‘It’s incredibly rare to be the finished product of a fantastic entrepreneur’

21 Sep 2021

Lily Shaw. Image: OMERS Ventures

Lily Shaw of OMERS Ventures discusses opportunities in health-tech, the importance of learning, and why founders need narrative skills.

Lily Shaw started her career in financial markets, but left the trading floor in 2020 to join the fintech innovation and investment team at OMERS Ventures. This is the venture capital arm of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS), which invests in tech companies on both sides of the Atlantic.

From her base in London, Shaw is now a Series A and Series B investor with the firm’s European team.

‘A lot of the entrepreneurs we work with are second-time founders, as those first-time learnings are so crucial to enabling your eventual success’

What experience do you have with start-ups?

We’re tech investors with a wide breadth in our portfolio, ranging from insurtech to consumer fintech to AI-enabled health-tech. In addition to portfolio support, I lead on the deal sourcing and diligence for all things fintech.

Fintech is an area of personal interest given where I started my career, which meant I had a front-row seat into how the investment industry is changing and the direct effect of the rampant pace of technological change.

In your opinion, which areas of science and technology hold the greatest scope for opportunities?

As much as 2020 taught us that making predictions is a fool’s errand, my personal view is that there is lots to be excited about in health-tech. One area which stands out is synthetic biology. In addition, we’ve met a large number of companies who are creating huge opportunities in access to fertility treatments.

Are good entrepreneurs born or can they be made?

I hate to sit on the fence, but I tend to avoid simple binaries where possible. It’s incredibly rare to be the finished product of a fantastic entrepreneur, without considerable learning and self-improvement along the way. We often find that a lot of the entrepreneurs we work with are second-time founders, as those first-time learnings are so crucial to enabling your eventual success.

What are the qualities of a good founder?

It’s a long list but, particularly when it comes to investor relations, founders need to have extremely strong narrative skills. We love the calls where founders can clearly convey their vision, and leave us wanting to learn more about their space.

What does a successful entrepreneur need to do every day?

Our founders are probably better placed to answer this, but I think particularly in this remote-first world, it’s so important for founders to make sure their team are properly motivated and engaged.

What resources and tools are an absolute must for your personal arsenal?

There’s been a lot written about the VC tech stack – but I think enough credit isn’t given to the growing size of data teams within VC funds. We have two fantastic team members in charge of data and growth, who are crucial to our early stage pipeline creation.

How do you assemble a good team?

This is a particularly hot talking point right now, given what a competitive market it is for hiring talent. We have seen that for the key hires, people need to be passionate about the product – compensation shouldn’t be the main selling point.

What is the critical ingredient to start-up success?

Resiliency – and lots of it.

What are the biggest mistakes that founders make?

The biggest mistake is not learning from your mistakes.

What are your views on mentorship and the qualities one should look for in a mentor?

I’m actively looking for a mentor, so I have lots of thoughts on this! My most successful mentor-mentee relationships have been with people who I really clicked with, and then it was a happy coincidence that we had mutually aligned professional interests.

What’s the number-one piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs?

I’m always uncomfortable offering advice to entrepreneurs because they are the ones living it day to day – it’s too easy to offer advice from the sidelines.

I suppose aside from making sure that you don’t sacrifice on sleep, make sure you have a board that you trust and are active cheerleaders for you. This is definitely key.

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