Investing in Infinimmune

This past December, Pear VC was proud to invest in Infinimmune’s $12M seed round. Infinimmune is reinventing antibody drug discovery by focusing solely on human-derived antibody drugs and mining the insights uniquely gathered from deep characterization of the functional antibody repertoire. Here, we reflect on the broader field of antibody-based therapeutics and why we are excited about Infinimmune’s team, technical approach, and vision.

Antibody drugs have made an undeniable impact on modern medicine. 

Since the FDA’s first approval of a therapeutic monoclonal antibody in 1986, more than 160 marketed antibody drugs have been developed to treat various ailments including cancer,  autoimmune disease, infectious disease, and more.

Seven of the top 20 best-selling drugs of 2022 were antibodies, including Humira, Keytruda, and Dupixent. Collectively, antibody sales that year likely topped $200B, roughly on par with the sales of Apple’s iPhone.

Antibodies play a central defensive role in the adaptive immune system. Recent decades have witnessed tremendous, hard-won advances in the science of these amazing molecular machines and in their application as research tools, diagnostic reagents, and therapeutics. 

Scientists have deciphered their molecular structures; decoded many of the intricate genetic and cellular processes that create and select functional antibodies; devised a variety of sophisticated approaches to identify novel antibodies that effectively bind a given antigen; and developed the tools and processes to reliably characterize, manufacture, and distribute them at scale. 

Newer therapeutic modalities that rely on antibodies or components of them for their function, such as antibody-drug conjugates, targeted radioligand therapies, bispecific T cell engagers, and CAR-T cells, have become established drug classes in their own right. And in recent years, in silico design techniques, aided by ML/AI, have been used to engineer antibodies with better binding, stability, and expression.

Despite all of this progress, our state of understanding regarding the vast diversity of the antibody repertoire actually produced in humans remains shockingly low.

Limitations in the characterization techniques previously applied to this diversity, estimated at 10^11 to 10^18 unique protein sequences in humans, have stymied efforts to fully understand and gain insights from it. Even the advent of next-generation sequencing has not deeply impacted this space—most studies of the antibody repertoire still rely on bulk sequencing technologies, which only capture half of most of the variable region of one antibody transcript at a time.

Why does this matter in antibody drug discovery? 

Because every day, inside every human, the body conducts the equivalent of 100 billion antibody clinical trials, testing each antibody for safety and efficacy in parallel. And these techniques have been developed and optimized over 500 million years of evolution of the adaptive immune system. 

For instance, by studying the immune reactivity of blood samples donated from adults living in a malaria-endemic region, researchers were able to identify broadly reactive antibodies that exhibited non-canonical features (Tan et al., Nature 529:105-109, 2016). These antibodies were found to contain a large insert of an extracellular LAIR1 domain located between key antibody segments. This domain, which is non-canonical and which was not observed in narrowly reactive antibodies, increased binding to malaria-infected red blood cells. These results demonstrated a novel mechanism of antibody diversification that the human immune system can use to create therapeutically effective antibodies.

Clearly, human B cells produce antibodies that mouse B cells and humanized mouse B cells do not. However, the most common methods for discovering therapeutic antibodies today rely on screening antibodies produced in transgenic mice that have been immunized with the desired target antigen, or panning for binding to the antigen in relatively shallow pools of engineered human antibody-like binders expressed via phage or yeast display. 

These approaches are not capable of leveraging the unique insights that can be captured by studying functional antibodies produced by the human immune system.

Enter Infinimmune.

Infinimmune is a startup that is reinventing antibody drug discovery by focusing solely on human-derived antibody drugs. 

Infinimmune was founded by Wyatt McDonnell, David Jaffe, Katie Pfeiffer, Lance Hepler, and Mike Gibbons, a multidisciplinary team of scientists and technologists. These founders have deep expertise in immunology, genomics, computational biology, single cell sequencing, and data analysis, and they take a first principles approach to therapeutics platform development as drawn from previous experiences at 10x Genomics, Pacific Biosciences, and the Broad Institute.

As an example of this expertise, Wyatt, David, and Lance co-authored a paper in Nature last year that discovered a new property of functional antibodies coined light chain coherence (Jaffe et al., Nature 611:352-357, 2022). In this work, the authors used single-cell RNA sequencing to determine the paired heavy and light chain antibody sequences from 1.6 million B cells from four unrelated humans and incorporated a total of 2.2 million B cells from 30 humans.

They compared antibody sequences from pairs of B cells that were isolated from different donors and which shared similar heavy chain segments, specifically, the same heavy chain V gene, and the same amino acid sequence for a key antigen-binding region called CDRH3. [Note: an antibody is composed of a pair of one heavy chain and one light chain that are generated through a process of sequential gene recombination involving V, D (for heavy chains), J, and C segments.]

The authors found evidence of previously unrecognized determinism in the light chain segment (i.e. light chain V gene) used in functional antibodies, which were derived from memory B cells, as opposed to naive antibodies. The discovery of light chain coherence suggests that the sequence space for the light chain of a functional antibody, which has undergone selection by the human immune system to be useful, safe, and effective, is more restricted than what was previously believed. It also carries important implications for the design of therapeutic antibodies, transgenic platforms, and diversification strategies of antibody drugs.

With these types of capabilities and insights at hand, Infinimmune is developing an end-to-end platform to deliver antibody drugs derived directly from the human immune system. 

These truly human antibodies are designed to drug new targets with improved safety and efficacy. Infinimmune is building its own pipeline of drug candidates while also aiming to partner with pharma companies to expand treatment options and reach more patients.

This past December, we were proud to co-invest alongside our friends at Playground Global, Civilization Ventures, and Axial in Infinimmune’s $12M seed round. We are delighted to work closely with the Infinimmune team, and we look forward to sharing many exciting updates to come. Infinimmune’s new HQ is in Alameda, and their team is always interested in hearing from smart, curious, and passionate scientists with a track record of innovation and building things from scratch. If you want to build better drugs for humans, from humans, you can reach the founders directly at founders@infinimmune.com or careers@infinimmune.com—there’s no better way to get in the hiring queue before more job postings go live in 2023!

