Episode 2: Jun Axup on finding the best deal flow as a Venture Capitalist

with Jun Axup and Kalin Kelly

January, 2020 

Our second episode of Earnings features Jun Axup, Scientific Director and Partner of IndieBio, of SOSV, the world’s leading seed-stage life science accelerator. 

Jun is a PHD turned VC, with over 116 biotech companies funded in her career in venture capital after she co-founded two companies herself in the fields of precision medicine and biotech education. 

 

 

In this episode we cover 

1. How Jun got into Venture Capital (skip to 1:30) 

2. How to find the best deal flow as a Venture Capitalist (skip to 5:20)

3. Obstacle Jun had to overcome as a female founder (skip to 8:50)

4. Three core elements when it comes to leadership today (skip to 11:27)

5. Exciting industries for future investments (skip to 13:57)

6. Book recommendation: Designing Your Life (skip to 18:00)

7. How to feel empowered (skip to 19:10)  

Highlights from the Episode

 "I think that was the beauty of entrepreneurship. It isn't everything you do and everything you. So you get very motivated that way to do things and and you also get a huge reward when you do those things because you see yourself move the needle, making strides, making efforts."

"I think every one of us have some kind of fear and some kind of way and kind of getting over those hurdles. You know, there's there's some ways around just like getting out there and and just like trying and testing things, pushing past that fear."

" I think leadership, there's like a bunch of different avenues. One is kind of the internal operations to be able to really direct a team, to direct a vision and just be hard core at execution."

"As a female leader, being in the boardroom, being able to address situations, not being seen as emotional or erratic, but holding your presence, holding your ground and sharing your voice in a way that communicates openly your grievances."

"What I realize is that kind of one of my biggest goals in life is to have more wonder in my life. And wonder encapsulates happiness, joy, accomplishment. It encapsulates when I learn about really cool new start up, when I learn about really awesome science. All of those like little moments are, I think, what I really appreciate in life."



Full Transcript 

Kalin: 

Welcome in. This is Earnings, a podcast exclusively highlighting the rare female voices in venture capital in Silicon Valley today. I'll be your host, Kaitlyn Kelly, CEO and founder of Art and Armor. Art in Armor is a new jewelry line, one of a kind. Investing its net proceeds into female founders. Every episode on earnings is dedicated to sharing the rare, resilient voices of women and venture, inspiring a new wave of female CEOs and leading by example as female GPs. Because we know that being strong is about wearing it and owning it. We're so grateful and thankful to Silicon Valley Bank for being our sponsor. Today we joined by June Exit, scientific director and partner of indie bio, the world's leading seed stage life science accelerator. We begin every episode of earnings with earned highlights praising the accomplishments of each phenomenal woman we have featured here on the podcast. June, you are an innovator, entrepreneur and now investor from PHD to TVC, having funded over 116 biotech companies from consumer biotech to medical devices to cutting edge regenerative medicine. Also an entrepreneur extraordinaire, female founder. You co-founded two companies in the fields of precision medicine and biotech education. We're so fortunate to have your voice in the studio with us today. Thank you so much, June, and welcome in. Thank you so much for having me. So, June, how did you find yourself in venture capital today?

Jun: 

Yeah, my story is completely random. I did not think I would be in venture capital at all. I started grad school thinking I would go into pharmaceutical development. But during grad school ended up also kind of getting the entrepreneurship bug. Most of my friends were in developing apps and kind of technology and I never thought I would be able to start a biotech company since it's so expensive. You had to have all these resources and I just didn't know where to begin with that. But one kind of pivotal moment is I started this education startup, which is essentially Toys 80C G of DNA toys. And that was a really empowering moment because I was able to run a Kickstarter and start selling. Amazing. Yeah. So so that gave me the first taste of entrepreneurship that then later caused me to want to work at biotech startups. And so I kind of worked at smaller and smaller, smaller startups until I had the opportunity to co-found a company with some of the folks I knew in grad school. And that company actually went through the indie bio program.

Kalin: 

Oh, really?

Jun: 

In batch two. Yeah. So and then, you know, I decide to leave the company after a while. And I ended up joining indie bio and. And that process was also kind of random. I was mostly there to just kind of help out. Since I've been in the program, they could use an extra hand, but it soon became a really good fit. While I was good at lab work, I definitely thought there was a little bit more to be desired there that I wanted to see the bigger picture I want. I really enjoy science and learning about all kinds of science of the intersection of science and technology and all these different things. And I saw myself more as kind of a mentor or like a helper kind of role. Yeah. And so. So over the last couple of years, it's been interesting where it like this job that I almost just randomly landed on and was forced to do in some ways that you found yourself in. I found myself to be like, this is actually like, amazing. And I love every moment of it.

