Karen Kerr Meet a VC GE Ventures
Karen Kerr, Senior Managing Director, Advanced Manufacturing & Enterprise, GE Ventures
Karen leads a team focused on making investments and developing partnerships in the advanced manufacturing ecosystem. Karen came to GE with two decades of experience in developing technology-based businesses and venture investing. Previously she served as Senior Director of New Ventures and Alliances at the University of Southern California (USC) Stevens Center for Innovation where she was responsible for accelerating the formation of startup companies out of university research.
Highly acclaimed, Karen was named one of LA’s Top Innovators in 2012 by C-Suite Quarterly, selected to C200 leading business women in 2004, and selected by Crain’s Chicago Business for its 40-under-40 list of leading business professionals in Chicago. Karen earned a PhD in Physical Chemistry from the University of Chicago and an AB in Chemistry from Bryn Mawr College.
How did get your start in the venture capital community?
I got started in VC while I was working on my PhD in Chemistry at the University of Chicago. ARCH Venture Partners was looking for students in the PhD and MBA programs to help them with technical diligence and writing business plans.
What’s a day in your life as a VC like?
There isn’t a typical day, but I’d say there are cycles. In a private financial fund, one of those cycles is a fundraising cycle where you are out meeting with potential LPs. In a corporate fund the fundraising cycle is replaced with an annual budgeting cycle. I spend a bunch of time meeting with new companies, networking with VCs and entrepreneurs, and working with my current portfolio companies on recruiting, strategy, and sales. As a corporate investor, I spend a fair amount of time working with our business units and managing my team of MDs and associates.
How many companies have you invested in and what is your overall investment?
Over 30. As a physical chemist, I’ve tended to focus on deep tech companies in life sciences, semiconductors, and hardware. Today, I lead a team at GE Ventures focused on advanced manufacturing and enterprise technologies. We are focused on things that help GE to be more efficient in its operations.
What stage do you focus on and how much capital do you look to deploy for each portfolio addition?
In Advanced Manufacturing & Enterprise, we are focused on seed-to-growth companies, investing between $1-10M in a single check. Our sweet spot is Series B and C and the average check size is $5-7M range. We are typically following companies that are already performing and get to about $15M in a single company. We have the ability to invest more in special cases, as well.
What matters to you most when evaluating a company as a potential fit for your firm and how does that relate to the ambitious companies that you have worked with in the past?
We are looking for three things in our investments: great entrepreneurs/management teams; large high-growth markets; and thematic fit. GE doesn’t have to have a commercial relationship with the company, but we’ve got to believe that it’s a solution that GE could leverage in its operations.
What advice do you offer to a first-time founder?
To a first-time founder, I’d tell them to focus on the team. That includes the employees, investors, and board. There is an old adage that an A team with B technology will make money while a B team with A technology will lose money.
What is the one common denominator that stands out to you across all great investments your firm has made during its history?
The best investments are the ones where the entrepreneur has a big vision and is uncompromising in the quality of the team. Two that stand out to me are Illumina, which was singularly focused on driving down the cost of sequencing to
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