Pear Competition: Harvard Winners

At Pear, we have a long history partnering with students to build the next wave of category-defining companies. In fact, we started working with the founders of companies like Branch, Aurora Solar, Bioage, and Affinity when they were still students.  Each year, we host Pear Competition where students can receive up to $100,000 to launch their startups.  

This year, there were five winners of Pear Competition at Harvard, and they received prizes between $25,000 and $100,000 each. These winners were selected based on their ideas across various fields from AI infrastructure to virtual reality and more. We’re excited to shine a spotlight on this year’s winners:

Civic Roundtable 

Civic Roundtable is a collaboration platform for public servants: a “Reddit meets LinkedIn”– designed with and for public servants. Founders Madeleine Smith and Austin Boral are joint Harvard Business School / Harvard Kennedy School of Government student with experience working in and with the public sector, where they saw firsthand the inefficiencies that state, local, and federal workers face in their attempts to collaborate. Civic Roundtable brings these workers together in one place to share knowledge and coordinate their joint efforts. 

Gigit.ai

Gigit.ai was founded by Harvard Business School student Inez Wihardjo, is a plug-and-play infrastructure to enable enterprises to own and train specialized AI models. Unlike existing players, Gigit offers an integrated self-hosted system of AI + subject-matter experts to ensure no hallucination, utmost accuracy, while preserving the data privacy of the enterprises.

Delilah

Delilah is a personalized AI assistant founded by Harvard College undergraduates Khoi Nguyen and Raunak Daga, two members of Pear Garage at Harvard. Khoi and Raunak are hackers at heart, and have built and battle-tested a suite of productivity tools with their target market of GenZ students. We couldn’t be more excited to support their mission to bring the game-changing tools of an all-purpose AI assistant to this demographic. 

BuyXR

BuyXR, founded by Harvard College undergraduates Sam Suchin and Will Schrepferman, is a virtual reality e-commerce platform that allows any seller – from the world’s biggest brands to limited edition creators – to offer their merchandise in an immersive, gamified world. 

Stealth 

More to come about our fifth winner when they launch! 

We’ve long believed that, with the right tools and resources, student builders can build extraordinary companies. These five Harvard Competition winners embody the spirit of student entrepreneurship and innovation, and we’re excited to see where they go!

Pear Competition: Stanford GSB Winners

At Pear, we have a long history partnering with students to build the next wave of category-defining companies. In fact, we started working with the founders of companies like Branch, Affinity, Aurora Solar, Viz.ai, and Bioage when they were still students.  Each year, we run Pear Competition where students can receive up to $100,000 to launch their startups.  

This year, there were four winners of Pear Competition at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB), and they received checks between $25,000 and $100,000 each. These GSB winners were selected based on their ideas across various fields from BioTech to Climate Tech and more. We’re excited to shine a spotlight on this year’s Pear Competition winners:

RadarTx

RadarTx is a biotech company that aims to revolutionize the treatment of a broad array of diseases by bringing precision targeting to gene- and mRNA-based therapies. Most current nucleic acid therapies suffer from a lack of specificity due to expressing their payload protein drugs in every cell – a problem that can severely limit their efficacy and safety. RadarTx has developed a proprietary RNA sensing platform that can precisely control the expression and activity of such drugs at the cell type or even cell state level, thereby improving the therapeutic potential of this important class of medicines.

Komo

Komo is redesigning how search and discovery works for both users and businesses. Komo’s platform is designed to help users find the right information faster and more efficiently especially when it comes to exploration. The company’s AI-powered algorithms deliver a personalized and interactive search experience, making discovery both easier and more delightful. This innovative approach has the potential to revolutionize the way users interact with digital content, making information more accessible to millions of people worldwide.

Stellarr

Stellarr is a talent acquisition platform that connects the right talent to the best opportunities in tech. Stellarr’s platform uses advanced AI-powered algorithms to identify the most suitable candidate for a particular job, reducing the time and costs associated with hiring. The platform also includes features like job matching and automated scheduling to make the hiring process more efficient for employers. 

Optimus

Optimus is a manufacturing technology company that is building the brains for advanced manufacturing. The company is starting with batteries and extending to other manufacturing verticals critical to the clean energy transition. Optimus’ technology is designed to make manufacturing more efficient and cost-effective, reducing the environmental impact of production while promoting renewable energy. 

We’ve long believed that, with the right tools and resources, student builders can build extraordinary companies. These four Pear Competition winners embody the spirit of student entrepreneurship and innovation, and we’re excited to see where they go!

Earth Day spotlight: interview with David Bromberg, the trailblazing Climate Tech founder behind Pearl Street Technologies

In celebration of Earth Day, we’re excited to spotlight a company changing the game when it comes to clean energy and moving the needle on scalable sustainability: Pearl Street Technologies. Pearl Street is a Pear VC-backed company that is making big waves in the clean energy space. Their mission is to accelerate the decarbonization of the grid, addressing the problem from two angles: by delivering software automation solutions to grid operators for timeline optimization, and in providing a risk assessment platform to help project developers successfully deploy and manage more projects. To date, grid operators have processed more than 60 GW of renewable energy and storage projects (equivalent to almost 200 million solar panels!) across more than a dozen states using Pearl Street’s software, reducing months of engineering effort to a matter of hours.

In this Q&A with David, Co-founder of Pearl Street Technologies, we explore their unique approach to solving some of the biggest challenges facing the clean energy industry today.

Can you tell us more about interconnection bottlenecks that are getting in the way of clean energy being deployed in a scalable way?

Before I do, it’s helpful to first define the term: “interconnection” is shorthand for the engineering study process to evaluate the potential impacts of one or more energy generation projects on the electric grid. Grid operators or utilities run these studies to make sure the power grid is capable of handling the proposed amount of generated power, and if not, to identify what upgrades to the grid are needed to handle that power without compromising reliability. The costs to pay for these upgrades are then returned to the developers of these potential projects, who decide if they want to move forward in the process (i.e., agree to pay those costs to upgrade the grid) or withdraw their project (i.e., decline to pay those costs, and therefore lose their ability to interconnect to the grid). Generally speaking, the interconnection process ends with a signed “generator interconnection agreement,” or GIA, between the project developer and the companies that own and operate the grid where the project is located.

