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TMC Venture Fund director shares how the organization is growing its global presence

Juliana Garaizar has worked around the world. Now she's taking her international expertise and using it for global initiatives within the Texas Medical Center. Courtesy of TMC

In November, when the Texas Medical Center launched its venture fund closely tied to its accelerator program, they were betting on the ecosystem — and the organization itself.

TMCx was seeing a lot of achievement from its cohorts, TMC Venture Fund Director Juliana Garaizar says, and it was time to expand on the impact they were making in life science innovation.

"While we thought we had so many success stories, we felt like we weren't really taking advantage of them," she says. "So, we bet on the ecosystem and started the fund. It was the next logical step into the creation of value after the program."

The $25 million nonprofit fund is all TMC money, and the fund plans to invest around $2 million a year. All the investments made are to companies that have a tie to TMC — through the accelerator program or a shared workspace, for instance. Funding grants range between $250,000 to $500,000, and can go up to $1 million in a deal, Garaizar says. Ten companies have received investments, with five more soon to be announced.

"I see us like a corporate venture fund that invests not only in companies that have a good ROI but also that can bring value to the TMC as a whole," Garaizar says.

Garaizar knows quite a bit about investing. Born in Spain near the French border, she's worked in finance around the world from Singapore to London before settling in Houston. Prior to TMC, was the managing director at the Houston Angel Network. Now, she's using her international investment know how to help grow TMC's global presence.

InnovationMap: How has your international background helped you here in Houston?

Juliana Garaizar: I think TMC wants to be positioned as a strong competitor to the East and West Coasts as a point of entry for companies coming to the United States, but also for technology and commercializations from hospitals. The fact that I'm already very connected to other countries — not only from the funding side but also from the research side, is really helpful.

IM: You are also connected with international consular representatives — how is that an asset to TMC?

JG: Houston has the third-most number of consular representatives in the U.S., which makes it easier for the TMC to connect with other countries because a lot of the consulate entities are here. And that's a big reasons the biobridges initiatives was created. We were receiving a lot of interest from these entities.

IM: Tell me about your involvement with TMC's Biobridge program.

JG: It's an international partnership between the TMC and different countries. They've already started with the UK and with Australia. The collaboration focuses on joint research and there's the commercialization part and the funding part — I'm mainly taking care of the funding part. We want to try to not only have the joint research and commercialization, but that those efforts get funded — not only from our side but also from the other country's side. We really believe that the biobridges can be a perfect source for deal flow for our funds. As you can see in your interview with Lance [Black], we have more and more international companies in our TMCx cohort. We believe we are positioned in the perfect way to become the point of entry of many excellent life sciences companies all over the world.

IM: How does Houston's VC ecosystem compare to some of the places you've worked in?

JG: London was very accepting of differences and open to any kind of innovation coming from all over the world. It's very easy for them to invest in deals coming from early stage and other countries. That's a little different from the U.S. One of the differences I saw coming from the early stage investment in Europe, we are pretty used to cross-border investing because our countries are pretty small. If we only had deals coming from our countries, we wouldn't get very far. So, we were very used to dealing with different tax rules, contracts, and navigating all that. One of the things you hear from U.S. investors is that they want the company they want to invest in to have a presence here. That's just not the case in Europe.

Another one of the things I also noticed was there is less money as a whole in Europe. As an entrepreneur, you really needed to learn to work together. The European Union and the French government, for instance, would only give funding if you had put a project together with partners from different countries, has private-public partnerships, and an educational institute — otherwise you wouldn't get the money from the government. That's not required here in the U.S. because there's more capital here. I can feel sometimes we are not as forced to collaborate here, and in some ways I see a lot of initiatives that are kind of reinventing the wheel. Sometimes I think if we put more resources and if we were more aware of what was going on in the ecosystem, we could get more synergy and collaboration together.

IM: How is TMC's fund different from others in Houston?

JG: From the acceleration side of things, TMCx is different from most in that we don't take any equity. A lot of companies that are not in a typical accelerator stage and have raised a couple rounds of funding even decide to come to TMCx because of this reason and because there's a lot of opportunities from the program including connections. That's our competitive advantage, to have these companies that are more advanced.

IM: What are some of your goals for the fund?

JG: Short term, I've been focusing on securing a lot of deal flow sources. I wanted to make sure I could bring my network in.

In the long term, we would like to raise a bigger fun, around $100 million fund. We would need to make sure we have our deal flow ready for that, and a big part of that would be international deal flow.