Kalin:

Amazing. Okay. So you found yourself in venture through a more helpful role and then developed that on your own. But credit where credit is due, your background is impressive. Can you tell me a little bit more about when you started two companies? What was that like for you?

Jun: 

Yeah, I think those are also there were huge leaps of faith and I talked about that before. It's definitely then, you know, every time those opportunities came, you know, it's it's things that you like sit with you for quite a while and you're kind of like deciding like, should I leave everything I know in order to test to do this? Well, actually, my first company with the toy company was actually during grad school. So I did. I didn't leave everything. I was doing it on the side. Wow. Yeah. So. So it was definitely hard. But for me, it was you know, I luckily had the resources and I could runway the runway. And and I, you know, obviously, like, really enjoyed the people that was working with. And so it made it less of a risk and definitely got to a point, whereas like, if I don't do this, would I be kicking myself later?

Kalin: 

Oh, interesting. Did you kick yourself later or are you very happy that you did?

Jun: 

I'm happy that did it. Yeah. No, I mean, like, it was hard, like. But both of them were really hard. But it was so much growth and and and so much ownership. I think that was the beauty of entrepreneurship. It isn't everything you do and everything you. What you do is completely like critical to the company. So you get very motivated that way to do things and and you also get a huge reward when you do those things because you see yourself move the needle, making strides, making efforts.

Kalin:

Yeah. And now you're on the other side of the table looking at female founders and seeing how you can help them and help them grow. And, of course, fund them. Yeah. So how do you find the best deal flow? I know that's a secret question.

Jun: 

Oh, yeah. It actually is not secret at all. So we're an accelerator program. And so it's a set programs for months. We evaluate companies, bring them in. They get 250k in funding. It's a set deal, but then it's also the mentorship. So they have to move to San Francisco, work out of our earth more than $250000. Yeah. Oh, yes. So much more because the lab space, that is the main thing we have molecular biology, cell biology labs, tons of equipment. All those things can be millions of dollars to get off the bat, which is why there's been such a high barrier for entry for biotech startups. It's not like, you know, a Web site where you can just spin up the instance of NWS on your laptop and get coding. You have your code and  you're a.w.s. Is millions of dollars on the table. 

Kalin:

Yeah, exactly. You're the only accelerator with lab space in San Francisco right?

Jun: 

Correct. Yeah.

Kalin:

And that's already rare and a hot commodity in San Francisco. 

Jun: 

And that's you know, to the founders of IndieBio and our fund. It's like they realized that the investment in the lab space is so critical and very few v._c._r.s want to be working with lab space. So. So, yeah, so we we are very rare in that and. And so then our deal flow because it's a program people apply to it. That's that's the easiest point of contact for deal flow is we have a Web site. People just apply. However, we do do a lot of outreach because our our biggest thing is people don't know about us. Especially now they do well. Now they do. Yeah. More people do now. 

But still, like, it's always you know, entrepreneurship is such a new thing in so many cities across the U.S. and of countries around the world. So many people have not heard of these resources. And so we do go out and go to conferences, go to universities and give talks. A lot of things I do is I end up going to universities and giving talks about entrepreneurship. And usually they're two PHD students who are still in the middle of their PHD. But to try to get them thinking about, oh, well, this actually could be a violation to be an actual business model.They can think about that with their own projects or they can think about this as a potential career, which I think was really not on the table previously.

Kalin:

And life sciences, too, with females. So I believe we talked about this before. But what are your percentages of female founders in IndieBio?

Jun:

Yeah. So, you know, unfortunately, it's not 50/50, which we're trying to get there. We're trying to get there. Well, one thing that we have seen, which is really gray, is that life science, most life science, PGD programs actually are about 50.

Kalin:

Really?

Jun:

And from what I hear, actually, there's usually more females applying into the into biology programs. So so that's really cool. But of course, translating that into founding companies and even looking at the professorships, of course, it's not 50/50. And professorships. So so there is definitely some drop off. So. So, you know, it's always good to try to have a higher number. 

Our current number is actually 42 percent of our companies have at least one female founder. That's amines, which is over twice the average, which is apparently like 17 percent. Wow. I believe. Yeah. So. So that's metric we've been going by and of course, we've been deaf find trying to find ways to to age and increase that number.

Kalin:

Well, that's extremely impressive for any bio. And I'm sure you're spearheading a lot of these female founded investments. If we were to take a step back and look at how you got here, you co-founded two companies. Can you tell us a little bit, maybe highlight an obstacle that you've personally overcome as a female founder, as a female GP getting to where you are? How would you advise another woman to follow in your footsteps?