The amount of time it takes to complete all the phases of an interconnection study is measured in years in most parts of the United States. The number of renewable energy projects submitted for interconnection has exploded over the last few years, and these two factors together have led to “interconnection bottlenecks.” There are a lot of projects to study, the studies take a long time, and as a result, we have gridlock. No pun intended.

How is Pearl Street working to accelerate this process?

Our software automates some of the more time consuming aspects of running interconnection studies, particularly around creating the simulation models on which the studies are run. These models are just snapshots of what the grid would “look like” with the new projects added, built from similar models of what the grid would look like without those projects (i.e., the default plan). But they’re not trivial to create – interconnection studies often involve modeling dozens or even hundreds of proposed projects, which represents a very big change over that default plan. Without getting into the weeds of the math, what our software does is automate the creation of these study models by adjusting existing grid facilities (like older fossil fuel plants) and at times the placement of new facilities required to support the new projects without causing a blackout. Through our software, weeks or months of engineering effort is reduced to minutes. So the bedrock of these studies gets built much faster in a repeatable, automated way.

Through our software, weeks or months of engineering effort is reduced to minutes.

Your new product focuses on helping developers better deal with risk and uncertainty in deploying renewable energy on the grid. Can you share some examples of how this product will help your customers overcome these obstacles?

Interconnection being a years-long process and the explosion in proposed renewable energy projects has become a huge driver of uncertainty for developers. They’re constantly trying to answer: What will my interconnection cost be when the study is finally done? What happens if a nearby project reduces its size? What happens if a project I was counting on to pay for a grid upgrade withdraws? What if it doesn’t? There are a ton of variables, and today, no scalable way to assess their impacts to inform decisions on projects. But with the same technology we’ve developed for grid operators to quickly build simulation models, we’ve created a platform to provide developers the ability to model and analyze all of the scenarios they care about and finally get a comprehensive sense of their “interconnection risk.” With our interconnection intelligence platform, they can answer the questions above and not just choose better locations for projects, but make better decisions along the way to improve the odds of signing a GIA. Interconnection will still be a tough hurdle, but we’ll be offering the first real solution to help grapple with the massive uncertainties.

We hear a lot about the problems getting in the way, but rarely the solution, so that is very cool. What sets Pearl Street Technologies apart from other companies working in the clean energy space, and what do you see as your unique value proposition?

We have an incredible team behind what we do. We bring together experts in simulation, optimization, software engineering, renewable energy project development, grid planning, and just all around good, motivated people to build technology with impact. We have folks who have developed massive solar and wind projects, and we have folks who have built industry-leading simulation software for nanoscale computer chips. We’re very collaborative and communicative as a company, and as a result we don’t shoehorn ourselves into one way of thinking – there is always an outsider perspective on a problem, and it’s the fusion of ideas from different backgrounds that enable everything we do. I could go on and on about our specific value propositions to different interconnection stakeholders, but at the root of it all is that our customers recognize us as an agile team with a deep understanding of today’s processes without being constrained by yesterday’s ways of thinking.

How do you envision your products contributing to the broader goal of decarbonizing the US energy sector, and what impact do you hope to have in this regard?

The Energy Information Administration estimates that electricity generation in the United States is responsible for 1.5 gigatons of annual carbon dioxide emissions – that’s about a quarter of the country’s total annual emissions. More electrification is coming – electric vehicles for cars and trucks, heat pumps, data centers – and we want it all to be powered reliably by renewable energy sources. When we talk about accelerating interconnection studies or helping developers navigate the interconnection process successfully, at the end of the day we mean one thing: more renewable energy coming online faster and reliably. To fully decarbonize, we need everything from policy changes to adoption of new technologies to help manage a nation-sprawling machine. But we hope to play a key role in unlocking the flow of clean energy onto the grid.

We hope to play a key role in unlocking the flow of clean energy onto the grid.

As a founder, can you speak to any personal challenges or lessons learned along the way in building Pearl Street Technologies?

Nobody who has met me would ever describe me as an optimist, but it’s not possible to start a company in a notoriously difficult market without at least being somewhat of a dreamer. My biggest challenge since starting Pearl Street has been balancing idealism with pragmatism – I want to see radical change to rapidly decarbonize the grid, but I understand the difficulties involved. Developing a deep understanding of all of the stakeholders in our corner of the electricity industry has been critical to growing Pearl Street, and I’ve found that the more we’ve learned, the better we’ve been able to find those opportunities to sneak some of our idealism into the mainstream.


Pearl Street Technologies is a company taking big strides when it comes to accelerating the deployment of renewable energy on the grid. By providing innovative solutions that reduce interconnection bottlenecks and help developers better manage risk and uncertainty, they’re making it easier than ever before for clean energy projects to get online quickly and efficiently. Pearl Street is poised to become synonymous with interconnections of renewables – a crucial gating issue in scaling up clean energy across markets nationwide. We’re excited to see what’s next for this innovative company, and encourage readers to check out their website and Knowledge Center for more information.

Female founders leading the way: Q&A with Causal’s Christina Pawlikowski

Throughout Women’s History Month, we’re delighted to share some of the remarkable female founders at Pear. We’re dedicated to supporting diverse entrepreneurs and are proud that 41% (and growing!) of our investments are in companies with at least one female founder! This is a truly remarkable statistic in our industry, and we take immense pride in it.

Throughout March, we’ll be featuring Q&As with some of these inspiring entrepreneurs. In this series, you’ll hear from them about their experiences in founding burgeoning startups and how they’re collaborating with Pear to turn their visions into reality.

This week, we’re excited to share this Q&A between Jill and Causal Labs Co-founder Christina Pawlikowski. In this week’s installment of our series, I’m excited to share more on Christina’s career path and journey building Causal from the ground up. 

Tell us a little bit about Causal and what problem you’re tackling.

I’m a product person: prior to co-founding Causal I worked at TripAdvisor and Circle. My co-founders are also TripAdvisor alums. We are building Causal to solve some of the most frustrating problems we’ve experienced while building software: crappy, messy data generated by tracking code that’s difficult to maintain, code that’s so full of old ideas and branches that adding to it feels like a nightmare, and a general feeling that all the work we were doing to optimize our products might be adding up to nothing.

