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“Five things we need to do to close the VC gender gap” with Angel Investor, Marjorie Radlo-Zandi and Jason Malki

As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the VC gender gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Marjorie Radlo-Zandi, who is an experienced and active angel investor, mentor and consultant who focuses on investing and mentoring early-stage companies in life sciences, diagnostics, software/IT, clean technology, food/beverage/ag, CPG […]

As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the VC gender gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Marjorie Radlo-Zandi, who is an experienced and active angel investor, mentor and consultant who focuses on investing and mentoring early-stage companies in life sciences, diagnostics, software/IT, clean technology, food/beverage/ag, CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) and related food related technologies, with a special interest in impact investing. She invests and mentors primarily through Launchpad Ventures and Branch Venture Group, with one third of her investments going to female founders.

Launchpad Venture Group is the most active angel investment group in the Northeast and top three-ranked group in the U.S. Launchpad invests in life sciences, diagnostics, medical devices, software / IT, web and e-commerce, media and social media, and clean technology. Branch Venture Group invests nationwide in start-ups in the food/beverage/ag CPG and related technology space.

Marjorie is also a member of the Venture Mentoring Network at Northeastern University. She is a frequent and in-demand panelist and speaker on start-ups and scaling for growth.

Professionally, Marjorie has served as a senior executive and business leader in both Silicon Valley and the Biotech sector in Boston with a reputation for driving organizational growth. She has deep expertise in leveraging workforce talent for innovation, global market expansion to over 100 countries and building robust cross-cultural teams. She has extensive experience introducing new product lines and exploiting R&D capabilities, resulting in sustainable product growth and profitability as well as increased business opportunities for companies.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory”that brought you to this career path?

Entrepreneurship is in my blood. I come from a family of entrepreneurs — we are an accomplished yet independent group! At 19 years old, I established the first sailing program in my college town. From there whether in New York City, Silicon Valley or Boston, I have been responsible for expanding the growth of new technologies to be used throughout the world.

I grew the multiple-product company I led to expansion in over 100 countries using angel funds, and sold it to a 2 billion dollar player. I am paying it forward through both mentoring and capital to assist other entrepreneurs achieve their goals and bring new technologies and products to market.

I have been blessed along the way with mentors from diverse backgrounds, whether at University or at technology companies. As a woman in a male-dominated field, I did experience some sexism early in my career. Fortunately, when I reached out to senior members of 2 organizations when this occurred, these extraordinary individuals both cleared my path and mentored me. I’m grateful to each and every one of them. I’ve been a competitive swimmer since age five, and I continue to swim every day. It helps balance me, and keeps me in shape as well!

Can you share a story of your most successful Angel or VC investment? In your opinion, what was its main lesson?

I have many successful angel investments in a range of sectors. The one I wish to highlight is Torigen Pharmaceuticals (www.torigen.com), a startup in the companion animal immuno- oncology space, a very attractive and lucrative space due to the ever importance and growth of personalized medicine. I initially invested in this company with both my head and heart while my standard poodle Sabrina developed cancer, (too late for Torigen’s treatments). If I had known about this company earlier, she would very likely be alive today. Torigen uses an animal’s own tumor cells to create a personalized immunotherapy. It’s highly effective, kind to the animals, easy to administer and at a fraction of the cost of chemotherapy and radiation. Torigen was also named the 2018 Animal Health Innovation at the Kansas City Animal Health Investment Forum. In fact its founder and CEO, Ashley Kalinaukas, has been honored as the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year in the Scalable Venture Category by CT Entrepreneur Awards. The main lesson about this investment is the absolute importance of not only the product, market, advisors, plan and potential exit but the coachability of the Founder/CEO. Ashley is outstanding in this area and her company Torigen “checks the boxes” in other areas.

Can you share a story of an Angel or VC funding “failure” of yours? Is there a lesson or take away that you took out of that that our readers can learn from?