Jun:

Yeah, I think the biggest thing is fear. I think we all have a lot of. Yeah. By definition, I think every one of us have some kind of fear and some kind of way and kind of getting over those hurdles. You know, there's there's some ways around just like getting out there and and just like trying and testing things, pushing past that fear. Yeah. Cast that fear. And I think I think a lot and maybe more speaking to myself that I feel a lot of like social judgment, like social pressures and, you know, like reputation or things like that that often are the things that hold me from reaching out or trying something. Your reputation as just you know, sometimes. But, you know, being thought of like, yeah. Yeah. I think just like it just in general conversations and stuff too, sometimes like trying to manage how I project into the world. But I feel like. And I think women tend to do a lot of that. And and sometimes you have to kind of drop those who's kind of, you know, the voice in your head kind of telling you what you should and shouldn't do and kind of like push for through that. You know, one of the things I tell our batches all the time is like, if you want to reach out to someone and you're like afraid to send email to them. Right. Well, the fact that you are afraid of default. No, nothing happened. Right. You never. Yeah. You never sent that email. But if you did send that email, now you have actually a percentage that something will come come of it. So why? Why inhibit yourself from giving yourself a default? No. When there could be a small chance that that person will respond and that a connection will be made.

Kalin:

That's so funny because that's so parallel to what Roshe me at Microsoft Ventures on our last podcast. Never let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do. And your advice is don't let that voice inside your head and the fear to overcome the obstacles of creating your own company or investing yourself. Let you also, you know, prevent you from doing something that you should do and that you would regret not doing later. Right. It's interesting. OK. OK. So on the topic of investments and portfolio companies, what would you say are the three core elements that you've witnessed in your portfolio companies when it comes to leadership today? 

Jun:

Yeah, leadership is really extremely important. And companies and I think one of the core elements of our program is to turn scientists into entrepreneurs. And of course, that also means turning them into leaders. And I think leadership, there's like a bunch of different avenues. One is kind of the internal operations to be able to really direct a team, to direct a vision and just be hard core at execution. So one example is Meatiest Munch, Nic, of Nocco, who's there in Chile making basically plant based Mayo alternatives. Oh, yeah. Yeah. And they have a whole A.I. platform that makes plant based products that simulate dairy or other kind of meat based products. And so, yeah, they're doing extremely well. They've actually rolled out across Chile and across Latin America and yet doing extremely well. So that just kind of really hardcore, hardcore execution there. Your leadership is also in carrying the vision and really creating a movement. Suma Vladi, CEO of a Memphis Meats, the first lab-grown meat company. When they take a stem cell biopsy.

Kalin:

 I think we've all heard of this company haha.

Jun:

Yeah. So, you know, being beings doing something so different. And of course, with a lot of kind of commentary and and vision around around that idea, you know, he really is the spokesperson of that entire space and really getting ahead of what the cautions that people are putting out. So he among a few other people, a few other leaders in the field, you know, went to Congress and said, we actually want to be regulated by USDA and the FDA because we know that safety is first for these kind of products. So by really setting example, setting that that vision, not just being just really, really solid around understanding the needs of people, the fears of people, and how this technology can really change the world.

Kalin:

Well, at Art and Armor we're all about leading by example. Hence the interviews of women leading by example. So it sounds like your portfolio founders also lead by example, which is amazing. Yeah. So on that note, as you're looking into the future of investments, what industries are you super excited about right now?

Jun: 

Yeah. So biotech has traditionally been thought of as therapeutics, diagnostics, medical devices. We actually take that definition in a different way because we think that biology is now a technology just like computation where you can just code up anything for any industry biology. Now we're able to do that same thing because we finally have the engineering tools to allow us to really engineer with biology. So the most exciting areas I've been seeing is really crossing over into our food system agriculture, energy, biomaterials. Basically anything, any industry can really be touched by biology. And there's been a huge focus on inde bio now to work on planetary health and helping with climate change. Oh, really? Yeah. And and that's also been a personal shift of mine as well, because I've you know, I've my p_h_d_ was more in human health and cancer and I've really been. Really interested in longevity and how do we make people healthy? But then in the last couple of years, it's like, oh, wait. If we don't do anything about the planet, then that will actually affect all of our helds. So planetary health is actually really, really high on the priority list. Now it's affecting all kinds of different systems and and obviously making devastation in ways that are unforeseen at the moment. So I'm trying to mitigate those potential avenues would be it would be really important. 

So ag tech, drone technology, we're talking about all of those. Yeah, we don't really invest in drone technology, but if the drones were maybe planting seeds that were coated with microbiome, that OK, living into the future.

Kalin:

I love that. Well, let's see. So we've talked a lot about your portfolio company is what you're excited about in the future. What are you currently reading that you would advise? You know, the listeners to start reading, to look into maybe investing in their own knowledge base.