We’ve built what we wished we’d had at Tripadvisor: a system that lets you collect accurate product data, write maintainable code, and focus your efforts on building products that really drive your business forward.

We are building Causal to solve some of the most frustrating problems we’ve experienced while building software.

What inspired you to start your own company, and what were some of the initial challenges you faced? What keeps you motivated?

I was led to start a company in part because I missed working with my co-founders Jeff and Alex, who I’d worked with at Tripadvisor.  I loved the team we built together at TripAdvisor and felt like we could build another great team.  And it was also in part that I’d gotten a taste of startup life at Circle and loved it. I wanted a chance to build my own startup from the ground up.

How did you go about securing funding for your startup and how did you evaluate potential VC partners? What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs (especially other women) looking to raise capital? 

The truth is we had a meticulous plan that did not hold up to the chaotic funding markets of May and June of last year. Ultimately, we pitched 50 VCs over four months to find a lead investor. It was worth the effort, though. We’re backed by an amazing group of investors who really understand what we’re building.

My advice to entrepreneurs who are evaluating investors is:

  • Look for people who understand your market already. It’s hard to take someone from zero to one in a couple of meetings. The conversations were so much deeper and more detailed with investors who understood the problems we were trying to solve.
  • Ask for references and do your best to find backdoor references. When you get a hold of these references, ask them where the VC shines—when is that investor the founder’s first phone call?  Ask how often they speak, where their advice is particularly wise, and what other kinds of support they’ve gotten from the firm.  Standard customer discovery rules apply: be specific, ignore hypotheticals, and ask for examples from the recent past.  
  • In talking with the fund itself, do your best to understand the fund’s structure and how that’s going to impact your experience. Will they take a board seat? Do they follow on?  How many other portfolio companies does your partner work with day-to-day?  Will other partners pitch in to help you?  How does the rest of the firm help support you?

My advice for fundraising is generally:

  • Get comfortable with hearing “no.” Most investors are going to say no, it’s just the nature of the game. Sometimes it’s about you, and sometimes it’s about something totally different—where they are in their fund, or what they’re interested in working on for the next decade, or even just whether you caught them on a bad day. You only need a few investors to believe.
  • Start building a community around yourself now. So many people came through for us in the end—with intros, with pitch practice, with angel checks. We spent years building those relationships, and I doubt we would have been able to raise without them.
  • For women, specifically (for any underrepresented founder, honestly): I found it best not to dwell on the statistics. It’s like watching Jaws before you go to the beach—it’ll ruin the experience. You have to believe that you belong in the room, because you do. Any investor who disagrees simply because of who you are sucks and isn’t worthy of a spot on your cap table.

You have to believe that you belong in the room, because you do.

What role has mentorship and/or community played in your personal and professional development, and how have you sought out mentorship throughout your journey?

They’ve both been hugely important to me.  The best advice I got when I was leaving TripAdvisor was to find a community of peers in product that I could talk to, because you really give that up when you leave a big company for a startup. I’ve been a part of a group of product leaders in Boston that has been meeting every couple months for years, and it’s an amazingly helpful community.  

The same goes with mentorship. I’ve had a bunch of truly great mentors during my career, one of whom I persuaded to come on as an advisor to Causal. I know it can feel intimidating to seek out mentors, but I think the place to start is to find someone smart, who you respect, and ask their advice. Follow their advice and report back. Then see where it goes from there.

I know it can feel intimidating to seek out mentors, but I think the place to start is to find someone smart, who you respect, and ask their advice.

What are you most proud of in your journey building Causal?

It’s a tie between the product and the team for me. I love working with Jeff and Alex, and I’m so excited about the folks we’ve added to the team this year. I also love what we’ve built and seeing it in action with customers has been such a joy.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs (especially women!) who are just starting out on their own journeys?

Do it!  But: on your terms, when you’re ready. I love being a founder, but I’m so glad I spent time learning how to do product management from great teams and great bosses first. That foundation has been helpful to me, and I don’t regret delaying becoming a founder to get it.  Figure out what kind of foundation you want and need, and go from there.

Finally, what’s next for Causal and why are you excited about your space and your team? 

The next two big things for us are:

  • Growing the team (join us—we’re building a team of talented, funny, candid, curious folks who live in the Boston area)
  • Bringing on our next few design partners (to wit: if you need to run A/B tests and you’re struggling to collect accurate data, keep your codebase in check, and evaluate experiments accurately, we’d love to talk with you) 

I’m excited about our space for two reasons.  First, I love the customers we get to serve: product and engineering teams. Second, we’re working on democratizing access to techniques we know work at very large, sophisticated tech companies and I love giving our customers access to tools we know are going to help them.  For example, this year we’re building out our causal inference capabilities, which help you understand which leading indicators really drive your business. Without access to an advanced ML team, companies are limited to error-prone, time-consuming guesswork. Causal gives companies this superpower just through running A/B tests. 

Thank you so much, Christina. We are thrilled to be partners and cannot wait to see where Causal goes next. Thank you for tuning into our blog series throughout Women’s History Month. We’ve loved sharing stories from our incredible female founders and celebrating their achievements in entrepreneurship. If you missed it, please check out our profiles on Bella Liu of Orby AI, Isha Patel of Kale, and Marisa Reddy and Shelby Breger of Conduit Tech.

Female founders leading the way: Q&A with Bella Liu, Co-founder of Orby AI

As Women’s History Month continues to unfold, we’re delighted to highlight some of the remarkable female founders at Pear. We’re dedicated to supporting diverse entrepreneurs and are proud that 41% (and growing!) of our investments are in companies with at least one female founder! This is a truly remarkable statistic in our industry, and we take immense pride in it.

Throughout March, we’ll be featuring Q&As with some of these inspiring entrepreneurs. In this series, you’ll hear from them about their experiences in founding burgeoning startups and how they’re collaborating with Pear to turn their visions into reality.

