading the way in innovating management.

Next was a series of national to local talks on building community through historic preservation. The panelists (Hannah Belsito,Rhonda SincavageJeff Siegler, and Thomas Starinsky) talked about the connectedness that history provides to community. A Knight Foundation study, The Soul of the Community, stated that aesthetics, openness, social offerings play a greater role in selection of community than just safety.

Historic preservation is an economic driver – it brings in people, art, nature, culture and business. It manifests itself emotionally – in the intangible, which is not easily measured. This is a great example of the difference between 20th century outputs and 21stcentury outcomes. While new businesses are a very important output, the outcome is a thriving community – a virtuous cycle of passionate people that collaborate to make a stronger community.

The Cleveland Art Museum’s new director, Dr. David Franklin, gave a magnificent talk about why museums still matter (not that he had to convince many of us in the audience). He started with a photo of a 5,000 year old sculpture, The Star Gazer, and then brought out this little 5” tall figure – right in his hand. Next, he brought out a 6,000 year old statue of a little woman.  11,000 years of history on stage.

Museums matter because they engage, they tell stories of the past, present and future. Museums provide a ‘place’ for people to engage with art, art with art, to reflect and ponder and see true authenticity – in real life, not virtually. Think about it – in a museum, it’s so easy to strike up a conversation with a total stranger about a piece of art.

Museums inherently connect us – to each other, to the past, present and future and create a sense of joy and wonder. David concluded his talk with, “We’ll be waiting for you; we’re in Cleveland, and we’re free.” And oh, by the way, in 2015, the museum will display ALL of Monet’s Water Lilies – all in one place – talk about utopia!

There were many other great talks, as you can see (and soon watch) on the TEDxCLE site. I don’t know if my friends, Hallie Bramand Eric Kogelschatz, realized the amazing connection between the Guardian statues as a metaphor for re-innovating Cleveland and the Hope in the Hope Memorial Bridge (even though it’s named after Bob Hope).

If it was deliberate or serendipitous, it doesn’t matter – it is the perfect metaphor for Cleveland…and for your city, your business, and your community. Hope looks to the future, rooted in facts, not fantasy, based on experience, learning and application.

So please take a few minutes to share your hopes are for your business, organization, community in the comments below. Think about the talents and treasures around you - I'd bet your hope is based on some real evidence...go for it. The more we share, the more Hope, the more we can make a difference and impact!