Jun:

Yeah. So I'm very advocate of like really helping your core in order to lead. So, of course, there's lots of management books, lots of startup books, lots of science books out there. But the ones that I thought were most impactful were when you really, like, dig into yourself and try to shift your thinking. So my top recommendation is 15 commitments of conscious leadership. It's it's really great. About half of it is is kind of like what you need, how you should think about things internally and then half of it, how to lead other people and enroll other people into into, you know, create creating a workplace, a fun and whatnot. So it's it's really inspiring. And I think oftentimes if I have any like issues, I'm coming up with various parts of that book can help me through it. Another one is nonviolent communication.

Kalin:

Nonviolent communication. Yes. I mean, as a female leader, being in the boardroom, being able to address situations, not being seen as emotional or erratic, but holding your presence, holding your ground and sharing your voice in a way that communicates openly your grievances. I think for the listeners that haven't heard of nonviolent communication, it's such a worthwhile tool. But tell me more about your experience.

Jun:

Yeah, I should. The part that I like about the nonviolent communication is also that introspection part where oftentimes you feel something, but then you kind of have to dig through to see what is that actual core need that you have, what is not being fulfilled. And then from there you can you can often shift your mindset around what's actually happening in the situation and or that you can complement that needs something in some other way. So so that allows you to essentially chill, to not be reactive and then to come at a place where you're saying, oh, actually, these are my needs, too. These are the core issues, not just the surface issues. So I think that that's been really helpful. And then the last one I recommend is a book called Designing Your Life, which is based on a very popular course at Stanford, where they they teach it essentially to college students who don't know what to do their lives, Ray, or like they haven't really found their passion in life. Yeah, it's it's a set of tools that are essentially designed tools to help you look at like during your day. What energizes you, what drains your energy, what kind of topic areas are you interested in setting out a five year plan and various things, activities like that, to help you kind of find your passion and find your direction. So I say I would definitely recommend that to a lot of people, you know, during their core life crises or whatnot, where they're trying to figure out what to do with their lives.

Kalin:

Should I start the company or should I not start the company? Absolutely. The workbook first, figure it out there and then execute. OK. Yeah.

Jun:

Map out the different scenarios. Right. Like what? What would do different jobs look like?

Kalin:

Yeah. So the bottom line.  Yes, absolutely. Okay. I loved your point about shifting the mindset. And I realize we haven't really discussed that. But it comes to mind where women try to shift their mindset in posture in wearing specific outfits and coloring their hair a certain way. Have you found anything to make you feel very powerful in mindset? Maybe it's a practice that you practice daily, like yoga and meditation. Maybe it's that you do, you know, your nails a different color. I know for me I always armor up with a different kind of nail polish depending on which meeting I'm going into, you know? Is there anything that you feel empowers you as a fashion for that kind of mind shift in a particular fashion?

Jun:

But yeah, this is a mindset shift. I've been kind of been practicing the last couple of months. I've always you know, I've tried meditation, I've tried gratitude, journaling and all these different things. And they don't really stick in a right way. She says with a slight smile. Yeah, the for me. What I realize is that kind of one of my biggest goals in life is to have more Wunder in my life. And wonder encapsulates happiness, joy, accomplishment. It encapsulates when I learn about really cool new start up, when I learn about really awesome science. All of those like little moments are, I think, what I really appreciate in life. And I kind of told myself like, yeah, I think this is actually my biggest goal is to maximise more of these moments. And for a long time, Wunder has been something that I felt was external, like something else was giving me wonder and reading a journal article that that piece of information is giving me the wonder. But that's not it's actually how I responded to that information, to that event, to that interaction. 

And so when I realized that Wunder was actually something that I could control, that I could be responsible for and derived within myself, that actually ended up unlocking a whole new dimension for me. It gave me a lot of self-confidence and self-identity. Things I've struggled with previously that where I feel like most validated and and the fact that I don't need someone else validation in order to admit that that thing is wonderful. So it's been it's been really interesting. And so I've been you're really trying to see more moments of wonder. And it can be small things, just like appreciating some art on the wall or or. Yes. So trying to practice that has been so much more beneficial to like my mood and everything. And. And it also makes a lot of more like petty disputes or issues kind of fall away. At the end of day, it's like, okay. Is this creating more wonder for me? And, you know, I, of course, also wish Wunder on other people. So. So those things kind of those things kind of don't matter as much anymore.

Kalin:

That's really fascinating. And more of a mental mind shift and an internal dialogue seeking Wunder rather than something that's wearable. Yes. Amazing. Okay. June, thank you so much for being with us here in the studio. It has been so enlightening. I'm so thrilled that our listeners get to see just a little bit more about who you are. Behind the title and listen to more female investors share their stories. So thank you again.

Jun:

Thank you for having me.