Women in Venture

Jodi Collier, MBA '94 is leveraging angel investing to make an impact on the Boston entrepreneurial scene.

Launchpad Venture Group was recently named the #1 most active venture group in the greater Boston area by the Angel Capital Association. Since it was founded in 2001, Launchpad has invested over $80 million in more than 100 start-ups and has consistently been named among the top five angel groups in the U.S.

Steering the helm of Launchpad's day-to-day operations as the Executive Director is Jodi Collier, MBA '94. Collier has been with Launchpad for over six years, serving for five as the Director of Operations before transitioning into her current role.

"We put $10 million to work each year. We're pretty proud of what we've built," she said. "It's a lot of fun to talk to people who are brave enough to start their own companies, who recognize a need in the market. We see them raising their first $1 million of real capital after their friends and family round. They're at a really exciting stage and I really love the opportunity to work closely with them."

Transition to Launchpad

Collier's career in marketing and sales made her a unique fit for Launchpad. She was on the precipice of returning to work after taking eight years off to raise her children as a stay-at-home mom when the opportunity arose to relaunch her career in the venture capital world.

"I was fortunate enough to discover my current job very serendipitously through a neighbor," she said. "It's really a funny story. I'm in the backyard and the kids are kicking a soccer ball. It rolls through the bushes into my neighbor's yard. A woman pokes her head through and says hello, and we start chatting. I invited her and her husband over for a barbecue, and she came by."

When her neighbor learned that Collier was searching for employment opportunities that fit with her lifestyle as a single parent to two school-aged children, she suggested that Collier meet her husband Chris Mirabile who had just helped found an angel investing group.

“I was really inspired by how interesting he was and the work that he was doing. I had no idea how interesting, complex, and rich the ecosystem for start-ups was here in the Boston-area,” Collier said.

Despite her unfamiliarity with venture capital and angel investing – her background was in marketing, sales and operations for large companies – Collier was curious to learn more about the industry.

At the time, Launchpad was a team of two managers who founded the company in 2001. Its mission was to connect entrepreneurs of Boston-based, early-stage science and technology-driven start-ups with local investors who could provide human and financial capital.

Initially Collier was hired by Mirabile to coordinate meetings, make nametags, and fill an unnamed administrative role as she familiarized herself with the angel investing landscape and brought her professional skills up to speed.

Mirabile played a large role in the latter, coming through the neighborhood hedges in the evenings after Collier’s children were tucked into bed to teach her about Google Docs and all of the other tools she had missed out on in the business world during her time away from the professional workforce.

“It was a pretty exciting education learning about how these things operate. Slowly but surely my job evolved to the point where now I’m in a pretty significant leadership position,” she explained. “I sit at the crossroads of our members and our founders, I’m the process person making sure things come into our funnel that are appropriate for what we invest in.”

About Launchpad & Her Role

Launchpad is a group of 150 investors who each build their own portfolio of start-up companies, which is unlike many other groups that operate on a fund model. It is lauded as a net exporter of knowledge in the way they educate investors to improve and better understand the concepts or considerations necessary when looking to make investments. At the time of publication, the company’s portfolio has over 50 active investments.

The investors are typically entrepreneurs themselves and recognize the importance of the help and advice they received along their respective journeys and want to give back to the next generation of start-ups. Many of Launchpad’s investors develop mentorship and coaching relationships with the entities in their portfolios. They’re curious about new technologies, are lifelong learners, and are active and interesting professionals who want the opportunity to be a part of early stage companies.

Launchpad invests exclusively in the New England region. They are pretty clear about what industries they invest in – enterprise software, clean tech, green tech, ed tech, healthcare and life sciences – and what industries they don’t invest in, i.e. consumer products.

Deals are sourced throughout the year during recurring opportunities called Catalyst, which is an informal event where prospective companies seeking investment introduce themselves and deliver a short pitch. Afterwards Launchpad’s investors have the opportunity to network with the presenters and ideally, spark a relationship. Successful Catalyst participants are invited to the annual Main Forum which matches entrepreneurs with investors, and formally brings them into Launchpad’s fold.

Collier’s role as the Executive Director is to execute on Launchpad’s model which is a people-driven organization. As the investors are out in the community networking with earlier stage companies, Collier is tasked with bringing them into their system.

“I love working with entrepreneurs because they’re so creative and out-of-the-box thinkers and risk takers,” she said. “That’s not really my MO so it pushes me to think about Launchpad sometimes as our own start-up. It’s interesting to see the parallels there.”

Earning a W&M MBA

Originally from the Washington, DC area, Collier was influenced growing up by the political atmosphere. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Emory University before working on Capitol Hill as a legislative staff member for former Sen. Pat Moynihan (D-NY).

After several years on the Hill, Collier decided to go back to business school in the fall of 1992. She applied to William & Mary’s full-time MBA program for a number of reasons, though she cites the small program size was a driving factor.

She remembers her time at William & Mary being one of rigorous academic learning during which she honed the business skills she’s used at various points throughout her career as it has evolved and made its different turns.