This week, we’re excited to present this Q&A between Aparna Sinha and Orby AI’s Co-founder Bella Liu on Bella’s journey in entrepreneurship and some of the lessons she’s learned along the way. We began working with Bella and her Co-founder, Will, in August 2022 and have loved getting to work with their team from ideation to product launch

Orby AI is still in stealth mode, and we cannot wait for the public launch in the coming months. We’ve been quietly at work helping the team build and scale their team and we’re proud of all they’ve accomplished in a short amount of time. I’m excited to share more about Bella’s inspiring story in this week’s installment of our Women’s History Month series!

Can you tell me a little bit about your journey to becoming an entrepreneur?

My journey really begins with my upbring – growing up in a small town in rural China, my parents instilled in me the value of education, which was not always a given for girls in the area. Despite limited resources, they did everything they could to ensure that I received an education. I remember the time when I was in middle school, they sold our furniture and took on any extra work they could, so we could pay for my tuition. They motivated me to work hard and dream big. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be where I am today, and I’m constantly driven to pursue ambitious goals and take risks when the right opportunities arise.

AI is the next big revolution that will fundamentally change people’s lives in numerous ways. However, the reality is that AI had been showcased and demoed, but had not yet been successfully implemented in many real projects. This led me to join UiPath five years ago, where I worked on AI product and business development. AI automation was still at a nascent stage – I saw that it could be the right entry point for many organizations to adopt AI and see tangible value. I was right. The market and the company grew really quickly and UiPath IPO’ed as one of the largest enterprise software IPOs in recent years. While I was proud of the impact we had on our customers, I also saw that some customer problems were not solved effectively and require a completely different approach, so I teamed up with my co-founder Will and we started Orby AI. We are excited to work in a time when public awareness of AI is at an all-time high, and we believe that this is a once-in-a-lifetime revolution, similar to the internet and mobile eras. We are already seeing our product built on foundation models being used by customers to automate tasks, and we are continuing to break the technology boundaries and deliver meaningful value to customers.

We are excited to work in a time when public awareness of AI is at an all-time high, and we believe that this is a once-in-a-lifetime revolution, similar to the internet and mobile eras.

What’s a big or surprising lesson you’ve learned as a woman in tech? What advice do you have for women in their professional journeys as entrepreneurs?

Maybe not a surprise, but living it has helped reinforce and internalize it for me – having a solid support system at home and in the workplace is crucial. My advice to women in their professional journeys as entrepreneurs are to find people who genuinely support and encourage them along the way. This is actually applicable to both women and men because we all have times when we need help and support.

Personally, I experienced this kind of support during an intense period of company and product building when I was pregnant with my first child. Prior to my third trimester, I was not sure if I would be in a position to take a month off for child bounding and recovery. My co-founder, the broader team and I came up with a plan to make sure no balls were dropped, and they all stepped up to enable me to take time off. Everyone, including our investors, were super supportive. Support from my partner and our extended families enabled me to operate at full speed upon my return. This support system allowed me to focus on my health and family while ensuring we as a team are continuing to make progress.

My advice to women in their professional journeys as entrepreneurs are to find people who genuinely support and encourage them along the way.

How have you navigated any societal expectations or biases around gender roles and work-life balance as a business leader?

I follow the advice of one of my mentors and a respected woman business leader: “you just have to always know your stuff and get things done.” Regardless of any perceptions or bias, I think the key is to demonstrate expertise and deliver value.

During my graduate school years, I worked on a pro bono project for the World Bank to establish an impact investing fund in Bolivia. We worked closely with the business and government organizations in Bolivia and frequently met to discuss the project. In the beginning, I noticed that in the meetings, the local teams sometimes looked away when I was discussing with them. One of my local contacts later explained to me that it is uncommon to work with women in business. They did not mean any disrespect – they are just not used to it in their culture. I understood where they came from and decided to focus on delivering the work. In a few weeks, the dynamic in meetings changed, and they felt more comfortable to speak with me directly and even asked for my opinion on various topics.

How did you evaluate VC partners when going through fundraising?

While we did consider typical aspects such as investment focus, reputation, and network, we placed a strong emphasis on the specific partner’s value and shared vision. We believe that it is crucial to work with someone who is equally passionate about our vision since they will be a long-term partner in our business. We would take the time to get to know the partner and ask questions about their vision of what Orby can become. We have been extremely happy with our decision on our investors.

We believe that it is crucial to work with someone who is equally passionate about our vision since they will be a long-term partner in our business.

What’s next for Orby and why are you excited about your space and your team?

Our team is heads down in executing on our vision and roadmap, and I am really proud of the product and the team that we have built. Our customers are already using the product and getting value. We are continuously pushing the boundaries of our technology, and I can’t wait to share more with you!

Thank you so much, Bella. We are thrilled to be partners and cannot wait for the world to use Orby AI. As Women’s History Month continues, we look forward to sharing more stories from our incredible female founders and celebrating their achievements in entrepreneurship.

Female founders leading the way: Q&A with Isha Patel, Co-Founder of Kale

As Women’s History Month continues to unfold, we’re delighted to highlight some of the remarkable female founders at Pear. We’re dedicated to supporting diverse entrepreneurs and are proud that 41% (and growing!) of our investments are in companies with at least one female founder. This is a truly remarkable statistic in our industry, and we take immense pride in it.

Throughout March, we’ll be featuring Q&As with some of these inspiring entrepreneurs. In this series, you’ll hear from them about their experiences in founding burgeoning startups and how they’re collaborating with Pear to turn their visions into reality.

This week, we’re excited to present this Q&A between Vivien and Kale’s Co-founder Isha Patel on the journey growing Kale from the ground up. We met Kale’s Co-founders, Isha and Luis, when they were still building a startup called Palette, focused on a completely different idea. We knew they were an outstanding team from our first conversation with them, so they joined our PearX program where we explored many different ideas together – from social video apps to travel apps to superfan communities – and they ultimately landed on the idea of Kale. I’m excited to share more about Kale and their journey in this week’s installment of our Women’s History Month series!

Tell us a little bit about Kale and what problem you’re tackling.

Kale is on a mission to empower creators to translate their social value into economic value, no matter their size. They are flipping traditional influencer marketing on its head by rewarding everyday, trustworthy creators for talking about brands they actually shop at. 

