The Top 25: #2 Lisa Suennen, Risa Stack, Jonathan Pulitzer, GE Ventures
New York-listed industrial conglomerate General Electric promoted Sue Siegel, CEO of its corporate venturing unit GE Ventures, to chief innovation officer (CIO) towards the end of last year.
As CIO, Siegel, who ranked fifth in last year’s Global Corporate Venturing Powerlist awards, will retain responsibility for GE Ventures, which is comprised of equity investing, licensing and new business creation, but will now have overall responsibility for developing and accelerating GE’s long-term innovation strategy.
In January last year, Siegel, co-chairman of the Global Corporate Venturing & Innovation Summit, told attendees “the time is now” for the industry to collaborate with entrepreneurs. It is a statement that GE Ventures has tried to live up to as an industry leader, viewed increasingly by other groups as a model of best practice, according to her GCV Powerlist 2017 profile.
It is one her former CEO, Jeff Immelt, effectively agreed with at the end of November at Healthegy’s annual Digital Healthcare Innovation Summit when he said of CVC: “I would say most of us have stunk at it, really for a long time. We have been company killers.
“She [Siegel] really trained us on how bad we were.”
And part of the solution was in having a leadership team that comes from the venture capital world and knows how to work with startups, Immelt added.
GE Ventures’ five main units are equity investing, which invests in and partners startups, GE Licensing, New Business Creation, Healthymagination and Catalyst, its new early-market development discipline. Under Siegel, GE Ventures has become the primary unit backing earlier-stage entrepreneurs, and she nominated a few from her team.
Risa Stack, GE
Sue Siegel, chief innovation officer at General Electric and CEO of its corporate venture capital (CVC) unit GE Ventures (GEV), said: “She [Stack] is pretty awesome and started our New Business Creation practice at GEV. From a corporate innovation perspective, it shows the expansion of the CVC platform.
“She and her team have started seven companies, plus she has made her own investments and already had quite a successful exit in the short period between 2013 and now.”
Her startups include Menlo Microsystems, Avitas Systems, Evidation Health, Virtruvian Networks and Current Powered by GE and its most recent creation was Drawbridge Health, which is looking for a better way to draw blood without the associated pain and anxiety and also to chemically stabilise it for transport and so eliminate the need for refrigeration.
GE Ventures has been incubating Drawbridge for two years, which is about to begin clinical studies.
Just before Drawbridge’s launch, Stack’s earlier creation, Vineti raised $13.75m in its series A round in June from GE Ventures, Mayo Clinic Ventures and new investors, DFJ and LifeForce Capital.
Vineti provides cloud-based software for cell and gene therapy and was started after GE Healthcare’s pharmaceutical customer requests to bridge the technology gap between individualised cell therapies and production capabilities.
At the time of the A round, Stack, a board member of Vineti, said: “There’s a serious discrepancy between the accelerated development of life-saving cancer therapies and the supporting technologies required to deliver these treatments.
“Vineti’s dream team of leading industry pioneers and software engineers have formed the first company to align innovation in research with innovation in how next-generation therapies are produced and delivered, putting them on equal ground for the first time.”
Stack joined GE Ventures from venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) where she was a partner for 10 years, incubated several companies and was the founding CEO of two. Prior to KPCB, she was a principal at JP Morgan Partners.
Before joining the venture capital industry, Stack worked as a derivative specialist on the Chicago Board of Trade, where she traded futures and options on government securities.
She is a member of the steering committee for the Coalition for 21st Century Medicine and on the advisory board of the Personalized Medicine Conference as she holds a degree in genetics and development with distinction from University of Illinois, a PhD in immunology from University of Chicago, and was a member of the second class of Kauffman Fellows.
As Stack said of her career development in an interview with Nasdaq stock exchange last month: “When I was in graduate school working on my PhD in cell biology, I was also running a trading desk on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade. I enjoyed both and wanted to find a career that combined my love of science and my appetite to take risk. I learned about venture capitalists from reading the book, The Billion-Dollar Molecule: The Quest for the Perfect Drug, which is the story of the founding of Vertex, a public biotech company. I fell in love with the idea of translating scientific discoveries into businesses. A year later, I applied for the Kauffman Fellowship and matched with a private equity firm – JP Morgan Partners – where I helped build a venture capital practice.”
As Siegel concluded: “She’s a model for CVC and its important role in creating value for corporates in ways beyond corporate R&D or M&A.”
Lisa Suennen, GE
Lisa Suennen has led the healthcare investing team at GE Ventures since joining in December 2016 having been a managing member of Psilos Group, a venture capital and growth equity firm focused on healthcare, from 1998 to 2014, and after nine years as a healthcare entrepreneur.
This experience and expertise, combined with her original dream of being a journalist, have come together in a blog called Venture Valkyrie where Suennen said: “I write about entrepreneurship and investing and healthcare and diversity and I pour a lot of my creative energy into that, along with a podcast, Tech Tonics, where I interview leaders at the intersection of technology and health.”
As well as having another book in planning stages, she has also started a non-profit called CSweetener.org, which matches women healthcare executives with mentors in a Match.com style program, as “it is fun to work on something mission-oriented outside of healthcare”.
But it is Suennen’s influence through GE Ventures that has her excited even if, as she said at last year’s Oliver Wyman Health Innovation Summit in Dallas, “Innovation is a word we probably use more than ‘the’ at this point in healthcare”.
She said: “I think that CVCs, when properly designed, have the ability to give incredible leverage to their investments. If you can use your larger organisation and its broad set of partners to advance the interests of portfolio companies, you can help to accelerate value all the way around. Plus, I loved the team at GE Ventures.”
