Our guest this month is bioscience investor Julia Moore (KF Class 17). Julia is managing partner and co-founder of Breakout Ventures, an early-stage fund partnering with entrepreneurs building the bio-based future. Breakout’s investments run seed through Series A in creative bioscience companies, harnessing the power of cells and computation to scale solutions in human health and sustainability. She has spent her entire career working with and investing in life sciences and science-focused, venture-backed companies, from founding through IPO or M&A.
Julia shares with us her background in supporting technology companies and starting Breakout Ventures, the parallels of being a fund manager and founding a company, the importance of optimism mixed with grit, and how she draws inspiration from her grandmother.
What inspired you to join Breakout Labs and then start Breakout Ventures?
I’ve been working with and investing in venture-backed companies for 15 years, nearly 20 years in life sciences and healthcare (I started working with public companies). The early part of my career really set the stage for how I think about the full cycle of a company, developing an appreciation for what it really takes to build an enduring technology platform and profitable company. But I always came back to working on the early stage, cutting-edge things that weren’t even possible five years ago – what venture was really made for. Honestly, I wasn’t able to invest in a lot of that in 2009, 2010 as there was a mismatch between the pipeline of opportunity and the type of risk that the market wanted to take. Meanwhile, my partner Lindy Fishburne was exploring this same disconnect with Peter Thiel, as she started to build out his Foundation and how they could support, and invest in, a new wave of bold entrepreneurs building technologies that may have felt like science fiction to others.
We built Breakout Labs with Peter as a way to make early-stage bets where there is a novel hypothesis of how to use advances in science and technology against a large market opportunity. We had our own hypothesis about where this was going – we saw the backlog of scientific advances and the explosion of enabling technologies (whether computation, genetic sequencing, automation) primed to drive a new class of commercial technologies. If we were right, we knew we would be evolving alongside the market and founded Breakout Ventures as the platform to deepen our work building a future powered by science alongside our founders.
Our history working in partnership with founders on novel approaches has really helped us differentiate. We can point to dozens of times over the last decade we backed a team doing something differently, showcasing our ability to see something others could not. We also have really stuck to our belief in founders and their ability to build valuable companies of substance at the cutting edge. In a time where there is a lot of venture creation in our space, we have really doubled down on that, believing that there has never been more talent in the market to start a company. We love being known as the team with a track record in the trenches with our founders, with a unique duration of experience in our emerging space, having worked with companies from founding through scale in relatively new industries like synthetic biology or gene therapy. I don’t think any entrepreneur wakes up one day saying they want to be a “founder.” It just becomes something they have to do, they have to build. I feel that same way about what we’ve built at Breakout, it was something we just had to do. And I am grateful that it means I have the most interesting and rewarding career I ever could have imagined.
What is a process improvement you’ve used that has made you a better fund manager?
I think the most important thing to acknowledge is that we are in many ways a start-up just like the companies we partner with. That means that we need to constantly review our own internal processes and how we are scaling, and we don’t always get it right. We have the benefit of having a relatively small team, which has meant we can support everyone to be entrepreneurial in their own role, but still have to have enough process to make sure we are all headed in the same direction, on the same timeline.
As we’ve grown, we have expanded our portfolio review to a deeper quarterly dive with the full team that enables us to test the assumptions about the exit or timeline of each company and better support our portfolio toward exit. This is incredibly helpful to me as a portfolio manager and often gives mental space to clarify the most-high value thing we can be doing to drive value in our portfolio at any one time. I think a lot of the challenges of starting and running a fund aren’t too dissimilar from our own founders – often boiled down to how not to lose the big picture in the chaos of day to day. Having processes in place to force those big picture check-ins is really important.
What do you admire most about the entrepreneurs you work with?
I have so much admiration for the founders we work with. Being a founder is incredibly hard and requires such a unique set of skills to navigate the early days of both technology and company building. The trait I admire most, though, is some mix of optimism and grit which I see in so many of our successful founders. It is a crazy prospect to start a company, let alone to start a company truly at the cutting edge of modern science, like so many that we partner with. There are many reasons to feel discouraged in any given week, whether it is a technical challenge, losing an employee or struggling with organizational scale. Yet, our most successful founders have a way of meeting each challenge with a calm outlook, as if they are just grateful for the opportunity to be building something so substantive. It allows them to bring those challenges to their teams, boards and advisors with less emotion, recognizing it as a part of the journey to solve together versus frustrated by a setback. Not always, of course, but when I see a founder nail that it is just so impressive and inspiring.
What woman leader inspires you the most?
My grandmother, Mary Mongan, will always be who inspires me most as a female leader. She had a unique way of being both tough and confident as well as incredibly caring and kind that I really respect and try to emulate. She had a distinguished career in public health, most notably as Commissioner of Health and Human Services for New Hampshire, where I grew up. When I’m home, people still stop me to tell me stories about how she helped their families, advocated for others or how she stood up to the Governor. She was a force of nature, yet always saw herself as Mary who grew up in the Mills, who no one ever expected much of. My daughter is named after her, and she embodies the same strength, kindness and joy my grandmother did, a reminder each day of the amazing women in my life.
KauffmanWomen features insights from women investors, entrepreneurs, and executives within the Kauffman Fellows network. The series is edited by Ernestine Fu (Class 17) and Jessica Straus (Class 22), co-chairs of the Kauffman Women’s Group. Have ideas for future articles? Submit your ideas here.