Venture Partner, Wildcat Venture Partners
Venture Partner, Mohr Davidow Ventures

Accelerating the Success of Next Generation’s Healthcare Entrepreneurs

In this exclusive Slone Partners interview, Dr. Phyllis Whiteley, seasoned venture capitalist and life science consultant, shares her insights on the most promising areas of healthcare technology and exciting breakthroughs entering the market.

She also discusses her work at Wildcat Ventures and her passion for mentoring leaders and helping startups reach their full potential.

Slone Partners: You have had a varied career in Healthcare, what are you currently doing?

Dr. Whiteley: I have spent the last decade working in Venture Capital as an investor, member of the board of directors, serial entrepreneur, advisor, as well as CEO focusing on therapeutics, diagnostics, tools, genomics, personalized medicine, and digital health. This diversity stemmed from my own broad experiences in the life sciences and the pharmaceutical industry. Having had multiple operating roles in large, global organizations and small startups has given me a unique exposure to problem solving, accessing and deploying resources, and capital utilization. One of the most difficult adjustments in a startup is the lack of infrastructure. One rapidly learns that it’s imperative to leverage everything and everybody. It is a skill set that when brought back into large organizations can help to stimulate innovation and speed.

In addition to working with my portfolio companies, I also consult and work closely with several advisory groups and startup centers including University of California, San Francisco Global Health, Santa Clara University Global Social Benefits Incubator (GSBI), University of Texas Horizon Fund, European Innovation Academy, and Springboard Enterprises to foster improvement in global healthcare, stimulation and commercialization of innovation, and nurturing our future entrepreneurs. I am reminded over and over again that sharing experiences and providing mentorship, particularly to new CEOs, can make a huge difference in their ability to build companies that can scale and be sustainable. 

Slone Partners: We heard that you recently joined Wildcat Venture Partners, an investment leader in early stage companies leveraging key technologies. What areas of healthcare technology do you find the most promising and why?

Dr. Whiteley: Founded in 2015, Wildcat Venture Partners predominantly invests in early stage companies leveraging key technologies such as: artificial intelligence, augmented reality/virtual reality, highly scalable data infrastructure, machine learning, and the Internet of Things (IoT). We also opportunistically invest in later stage companies. We are specifically interested in teams that are applying these technologies in the following markets: consumer, digital health, edtech, enterprise, fintech, marketing technology, and marketplaces. What makes us unique is that our investment team is comprised of former entrepreneurs with significant domain expertise building companies from startups into market leaders. We are dedicated to surrounding our companies with teams to increase their likelihood of success.

At Wildcat, my focus is in digital health and the application of advanced data technologies, including Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, to drive efficiency in diagnosis and decision-making, delivery, and management of health care. We are big believers in virtual care and how technology can be used to improve care experience and expand access, while lowering cost.

Some of the key exciting areas that are seeing breakthroughs are: 1) Digitization of Devices, where we can use remote information, infinite data, or in-home responses to improve compliance and outcomes; 2) Digitization of Information to aggregate large amounts of information and replace manual or minimal input to provide cost effective accessibility; 3) Digitization of decision-making, utilizing machine learning and Artificial Intelligence. Information is growing in complexity and requires automation to draw data- based conclusions; 4) Digitization to connect disparate systems and IoT to integrate different platforms and communication; 5) Digital Therapy particularly in brain-related disorders; and 6) Digitization and automation of human caregiving activities, one of the largest expanding markets.

Slone Partners: As a seasoned Venture Capitalist and Life Science Consultant, what advice would you give to a startup?

Dr. Whiteley: Many companies fail to gain traction during the crucial “go-to-market” phase, but there is very little guidance or support for startups to rely upon during this period, so Wildcat developed the Traction Gap Framework (http://wildcatvp.vc/2kxnU9b). This framework is based on our team’s experience combined with input from many other successful entrepreneurs. To expand on this framework, Wildcat founded the Traction Gap Institute (TGI) (www.tractiongap.com), which tracks, captures, and publishes the metrics startups have used to successfully traverse the Traction Gap.

One of the most important areas where startups can easily fail is in building a team. An executive’s job is a difficult one and no one person can do everything. Fundraising, leadership, culture, and execution can only be accomplished if there is a strong and cooperative team in place. On top of that, the executive role can be quite lonely since it is hard to share confidential problems with a peer group. Often, new entrepreneurs don’t know what they don’t know. I am committed to working closely with entrepreneurs to help them solve problems, build their team with a full complement of skill sets, expand their network, and optimize execution. My goal is to coach, mentor, teach, and help them reach their full potential.