This healthcare team includes Alex De Winter, Jessica Zeaske, Iana Dimkova and Leslie Bottorff, who collectively have made more than 25 investments, including Human Longevity, a US-based genetics sequencing company founded by Craig Venter, which is reportedly about to start a new round having raised $300m.
Last year’s healthcare investments include Nuvolo, a US-based software provider to track medical equipment, which raised $10m from GE Ventures as lead and existing investors New Enterprise Associates (NEA) and ServiceNow Ventures, the corporate venturing unit of the cloud service on which the portfolio company is built.
At the start of last year, GE Ventures invested in data aggregation and analytics technology company Arcadia Healthcare Solutions’ $30m round alongside Merck Global Health Innovation Fund existing investors Peloton Equity, Zaffre Investments and Morgan Stanley Alternative Investment Partners.
Suennen said: “We have been selected as the venture lead or a key syndicate player by some truly excellent companies that had many investors to choose from but realised that we actually do put more than just money into the companies in our portfolio.”
But she added her successes at GE Ventures came, “first and foremost, building upon an already excellent team. I was so fortunate to have terrific people to work with and to be able to further shape the team into even more than it already was.
“Venture is definitely a team sport and having great people in all player positions is essential to success. We have also refined our investment strategy and focused on companies that have the potential for greater strategic impact.”
This is not without its challenges. Suennen said: “Navigating the big mothership can be a challenge at times. Everyone is working towards the same goals but sometimes not at exactly the same time.
“I think all CVCs have a tightrope act about whether they should focus on companies that can have immediate impact on the core versus making a material investment towards the future and we are no different.”
To this end she said the industry “must come up with a set of common metrics by which we can measure our success against and among peers.
“And we need to ensure that the best people are attracted to our teams by more aligned compensation models that approximate those available in non-CVC venture capital.
“I would like to feel that the company cannot live without the ventures unit – that we are viewed as essential to the innovation trajectory and key to the firm’s growth and revenue.”
Beyond that, her goals are “to live to see the day when we reach gender parity on the investor and investment side – and I would like to contribute to that goal.”
Jonathan Pulitzer GE
As the managing director of Israel for GE Ventures, Jonathan Pulitzer has a wide remit.
He said: “I act as the country manager across all of our activities, and also lead energy investments in Europe.
“I have been working at GE Ventures since its formation in 2013, as I was part of the team that conceptualized the platform, having previously been making CVC and growth equity investments at GE Capital since 2007.”
As to why he has enjoyed the past decade at GE’s corporate venturing team, Pulitzer said: “Venture capital money is rather plentiful, but deep domain, operational and industry expertise is very hard to find. The fusing of those two can be quite impactful. With GE’s 50,000-plus engineers and sales people and operations in 180 countries, the opportunity to be more than just capital for startups in the industrial sector was quite exciting and appealing.
“Delivering strategic value in slow evolving industries and making sure to properly connect GE into the companies can be a real challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity when the efforts do pay off.
“I am pleased when I look at a company like TPI Composites, which was not only a very successful exit, but also where GE bought $1bn of their equipment over the years and delivered strategic value in terms of lean manufacturing methodologies.”
Perhaps no surprise, therefore, that Pulitzer’s portfolio has been a strong performer for the venture group.
He said: “I have been proud to have been the lead investor in four companies that had successful IPOs, particularly in the challenging energy and industrial sectors, including A123 Systems, an energy storage company; TPI Composites, the number-one independent wind blade manufacturer; SolarEdge Technologies, a global leader in module level power electronics for solar; and Fluency, formerly known as Emefcy, a wastewater treatment technology.
“In addition, I am been proud of many of my active investments that are well on their way to disrupting their industries and hopefully strong exits. To name a few – Sonnen, leading residential storage; MPrest, internet-of-things systems of systems for energy and defence; Freightos, marketplace for freight; and many more [including Pentalum Technologies and Evolution Networks], as I have led or co-led 20 investments in the 10 years I have been doing investments at GE.”
Pulitzer joined the board at Freightos in March last year after GE Ventures lead the $25m series B round extension.
He also joined the board of an industry-university venture investment vehicle in Israel set up at the very end of 2016. GE Ventures, HNA EcoTech, Microsoft Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures and Tata joined Israel Internet of Things Innovations and i3 Equity Partners to set up the $20m vehicle at Tel Aviv University. It will partner local firm Pitango Venture Capital and the university’s tech transfer company, Ramot, to back seed and pre-seed startups with up to $1m each and provide them with access to multinational corporations.
Pulitzer has had previous experience in similar multi-corporate backed funds, having been an investment director for GE in the $300m Energy Technology Ventures fund along with ConocoPhillips and NRG Energy after the start of the decade.
Pulitzer, who studied economics and business and finished with the highest honours at New York university, wants to continue to be one of the more active investors in the industrial sector “delivering strong financial and strategic returns in order to help GE lead the digital industrial transformation,” he said.
And, more broadly, he is keen the industry “show more proof points of true value creation to their own corporates, to the startups they are invested in and to their co-investors.
“Everyone has to win for a CVC effort to truly succeed, and as an industry we need to do a better job to both enable that, and use metrics to show those mutual points of value creation.”
Pulitzer’s own points of value creation has been clear and reaped the rewards for GE after it took him on as a member of GE’s Financial Management Program, which he described as “a rotational program in financial services combining rigorous course work and on-the-job training”.
Now, however, he is the one using his experience to give back. Pulitzer said: “I like to spend time with my family – wife and three children – travelling, volunteering at my kids’ school, and keeping-up with American sports.”