Maybe, we've discussed this, but in the shorter term, before raising that $100 million fund we might take some of the offers that some people have put on the table to create a sidecar fund. It would be another structure that would follow our fund, as a sort of index or passive instrument that people can use to invest alongside us.

IM: How does the industry get more women into venture capital roles?

JG: We need to take matters into our own hands as women. Often, people say there's not enough women in venture funding because there's a pipeline problem, which comes from education in STEM. I think that's an excuse. A lot of VCs hire their friends and people they know. I really believe that women need to harness their financial power and start investing in things they consider important to them. I became a lot more vocal in what I wanted to see and I started investing myself. At the end of the day, women make 80 percent of the purchasing decisions, so we might as well be deciding what's in the market if we're the ones buying it.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

Tom Luby will run the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Institute. Courtesy of TMC

Tom Luby is in his first week as TMC Innovation Institute director, but it's safe to say he's hit the ground running. The former head of JLABS @ TMC is ready to continue the growth of the institute as well as open up new doors to funding and the rest of the world.

"My hope is that I can be helpful to all the parties here to continue to recruit and grow great startups here," Luby says. "Critically important, too, is additional funding and bringing that here. And all of us are working together toward the successful launch of TMC3."

Luby spoke with InnovationMap about what all he has on his plate and how he plans on making Houston known for its life sciences.

InnovationMap: After working for Johnson & Johnson in Boston, when did you relocate Houston?

Tom Luby: In 2017, when the opportunity came up that I can join the team in Houston and grow our JLABS at TMC, I jumped at the chance, moved my family down to Houston, and have loved it ever since. I've loved the life science startup community here — it's small, but growing quickly — and what it has to offer to our family in terms of the diversity, the friendliness of people, the ease of getting to know people, and, obviously, the weather. When you come from the northeast, the Houston weather is nice.

IM: Boston has this major life science innovation reputation. How do we get Houston to have that same reputation?

TL: It's not very fair to compare Boston and Houston. The Boston life science community is around 40 years in the making. There's been a focus on that for a very long time, and as a result of all the startup activity through the '80s, '90s and into the 2000s, Boston has seen an influx of almost all the major pharmaceutical and biotech companies. All of them have footprints there because they want to be close to the startups. So, that mix of startup activity being embedded with lots of corporates has created a bit of a yin and yang situation — corporates are looking to pull the products from the startups into their pipelines and the startups have pulled talent from the corporates.

Houston's in a different place than that. If you roll the Boston tape back lets say 20 years where Boston was focused on generating a place where life science startups could have a chance to develop and be successful, that's where Houston is. We've gotten to a point where we're starting to see a really good density. Over the past four years, over 250 companies have touched down here at some point. That type of density is needed then to do that second part and recruit some of the larger health care corporations.

IM: Coming from J&J, what expertise do you feel like you are bringing to the table?

TL: What I hope to be helpful with is providing an overall strategic vision around TMC Innovation that allows us to scale from what's already been done here. Like I just mentioned, there have been 250 companies that have been here at some point in the past four years. That doesn't happen without the great efforts of those that came before me — the TMCx team in particular, but the JLABS team, the Biodesign team down the hall have created a really interesting and rapidly growing place for health care startups.

IM: What are some of your goals for the TMC Innovation Institute?

TL: In the short term, what we're going to focus on making sure that when people show up to the TMC Innovation Institute, they have a great experience, whether they are engaged with TMCx, biodesign, JLABS, etc. So, it's important for us to be well coordinated, working cooperatively together, and everyone focused on being service first when it comes to the startups here. What we hope to create is an environment where startups come and have an experience that leaves them knowing that that experience gives them the best chance at being successful. In addition, as we begin to engage with partners who can provide venture capital and angel funds, it's the same thing, that they come here and have an efficient, coordinated experience.

So short term, it's pulling it all together so that when you think of TMC Innovation, you know what it is, how it's organized and what our mission is. We'll also be making additional efforts to engage with the member institutions in TMC, and that they understand that we're a resource to them.

IM: The current TMCx cohort is the most international to date. Between that and the new focus on TMC's biobridges, why is a global presence so important to TMC Innovation?

TL: Biobridges are about making sure that important geographies outside the US understand that the TMC is a place where their startups can come and be successful.

It's important for TMC to use the bridge to gain insight and access into specific areas that we feel that those countries have core strengths in. Australia and its clinical trials networks is a great example of that. Our companies having access to tap into that is incredibly important. We know that those bio bridges will benefit our startups and give the startups there a chance to have access to us.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.