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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.

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Building Houston

 
 

Here's what companies are in the latest cohort for gBETA. Photo courtesy of gBETA

An early-stage accelerator has picked its latest cohort of five Houston companies.

The Fall 2020 cohort of gBETA Houston includes:

  • AllIDoIsCook is founded by Tobi Smith and focused on exposing the world to Africa's cuisine by manufacturing gourmet food products delivered directly to customer doors and available at grocers. Since launching, AllIDoIsCook has built out a manufacturing facility, shipped over 8,000 boxes and generated $1.1 million in revenue all without outside funding.
  • Chasing Watts makes it easy for cyclists to coordinate or find rides with fellow riders in their area with its web-based and native application. The company has over 3,000 users and grew 135 percent from Q2 to Q3 in new ride views.
  • DanceKard, founded by Erica Sinner, is a new dating platform that connects individuals and groups with one another by bringing the date to the forefront of the conversation and making scheduling faster and easier with special promotions featuring local establishments. Since launching in August of 2021, DanceKard has over 170 users on the platform.
  • Dollarito is a digital lending platform that helps the low-income Hispanic population with no credit history or low FICO score access fair credit. Founded by Carmen Roman, Dollarito applies AI into banking, transactional and behavioral data to evaluate the repayment capability more accurately than using FICO scores. The company has1,000 users on their waitlist and plans to beta test with 100 or more customers in early 2022.
  • SeekerPitch, founded by Samantha Hepler, operates with the idea that jobseekers' past job titles and resumes are not always indicative of their true capabilities. Launched last month, SeekerPitch empowers companies to see who jobseekers are as people, and get to know them through comprehensive profiles and virtual speed interviews, and the company already has 215 jobseekers and 20 companies on the platform, with one pilot at University of Houston and three more in the pipeline.

The companies kicked off their cohort in person on October 18, and the program concludes on December 14 with the gBETA Houston Fall 2021 Pitch Night. At this event, each company will present their five-minute pitch to an audience of mentors, investors, and community members.

"The five founding teams selected for our gBETA Houston Fall 2021 cohort are tackling unique problems they have each experienced personally, from finding access to cultural foods, fitness communities and authentic dating experiences to challenges with non-inclusive financing and hiring practices," says Kate Evinger, director of gBETA Houston, in the release. "The grit and passion these individuals bring to their roles as founders will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact in the Houston community and beyond."

The accelerator has supported 15 Houston startups since it launched in Houston in early 2020. The program, which is free and hosted out of the Downtown Launchpad, is under the umbrella of Madison, Wisconsin-based international accelerator, gener8tor.

"Downtown Launchpad is an innovation hub like no other, and I am so proud of what it is already and what it will become," says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston Inc., in the release. "The five startups selected for the gBETA Houston Fall 2021 cohort are exploring new challenges that can become high-impact Houston businesses."

gBETA announced its plan to launch in Houston in September 2019. The program's inaugural cohort premiered in May and conducted the first program this summer completely virtually. The second cohort took place last fall, and the third ran earlier this year.

"These founders are building their companies and benefiting from the resources Downtown Launchpad provides," Pieroni continues, "and the proof is in the data – companies in these programs are creating jobs, growing their revenues and exponentially increasing their funding, which means these small starts up of today, working in Downtown Launchpad, are growing into the successful companies of tomorrow."

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