By tapping into authentic voices, Kale provides brands with a more cost-effective marketing channel, than FB advertising and influencer marketing. Instead of paying one influencer with one million followers, Kale makes it easy for a brand to recognize thousands of their longtail superfan customers.

What inspired you to start your own company, and what were some of the initial challenges you faced? What keeps you motivated?

Luis, my cofounder, and I sat next to each other at LinkedIn for 5 years, building and scaling video to 700M users and 30M brands.  Living and breathing the small creator ecosystem for 5+ years at LinkedIn, we were blown away by the level of engagement, intimacy and clout smaller creators have among their audience. 

We started talking to a bunch of creators on TikTok and Instagram, who would tell us that they had a personal relationship with each of their 3K-5K followers. We were stunned! Small creators have accrued valuable social currency over the years, but no one has figured out how to tap into them. There isn’t an efficient way for brands (who are hungry for user-generated content) to work with them at scale, while maintaining authenticity and relatability. So we started tinkering with the idea of Kale.

To me, building an impactful product means you are saving someone time, money or energy. What motivates me most is hearing that Kale does exactly that for our users: brands and creators. Plus, our team never ceases to inspire me with their drive, curiosity and creativity to tackle problems.

To me, building an impactful product means you are saving someone time, money or energy.

How did you go about securing funding for your startup and how did you evaluate potential VC partners? What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs (especially other womxn) looking to raise capital? 

We went through the Pear’s Summer PearX batch in 2021. As first-time founders, we leaned on Mar to advise and guide us through the fundraising process. 

Kale is something brand new. It’s a new category that sits at the intersection of social, finance and marketing. When pitching investors, we weren’t able to cleanly map ourselves as “the Uber for X” or the “Yelp for Y”. So for us, it was important to find partners who shared our vision of what a world looks like when everyday people can capitalize on their social influencers, instead of the 1% of big social media celebrities.

We found that in Kirsten Green at Forerunner, who has spent her career understanding the needs, wants and desires of really cool brands. She has an intuitive understanding of what CMOs at the modern generation of brands need at any given moment.

In Mar, we found an extension of our founding team. For example, she is in our Excel sheets with us, helping us understand the biggest business models. Plus, as a former founder, she just gets it.

At the end of the day, my opinion is that investors are not just people who cut your company a check. The impactful investors are the individuals who are the weeds with you, thinking through the business model, customer journey and market shifts. 

The impactful investors are the individuals who are the weeds with you, thinking through the business model, customer journey and market shifts. 

Now that you are building your team, what qualities are you looking for in potential hires?

Hiring is like deciding the invitation list to a dinner party. Each new attendee brings something to the conversation: a life lesson, previous work experience or a really warm smile. To keep the conversation dynamic, it’s crucial to have a team of diverse individuals (backgrounds, experiences, skills). 

Looking back on your journey so far, what lessons have you learned that you wish someone had told you when starting out?

As a founder, get comfortable with selling as soon as you can. Figure out your own style when it comes to sales, hiring and raising capital.

Lean on other founders. To navigate murky waters, whether technical or emotional, I’ve found that other founders have an intrinsic sense of empathy.

Rewire your brain when it hears a no. You’ll hear no’s all day long: potential investors, customers and candidates will top the list. What I’ve learnt is there is no such thing as a no. Every door is left open if you are able to process “the why” behind the “no”. Each no teaches you how you can clarify your pitch. Two years into our journey, no’s are becoming even more motivating than yes’s.

Two years into our journey, no’s are becoming even more motivating than yes’s.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs (especially womxn!) who are just starting out on their own journeys?

Go out in the world and talk to your customers. You’ll never waste time if you’re talking to potential buyers. Find the right environment to meet your customers, whether that’s at a conference, hosting an event yourself or texting a group chat of friends.

Figure out a sustainable business model. If you are B2B, try not to give away your product for free, otherwise you don’t know what your customer’s willingness to pay is. Without someone paying for your product, you don’t know if you have product-market fit. You want to hear that your price is too high or low because that informs your pricing strategy. 

Finally, what’s next for Kale and why are you excited about your space and your team? 

With our enthusiastic creator community and innovative brand partners, like Free People, OLIPOP and Notion, Kale is redefining how creators and brands work together on social media. We’re reinventing marketing strategies for brands who have been overly dependent on Facebook ads and influencer marketing. 

We’re really excited for where we are taking our creator ecosystem – it’s going to be something really special that allows anyone who has influence to start monetizing, not just influencers! 

Thank you so much, Isha. We are thrilled to be partners and cannot wait to see where Kale goes. As Women’s History Month continues, we look forward to sharing more stories from our incredible female founders and celebrating their achievements in entrepreneurship.

Female founders leading the way: Q&A with Conduit Tech’s Co-Founders

Happy International Women’s Day! As Women’s History Month unfolds, we’re delighted to highlight some of the remarkable female founders at Pear. We’re dedicated to supporting diverse entrepreneurs and are proud that 41% (and growing!) of our investments are in companies with at least one female founder. This is a truly remarkable statistic in our industry, and we take immense pride in it.

Throughout March, we’ll be featuring Q&As with some of these inspiring entrepreneurs. In this series, you’ll hear from them about their experiences in founding burgeoning startups and how they’re collaborating with Pear to turn their visions into reality.

First up, we’re thrilled to present this Q&A between Danielle and Conduit Tech Co-founders Marisa Reddy and Shelby Breger on their journey to date.

We’ve known Shelby since 2018 when she joined our Pear Fellows program. When Shelby and Marisa reached out to us to share what they were working on last year, we were blown away by their hustle. From meeting HVAC contractors at local hardware stores to joining technician trainings, it was a no-brainer for us to partner with the team. I’m excited to share more about them in this first installment of our Women’s History Month series!

Tell us a little bit about Conduit and what problem you’re tackling!

Conduit Tech is focused on enabling the critical trades that form the backbone of the built world. We are starting by developing innovative system sizing and sales enablement tools to support HVAC Professionals in designing, selling, and installing high-efficiency HVAC systems. Conduit Tech’s tooling will be integrated into the workflows of residential HVAC Pros, enabling them to do what they do best – provide comfort, health, and energy savings to their clients. 

