Interview: How Dr. Sara Brand Empowers Women Entrepreneurs via True Wealth Ventures
Sara Brand is a new partner to Whole Planet Foundation, delivering a keynote conversation at our June 2, 2018 Power Her Potential Women’s Expo. Her venture capital firm, True Wealth Ventures, is an early-stage venture capital fund investing in women-led businesses in the sustainable consumer
What inspired you to start your business and support women entrepreneurs?
I had a very male-dominated career, starting with 3 degrees in mechanical engineering, 20+ years in the semiconductor/tech industry and an owner/founder of a brewery. I had experience in venture capital and knew I wanted to get back into venture capital, but it wasn’t until I realized I had literally never met another woman in venture capital that all the stars aligned for me. I was the executive sponsor of the global women’s forum at a Fortune 500 tech firm prior to starting True Wealth Ventures, and it was there that I did my homework and saw that companies with more women in senior leadership positions saw significant financial out-performance. Only 2% of venture capital dollars are going to women-led companies and with only a half of a dozen funds focused on investing in women (and those being on the coasts), I knew I needed to start this firm in Austin.
When you tell potential clients that women-led companies have proven they deliver higher returns, what is the investment result?
People are really surprised that there is such a blind spot in our economy. 80% of the investors in our venture-capital fund are women, or it is the woman from a couple, family office or foundation that led the investment decision. This is unprecedented from any other venture capital firm we have heard of, and I think those investors are really excited about the opportunity to get an outsized financial return while investing in the types of leadership teams they would like to see more of in the markets.
Tell us about your favorite client story that exemplifies your work, or pick your best experience with a women leader.
That is sort of like asking me which child I want to call my favorite! But, I will chose the fund’s first investment in Austin-based UnaliWear as it is such a great example of our Fund’s investment strategy. The CEO, Jean Anne Booth, has a stellar track record, selling her last company to Texas Instruments and her company prior to that to Apple. She came out of retirement to start this company for her aging mom, as her mom would not use the medical alert devices available on the market today – which are still the “I have fallen and I can’t get up button” on the lanyard from 1987. Jean Anne started this company to apply modern technology to the aging market who want to live independently but are vulnerable. She designed a smart watch to prevent against wandering, detect falls and perform medication reminders. The primary buyers of these watches are adult daughters or daughters-in law caring for their aging parents, and the primary wearers of the watches are also women who live longer and often have to live independently for longer. The aging market has been an absolute blind spot in the venture capital industry as the existing investors aren’t familiar with the customer and market needs and pain points, yet it’s obviously a massive and growing market with the baby boomers in the U.S..
What makes each day an opportunity to make a difference for yourself and women around the globe?
I feel like I’ve created my dream job where I get to learn about new products, technologies and businesses from women innovators and leaders who are on the front lines of consumer purchases and healthcare decisions. They are seeing the problems and creating the solutions to some of the most pressing environmental and human health challenges of our times. Investing in these ideas and giving these women entrepreneurs the capital to scale their solutions into the global markets is full of satisfaction and purpose. Offering these high impact investment opportunities to what has been primarily investors is also scratching an itch I had when I couldn’t find investments aligned to my values nor the products and services I wanted to see more of in the world.
What’s your secret for managing your time between True Wealth Ventures and (512) Brewing Company?
There’s not much of a secret there. The brewing company is my husband’s full-time job. I weigh in with more of my strategic management consulting hat from time to time, but we found that it is best if he does his thing and I do mine professionally.
True Wealth Ventures is growing fast. What’s your 5-year dream?
My five-year dream is that we will have a second fund to invest in a dozen or more companies and that we will be see some fantastic exits out of the first fund’s portfolio by then - not only making significant impacts with the companies in the current fund’s portfolio, but demonstrating the outsized financial returns to be had from investing in women-led teams and attracting more and new capital to this part of the innovation ecosystem.
What’s your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to embed a cause like Whole Planet Foundation in their business strategy?
Well, the World Bank and others have seen that women are a great investment - not only so they pay back their loans at a much higher rate than men, but when women come into increased wealth they reinvest 80% of that wealth back into their communities, families, health and education. It’s a virtuous cycle and the most effective and efficient way to build up a community. I also think understanding what women bring to your business strategically, beyond the pure financial out-performance advantages is key to integrating more diversity into your company’s culture.