Mentoring can be a big time commitment, so I first ask myself if the executive is likely to be coachable. Do they come prepared and follow-up on our discussions? An approachable and committed mentee is as important as the mentor. It is also important to test if what I am doing is making an impact. There are some of the obvious measurements such as did the mentee grow and gain new skills. Does the mentee believe their mentor has made a difference not only in this one job, but also in his/her career? But, one of my most rewarding metrics has been to see people I have mentored grow into mentors themselves. Completing the circle is the true mark of success.

Slone Partners: Do you have to be an expert in the technology or life sciences to be a mentor?

Dr. Whiteley: My early mentoring developed from my management style. I had some terrific people who worked for and with me and I saw ways to help them grow their careers. Many went on to hold executive jobs and have attributed some of their success to the influence I had on them. As I moved into mentoring first-time entrepreneurs, I initially did it in healthcare. But I rapidly learned that the skills we learn in building companies and organizations do not necessarily require that a mentor have technical experience. So now, I mentor in my areas of passion and where I hope I can make a difference.

I serve as a Global Social Benefits Mentor at Santa Clara University and am dedicated to helping social entrepreneurs address the problems of poverty, empower women, and build resilience to climate change. I have spent the last 5 years with entrepreneurs from around the world who are hungry to learn how to achieve their goals, raise money, and improve people’s lives. It is truly one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. I am also devoted to board leadership and mentorship in Springboard Enterprises (https://sb.co), a highly-vetted expert network of innovators, investors, and influencers who are dedicated to building high-growth, technology-oriented companies led by women. Expanding and building on a network of women entrepreneurs, executives, and board members is a key growth channel for many companies.

Slone Partners: Is there data to show that mentorship improves a company’s success?

Dr. Whiteley: Part of Traction Gap Institute’s commitment to helping startups is to track, capture, and publish the metrics successful startups have used. They have just concluded research on how the executive’s team and mentorship plays into a startup’s success. One of the themes that has surfaced in their findings is that successful founders and CEOs listen to people who have been where they are before. The full results will be available soon.

Endeavor Insight has also looked at effects of mentorship on a company’s success. They found that 33 percent of founders who are mentored by successful entrepreneurs went on to become top performers (source: https://techcrunch.com/2015/03/22/mentors-are-the-secret-weapons-of-successful-startups/).

About Phyllis E. Whiteley, Ph.D.

Phyllis E. Whiteley, PhD., is a Venture Capitalist and Life Sciences consultant. Phyllis is a Venture Partner at Wildcat Venture Partners where she provides hands-on leadership in building, investing, and creating companies in the digital health space. Phyllis’ career is founded on her passion for personalized medicine, global healthcare, and transformative life science innovations. Her broad experience spans Venture Capital, Biotech and Pharma in R&D, business, and portfolio management. She has founded and built multiple companies in the United States and across the world and has held numerous executive positions including CEO and BOD. Her scientific work in pharmacology, immunology, and inflammation resulted in multiple new chemical entities and publications.

At Mohr Davidow Ventures her portfolio has included companies in digital health, therapeutics, tools, and diagnostics, including Verinata Health, which was acquired by Illumina. She previously co-founded Anaphore (now Bird Rock Bio) with 5AM Ventures. Prior to Venture Capital, Phyllis was an Officer and Senior Vice President, Business Development, Licensing, and Alliance Management at Perlegen Sciences, Inc. Before joining Perlegen, she served as Vice President, Strategic Portfolio Management for Roche. Over her ten-year career with Roche she held various positions in Business Development based in Basel, Switzerland coupled with R&D leadership positions in the US. Phyllis also held a Senior Research Immunology role with Merck. Phyllis currently serves on multiple boards including Balance Therapeutics, Analyte Health (chair), Carrum Health, Inpress Technologies, UCSF Leadership Council for Global Health, University of Texas Horizon Fund Advisory Council (chair) and Springboard Enterprises, where she mentors women executives. She is also a Global Social Benefit Incubator mentor at Santa Clara University and serves as a Chief Mentor for the European Innovation Academy. Phyllis received her BA, Chemistry and PhD, Pharmacology from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

In Slone Partners’ newsletter, we interview thought leaders from top companies to provide expert advice to leaders in the diagnostics, clinical trials, contract research, healthcare information technology, life sciences, and laboratory testing industries. 

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