What inspired you to start your own company, and what were some of the initial challenges you faced? 

We are incredibly motivated by the potential to make the lives of the contractors we work with easier. The HVAC industry is facing over a 100,000 person labor shortage, affecting every single role in the industry. We know that anything that can streamline workflows, decrease time spent on manual tasks, and enhance sales conversion can be incredibly powerful for the day-to-day of an owner or team member.

How did you go about fundraising for Conduit and how did you evaluate potential VC partners? What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs (especially other womxn) looking to raise capital? 

We were fortunate to meet Pear early in our days in grad school, and we have known the Mar & Pejman since 2018. When we were offered a spot in PearX, it was a no brainer – an opportunity to pursue our dream of building tools for contractors, while knowing we would be supported and pushed throughout the journey. 

We’ve looked for mentors and coaches as our investors – people with whom we can be our full selves around, and are willing to ask us tough questions. 

When it comes to advice to founders, it’d be to invest in building relationships with VCs long before you need capital. Ultimately your investor is a partner you’ll have on board for years – and you’ll want to be able to evaluate whether they will offer the support that matches with your needs.

What role has mentorship and community played in your personal and professional development, and how have you sought out mentorship throughout your journey?

Our mentors have been vital to our company journey. Not only do we each have personal mentors, who have continuously been resources throughout our career, but in more recent years our community at Stanford has been incredible. We took a phenomenal course at Stanford, Stanford Climate Ventures (SCV). Through SCV, we met not only some of the most incredible human beings working in climate, but mentors who have provided the support that has so significantly altered the course of our company’s journey. 

We’ve also been fortunate to surround ourselves in a few communities of entrepreneurs (Breakthrough Energy Fellows, PearX) – who are incredible resources on everything from managing difficult conversations, to thinking about how to recruit the best talent. 

Now that you are building your team, what qualities are you looking for in potential hires?

We have an incredible team (actively seeking to add folks) of low-ego, mission & growth-oriented and adaptable team members. We actively seek diversity of thought and backgrounds.

Looking back on your journey so far, what lessons have you learned that you wish someone had told you when starting out?

This is true in all of life, but is certainly very true when it comes to working hours as a founder: your most valuable resource is time. Working hard is critical, but it comes down to whether you spent your time in the most effective way possible. This is so hard to figure out, but mentors and incredible partners can help you strategize on where to spend your limited effort.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs (especially womxn!) who are just starting out on their own journeys?

Don’t let self doubt get in your way!

Finally, what’s next for Conduit and why are you excited about your space and your team? 

We are so proud of our team – our team is kind, low-ego and brilliant, and very committed to building the best product for our industry. We are humbled to be working with contractors across the country as we build the right solution for them, and are grateful for their support. Conduit Tech is growing 🙂 (we’re looking to bring on a Senior Full Stack Engineer and Senior Product Designer). And finally, we’re launching our product in market this summer!

Thank you, Shelby and Marisa. We’re so thrilled to be on this journey with you. As Women’s History Month continues, we look forward to sharing more stories from our incredible female founders and celebrating their achievements in entrepreneurship.

Ladder: Democratizing Access for Career Growth

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, college students were sent home, lost jobs, and suffered without community or an understanding of remote work. Andrew, the CEO of Ladder, was one of those students. Seeking to help his peers, the Ladder team started a mentorship program with 500 students that has now transformed into a professional platform that will serve the 47M Gen Z-ers on their career path. The Ladder team has continued to be dedicated to the same path: democratizing access to career resources to help young professionals find community and careers. 

We had first met the Ladder team individually through Pear Garage. During a Pear Garage alumni event, Andrew and Akshaya shared their entrepreneurial passion to build and create what we know as Ladder today. When the team reached out to apply to join the accelerator, we were thrilled to help support their vision. We were drawn to their passion to build a more personalized professional platform and wanted to support Ladder through the 2020 Pear Summer Accelerator. 

As a first MVP, Ladder launched a quick proof-of-concept newsletter called “Remote Students” to serve undergraduate students looking for remote internships during the pandemic. This newsletter reached 30,000 students within the first week! Blown away by the reception, they knew they were on to something. Through weekly office hours and workshops in the Accelerator, Ladder continued to define their product strategy, test new features, honed in on their core mission and within four weeks coded up Ladder. As a result of their grit and determination, they began to develop true customer love and traction. We were so proud to have witnessed the team blossom and grow.

Ladder is creating the next-gen professional platform focused on community, content, and connection.

Through community-oriented resources, the company helps people find support in the fields they’re interested in, form meaningful relationships with peers and mentors, and land their dream job. From college students in Pear’s Garage to the announcement of their seed round, we’re privileged to have seen Ladder’s journey since the very start. 

We’re honored to continue to support Ladder in their seed round alongside Forerunner, Seven Seven Six, and more incredible people with the same belief in a team building for their own generation. This funding will expand Ladder’s team and help them develop more innovative ways to help professionals and communities get more out of their career. Ladder is built for everyone: communities to curate job opportunities, community builders to launch their own professional communities, and companies to meaningfully engage early career talent. 

Congratulations – the future is bright!

If you’re looking to join a team of hackers, founders, builders, operators, and overall fun human beings who care deeply about democratizing access to career growth – Ladder is hiring

Next Generation Biotech

This is a recap of our fireside chat with Dr. Mostafa Ronaghi, SVP of Entrepreneurial Development at Illumina and founder of GRAIL, recently acquired by Illumina for $8 Billion. Watch the full talk at pear.vc/speakers, and RSVP for the next.

Dr. Ronaghi's story
Biotech = data + human need 
Technical founders can become skilled in business
Early indicators of success in early stage and Series A
“Simple” advice for biotech entrepreneurs: commit

Dr. Ronaghi’s story 

As a young boy growing up in Iran, Mostafa Dr. Ronaghi was drawn to biology. He figured he should become a doctor — after all, what other career options were there for someone interested in the future of genetics? But, after shadowing his uncle at a local hospital, Dr. Ronaghi discovered that medicine was not for him. Instead, he would follow his passions into the emerging field of biotechnology. 

