AUSTIN — “No one was doing this at the time, at least not in Texas … I just realized this is the best business opportunity I had ever seen in terms of a blind spot that nobody else was on to,” said Sara T Brand, founder and general partner of True Wealth Ventures, a capital fund investing exclusively in women-led businesses in the consumer health and sustainable products and technology markets, after realizing that in the whole United States there were only about six funds that were specifically towards serving women, all on the coast, not in Texas or even the southern part of the country for that matter.
Brand, a self-proclaimed “engineer at heart”, touting a BS, MS and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, found herself on a path fully immersed in the world of venture capital after technical roles and strategic management, and fell in love.
“I loved venture capital because it was a perfect blend to me of my technical background and not losing my technical roots to meet with entrepreneurs and think about the solutions for the next great challenges of the world but to also use that strategic management consulting hat and help the portfolio company with whatever business challenges they had,” said Brand.
Those combinations of needs and skills drove Brand into a field in which she knew she would always be a part of even when she took a turn in her career to get more operational experience under her belt and joined a publicly traded Fortune 500 company, to work on the other side of the VC world.
While with that company, Brand was asked to be the executive sponsor of their global women’s forum because she was the only woman who was a vice president who had any technical or operational experience and that really opened her eyes up to an issue she wasn’t even aware existed – how could she be the only one?
“I was so used to being the only woman I literally was blind to it,” explained Brand as she recalled her career being spent in mainly male dominated fields.
This group though, spearheaded what today is True Wealth Ventures as it led Brand to take her blinders off and really look around.
“I started to do my homework of what to do with this group and I came across these studies that showed the significant financial outperformance that companies enjoyed that had more women in leadership positions and so knowing I wanted to get back in venture capital I started looking at the VC industry thinking ‘ooh I wonder if it’s the same thing here’ and it is – it’s probably even more extreme,” said Brand.
At the end of 2015, Brand’s research finally took form in the culmination of her own VC venture, True Wealth. By July 2016 True Wealth Ventures had their first close and started to invest out of the fund for the first time. Their final close was last January and now they find themselves focused on investing and no longer fundraising.
But before Brand and True Wealth could focus on investing, a lot of groundwork had to be laid and gears needed to be switched. It was a big change for Brand to make the leap from the engineer/corporate world into sales and fundraising. Dealing with the long and grueling process of figuring out how to fundraise and sell her company’s vision was at times difficult, as she set out with just a PowerPoint presentation; but still, she always knew it was going to be worth it.
“I certainly found and had to find places within myself where I knew it was going to work and I had to live in that spot,” said Brand. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have the persistence because you have to have many, many ‘no’s’ to get one yes.”
The persistence paid off. Fueled by Brand and her partner’s vision for what True Wealth would do for their field, they pushed forward women-led companies with an eye on missions that will make a true difference in the world.
Today True Wealth just closed their sixth investment with a goal of twelve total out of this current portfolio of their first fund. They look for women-led companies that are defined as having at least one woman of “significant decision making influence” with companies in the market of sustainable consumer or consumer health, with the core value of improving environmental or human health.
“This is an investment thesis that when there are more women in senior leadership positions at companies they have significantly better financial performance but then the markets in which we’re investing — women are making the majority of purchase decisions, since they’re making 85 percent of all consumer purchases decisions and 80 percent of all healthcare decisions,” said Brand.
With these statistics, to Brand and her team at True Wealth it makes the most sense to be backing women-led companies catering to these markets, knowing what it is the consumer is really needing and looking for. For example UnaliWear, founded by Jean Anne Booth out of Austin, created a smart watch for seniors to help them live more actively with speech activation, fall detection, medication reminders and even a battery system that is easily swapped out so that the watch never has to be charged overnight when they say falls are most likely to occur.
Beyond the specific market True Wealth looks for, Brand and her team also seek founders and companies who have a “quick exit” plan in which an acquisition could happen within three to five years and about a $100 million evaluation.
“It’s always going to be hard, no matter how idealistic it really is, there’s always ups and downs and so having somebody who really is persistent is probably the most critical trait and the second most critical trait for us has been transparency,” said Brand, who mentions that they like to take the lead in the form of board seats and appreciate a company who is coachable and willing to accept the guidance they provide.
“I think we have helped shine a light for sure on the opportunity of women entrepreneurs in Texas,” said Brand, “there were no other funds and are no other funds still that have gender diversity focused in Texas.”
With first check sizes ranging from $250,000 to $500,000, True Wealth is doing its part in pushing forward the missions of these women-led companies in the hopes of making women more visible.
“It’s a long winded vision, but it’s to continue to grow,” said Brand of her ultimate goal for True Wealth Ventures. “The strategy will likely evolve but we really love investing in the early stage so we will grow the fund but we’ll still keep it small-ish, meaning probably not much more than $100 million as we get into fund three where we can still really invest in companies at their seed stage and then follow on and create huge successes of women entrepreneurs who have great ideas and scale them into global impact in many cases, at least big impacts and not only improve environmental and human health because of what the companies are doing but create more role models for other up and coming women to see that it can be done.”