“It was interesting to look back. I know it’s a little bit of a social experiment when they create these teams,” she mused. “[There were] definitely the highs and the lows – the highs were really high and the lows were really low, and I mean that in a good way.”

Collier fondly remembers her small learning team as pinnacle to her experience. Early on in the program, they participated in a sneaker competition in which a faux factory in Asia faced a complex business problem that they were charged to solve.

“Gosh, everything is so dated now!” she laughed. “It was literally blood, sweat, and tears at times. We drove each other crazy but it was really exciting. We worked really hard, it was fun and so intense.”

Champion Paper and EF

Coming out of William & Mary’s full-time MBA program, Collier was curious about manufacturing processes and tangible product. She was recruited by Champion International, a large-scale, publicly held paper manufacturer which was later acquired by International Paper Company. Collier spent nearly six years with International Paper Company. She learned about the forestry industry and worked in a number of different cities, first in sales and then in a marketing role.

“It was a different world than I had grown up in being from Washington, DC. But I was really fascinated by the timber industry,” she explained. “For many people, they thought it was sort of an off move. I considered myself a pretty strong liberal, so to work for a paper maker was a bit of a turn but it was a great learning experience. I spent weeks wearing a hard hat and steel toed boots touring our paper making facilities all over the country.”

For personal reasons, Collier moved to Boston, MA early in 1999 and started in a totally different bucket as far as industry was concerned. Through a William & Mary connection, she transitioned to EF Education, an organization whose mission is to open students up to learning about the world and other people around the globe through travel, language learning, and exchange programs.

She began as the Vice President for the Au Pair division and over the course of six years, moved around varying sales and operations elements of the company. Her position involved global travel, managing a large staff, and assuming a lot of responsibility, yet she remarks that it was extremely rewarding.

Women in Business

Collier left EF Education in April 2004 when she had her first child, a daughter who is now 15 years old. She had her son about 18 months after her daughter was born and spent the next eight years as a stay-at-home mom. She enjoyed the opportunity to focus on her children during this time in her life and recognizes that her personal situation fortunately allowed her to do so.

“I felt very lucky to have had the opportunity to be home and I don’t regret it at all. But as I was thinking about going back to work, it was really daunting to me to be honest. It was scary and after eight years, I just lacked the confidence that I had previously about the work I had done and my professional abilities,” she reflected.

Collier was courted by EF Education, but the opportunity to rejoin her former company didn’t feel quite right to her. She didn’t want to travel extensively, and she placed a high priority on having more regular work hours so she could continue to be participatory in her children’s lives.

“It’s worth talking about the struggle or challenge of being a mom, choosing the path of leaving a pretty exciting career with a lot of international travel, a lot of hours, and a lot of responsibility, to staying at home with my children. Then I was trying to get back into the workforce and figuring out how I was going to balance that. I’m a single mom and that made an impact on the sorts of jobs that I would consider options,” she said.

Collier reflected on the massive pivot she made early on in her career from a paper manufacturer to an international student exchange organization. She identified that it was her ability to translate her skills and strengths around understanding people and their motivations as well as organizational processes that allowed her to successfully navigate that change.

At Launchpad, Collier found her position played to all of these strengths in addition to offering her the flexibility and work-life balance she required. She found the small team appealing in addition to the significant impact her role could have.

Reflection

To Collier, her journey as an entrepreneur is an unlikely one if you look solely at her time at William & Mary and the initial career she built through her roles at Champion and EF Education. But her rise to success within Launchpad can be defined simply with one word: impact.

“You look at each of our start-ups, at the very least, if we’re impacting them by giving them a little bit of early stage funding that might enable a few more people to have jobs and a few more people to be working in an industry like clean tech and impact our planet in a positive way,” she said. “I really feel like entrepreneurship and supporting it in the way that I am able to help do, is going to make a massive impact on our economy. The way that jobs are going and the way we’re thinking about, what is a company? What is work, even? To be able to be a part of that, to me, is how I feel successful in my job.”

This year Collier will return to William & Mary to celebrate her 25th reunion. As she reflects back on her time in Williamsburg and the full-time program as well as her career, she is grateful for the opportunities she’s had to grow professionally with her William & Mary MBA and align it with her personal priorities of raising a family.

“I did think that for whatever reason that a career was going to be linear. Mine has been such a curvy line, totally circuitous, but the reason that it was, was because I kept an open mind,” she said.

Jodi Collier is not alone in her search to find the next big success in start-up. Members of the Tribe network are each day supporting, or are themselves, innovators, design thinkers, and problem-solvers. Additionally, the Raymond A. Mason School of Business provides mentorship, networking, and educational opportunities for students interested in the field of entrepreneurship through the Alan B. Miller Entrepreneurship Center. Our programs through the EC exist to educate, inspire, and support students in developing the skills and mindset of a start-up business leader. Learn more about how you can invest in the next generation of Tribe entrepreneuers.