In many ways, Dr. Ronaghi was ahead of the curve. Today, opportunities are increasing within the biotech space, as technological advances continue to drive innovations forward. Decades later, the journey has taken him to roles as a researcher, serial entrepreneur, company executive, and inventor. 

Since 2008, Dr. Ronaghi has served as the Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Illumina, a leading developer of life science tools. He is also a serial entrepreneur, having founded several notable biotech companies including Grail, Avantome, and Pyrosequencing AB. In all, he holds more than 30 patents. 

Dr. Ronaghi earned his Ph.D. from the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden. It was during this time that he began researching pyrosequencing methods — the groundbreaking DNA sequencing method that he would become known for. 

“I started my PhD program on microbial sequencing. And after one and half years, I came up with the idea of pyrosequencing, which was a novel way of doing sequencing,” he explained. 

He was later offered a role as a principal investigator at the Stanford University Genome Technology Center, and was encouraged to apply for national grants to increase funding. Because he was not a U.S. citizen at the time, Dr. Ronaghi began searching for American co-applicants to collaborate with. In 1998, the search led him to the founders of Illumina. 

Biotech companies are driven by both data and human need 

In biotech, metrics matter. 

Dr. Ronaghi’s technological advancements in gene sequencing have allowed for faster processing and increased accuracy. 

This change has been reflected in the markets as well. His work managed to reduce the cost of genome sequencing by nine orders of magnitude. Only one other industry — the semiconductor industry — has been able to accomplish this. 

“Back in 1990, the cost of sequencing the human genome was more than $3 billion. And we reduced that cost to basically $1,000 within 22 years,” he said. “The genome sequencing is about $500 per genome now, in larger scales. And it’s going to go to $200 in the next few years.”

“This has kind of revolutionized healthcare, the impact is going to be enormous,” he added. 

While much of the daily work responsible for a scientific breakthrough centers around minute details and microscopic particles, it’s important not to lose sight of the emotional, human elements.

When Dr, Ronaghi first started working on the science behind Grail, a healthcare company whose mission is to detect cancer early, the company’s business model was not fully determined yet. But Dr. Ronaghi and his team felt that it was unethical not to bring it to market, considering its potential to save lives. 

Today, Dr. Ronaghi says the technology has improved the survival rate of cancer patients by 20%. 

Technical founders can become skilled in business 

Scientists and researchers shouldn’t be discouraged by the business component of biotech entrepreneurship. Dr. Ronaghi cites his own career as evidence that technical founders can learn. He encourages technical founders to try their hand at business, even if they are used to a lab. 

“I feel that it is much easier to develop the technical founder to understand business than the business founder to understand the technology,” he said. “Especially if you are in a high biotech kind of a space. You really need to understand the technology and the market in depth.”

Illumina’s recent 2020 acquisition of Grail was a test of his new business mindset.

Grail was on track to go public, when Dr. Ronaghi and his team switched course and entered an $8 billion acquisition agreement with Illumina. 

There were a few key elements Dr. Ronaghi considered when evaluating the deal. 

First, they had to calculate the basic financials — when would the acquisition be profitable? 

After justifying the suggested price, they moved on to the less tangible components of the deal — what could Illumina bring to the table?

Dr. Ronaghi realized that Illumina could help Grail scale and further expand the product into global channels. From a business perspective, the deal made perfect sense. 

Early indicators for biotech success in early stage and Series A

As a co-founder of Illumina Accelerator, the world’s first business accelerator focused solely on creating an innovation ecosystem for the genomics industry, Dr. Ronaghi is familiar with a company’s earliest stage. He believes the best indicator of success for an early stage company is the quality of the founding team. 

“When you’re picking a company at the earliest stage, like the accelerator stage, the number one important factor is the team. There is no question,” he said. 

If the team is dedicated, smart, and has the skills to create the proposed technology, then it doesn’t fully matter if the business plan is fine tuned or not. 

For Series A biotech, Dr. Ronaghi has separate rules for different categories:

  • For therapeutics, teams should have a lead compound identified or have pushed a product through clinical trials.
  • For diagnostics, founders should be able to demonstrate that their tests work well and will have an impact on the subject.
  • In the software space, there should be recognizable initial customer traction. 

“Simple” advice for entrepreneurs: commit fully to your idea

Dr. Ronaghi’s advice for entrepreneurs interested in the complex biotech and life science space is relatively simple: commit fully to your business idea, and include others who will as well. 

“I see that a lot of people that are in larger companies, and they want to start a company half time. That’s not going to work. You have to leave your academic job or company job and focus one hundred percent on basically creating something,” he said. 

While this advice could apply to entrepreneurs in most industries, it is especially true for a field that centers around science and technological breakthroughs. Dr. Ronaghi believed that most biotech business plans had a window of opportunity that could easily be missed if the would-be entrepreneur did not quickly execute their plan. 

“If you’re not dedicated yourself, you cannot convince other people to join you,” he added. 

Convincing other talented individuals to join the company is key to the success of any business, Dr. Ronaghi explained. In order to accomplish this, founders should be transparent and keep their team in the loop. They also should be generous — and be prepared to give out enough equity in order to retain a great team. 

Once the team and technology is in place, founders should focus on ensuring customer satisfaction and product market fit before expanding into other opportunities, he concluded.

“I understand your technology has a lot of potential. I don’t want to see it now. I want you to focus on this market and show me that you can actually deliver a fantastic customer experience.”

The future of genomics

What’s next in the world of biotech? 

If Dr. Ronaghi were to make a new company now, it would be related to either of the following topics: 1) the relationship between one’s diet, microbiome, and overall health or 2) single cell biology.

“The reason that I’m picking up food is because that’s the number one environmental factor that the human body is exposed to…  There are a lot of leading scientists these days that believe that 90% of diseases originate from the gut,” he said. 

He views single cell biology as an area that has the potential to unlock other biotech innovations down the line. 

“We have to look at biology at the cellular level or subcellular level. So single cell biology is actually very intriguing. I really think that that’s going to actually open up new frontiers in the way we are looking at medicine.”