Very early on in angel investing I invested in a start up with a terrific plan and SaaS platform, market, stellar advisory board, and team with a non coachable CEO/Founder who was related to one of the key board members. The CEO/Founder’s challenge was his inability to take advice. He thought he knew better. It was good lesson in the huge importance of coachability and leadership in a CEO/Founder: in the end it’s about the people and leadership regardless of whether they have the best product/service/plans/markets. Eventually, although quite promising, this venture did not succeed.

Was there a company that you turned down, but now regret? Can you share the story? What lesson did you learn from that?

Yes, I neglected to invest in a very successful company in the clean tech space with an early on patent challenge from a less than stellar other company which was later successfully resolved by the company. Lesson learned, is to really dig deep into a potential challenge (in this case a patent challenge), to see whether it really is a game changer.

Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this article in Fortune, only 2.2% of VC dollars went to women in 2018. Can you share with our readers what your firm is doing to help close the VC gender gap?

As an experienced and active angel investor through Launchpad Ventures and Branch Venture Group, one third of my investments go to female founders. From my perspective in my role as a member investor, these are the 5 things angels, VCs and others in the investment community should consider to close the angel/VC gender gap:

  1. Angel investment groups need to continue to intentionally recruit more qualified women to be angel investors. There are women who have financial power yet may not be familiar with angel investing and the opportunities to fund women-led endeavors. In both the groups that I am part of we are encouraged to bring other potential qualified members to the group, many of whom are women.
  2. Angel investment groups should consider diversifying their investor pool by sex, ethnic and geographical background. It is often easier for female founders to present to investors when female investors are present in the audience; the maxim “seeing someone who looks like me” is true for women seeking angel and venture funding. This happens in both of the angel investment groups of which I am part.
  3. Investor groups should make it easy to identify the companies they’ve funded, and consider pointing to diversity in investing as part of their mission. These groups should consider encouraging women entrepreneurs seeking deals to conduct due diligence to determine the number of women-led enterprises the investment group has funded.
  4. Women entrepreneurs should include pitching to investor groups that specialize in women-led investments. Investor groups that specialize in women-led investments should actively continue to encourage women entrepreneurs to pitch to them.
  5. The angel community needs to continue to actively mentor female investors to ensure their success and longevity. Both groups I am part of actively mentor female investors and connect them to others in their extensive network.

Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the VC gender gap.

  1. There are angel and VC companies and teams that prioritize diversity for its return on investment, and therefore see diversity as part of their investment strategy. This success should be considered to be made public.
  2. The industry should encourage women to intentionally publicize their success through mainstream media, online and social. This will lead to more women role models. We have seen examples recently, such as EZ Cater, Zola, Rent The Runway, and Away.
  3. Media could highlight as in this story, success stories of both entrepreneurs, and the rise in women venture capitalists, angel investors and their respective networks.
  4. Encourage university programs such as the Women Who Empower global conference, for which I was a panel member. Sponsored by Northestern University, its goals were to advance women in leadership, entrepreneurship and policy.
  5. Start early, even in the primary grades, to have successful women and diverse role models present at schools.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Bring the capital, expertise and inspiration of entrepreneurship to all communities and countries, especially those that are challenged with chronic poverty and conflict. Also, encourage investors to look at companies with a large social impact that also deliver a sound investment (double/triple bottom line). One of my investments has done just that: CEO Wafaa Arbush of Workaround Online (www.workaround.online), gives refugees worldwide an opportunity to earn money by using their skills in data annotation and other data functions. All they need is a laptop!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Maya Angelou 
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Whether building a business or leading an organization or in one’s personal life, this is the key to building and sustaining relationships that lead to fulfillment, whether business or personal. Trust is the backbone of any relationship both on an intellectual and emotional level. Make sure that at the end of any conversation everyone feels positive. This is key and relevant, here in the U.S. and around the world. The cautionary tale is true that one takes years and often decades to build relationships, yet these relationships can be broken in moments if one does not take care.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Sir Richard Branson

Amazing entrepreneur and founder of Virgin Atlantic Records, to the extensive amount of companies he has founded or invested in. I’m inspired by his incredible vision and creativity, his positivity, love for nature and his humility, especially given his extraordinary success!

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