Let’s face it. Our society has always been fascinated by celebrity entrepreneurs, often to the point of lionizing them as superheroes. Who hasn’t heard of Elon Musk at Tesla and SpaceX, or Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak at Apple? Even the story of Hewlett and Packard starting their company in a garage has become the metaphorical embodiment of successful entrepreneurship borne from humble origins. The mystique behind these founder stories can be so powerful that people sometimes try to mimic their superficial attributes without understanding the fundamental underpinnings that led to their success.
Case in point: Elizabeth Holmes adopted the image of a “Jobsian” entrepreneur by donning a black turtleneck daily and dropping out of college, yet failed to grasp basic, essential ingredients such as the leadership, products, and core values needed to lead and scale an organization with integrity. Her company, Theranos, has become a cautionary tale for what not to do when starting and leading a new company.
In our current culture, beset with divisiveness and disinformation, the need for values-based, mission-driven leadership is greater than ever before. Rather than hero-worshipping or vilifying our leaders based on the misperception that they alone control the destiny of the organizations they lead, we need a new model for how to think about the success — or, more importantly, the significance — of the modern venture and its leader.
Enter the “venturepreneur” – a portmanteau of “venture capitalist” and “entrepreneur” in both the literal and figurative sense. A venture capitalist (VC), according to Investopedia, is “a private equity investor that provides capital to companies exhibiting high growth potential in exchange for an equity stake.” An entrepreneur, according to Merriam-Webster, is “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.” It therefore stands to reason that a venturepreneur is one who invests in, organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a startup venture.
My own experience as a venturepreneur was borne out of my initial role as CEO and a founding investor at Halozyme Therapeutics, and later as Founder of City Hill, an impact-minded investment firm I launched in 2010 to found, fund, and lead mission-driven companies, initially in the health care industry. City Hill’s scope, through a family of entities that include City Hill Ventures, City Hill Foundation, and City Hill Arts, has since expanded to include for-profit and non-profit ventures dedicated to revitalizing people, planet, and perspective.
City Hill’s active approach to building new ventures embodies the venturepreneur as “one who founds, funds, and leads ventures.” However, I have learned that this technical definition is simply the superficial meaning of the word and is missing a key ingredient.
The clue to this key ingredient is, in fact, embedded in the structure of the word “venturepreneur.” The sequential order of the word “venture” before the abbreviated contraction of the word “entrepreneur” represents the idea of putting the needs of the organization above those of the individual, by shifting the focus away from the entrepreneur-as-superhero and placing purpose above self, as it ought to be.
The result is a deeper meaning of venturepreneur — namely, an individual who founds, funds and leads a mission-driven venture and seeks to prioritize its purpose above self-interest. This aspirational definition of venturepreneur is just that – an aspiration that could apply to anyone who is working on building and leading a risky enterprise — whether in the private or public sector. And in any setting — whether at work, school, or home.
Using City Hill as my platform for building mission-driven organizations, I helped launch Ignyta in 2011 after leaving Halozyme, as well as other companies such as Eclipse Therapeutics in 2011, Bonti in 2015, and, more recently, Erasca, Boundless Bio, and City Hill Arts in 2018. With each new venture, I’ve made not just an investment decision, but a full commitment of “time, talent, and treasure” based on a deep connection with the company’s mission.
For example, Erasca’s mission to erase cancer is literally embedded in its name. This is intended to serve as a constant reminder of our bold mission and focus on helping patients suffering from cancer daily, and has served as a powerful motivating force for our employees and various stakeholders.
While there is a great deal of cynicism these days regarding how most founders and VCs claim to be mission-driven only to fall short, it doesn’t discount the importance for us to aspire for more than merely serving our own respective self-interests – to put the organization above the individual. My sincere hope, further heightened by these turbulent times, is that all of us will strive to become values-based, mission-driven leaders in our respective homes and communities.