Funding The Future: Joe Schorge at TedXAthens
We’re kicking off a new content series here at Isomer HQ – Isomer Q&As.
Our first one is with Catherine Dupéré, who joined Joe, Chris and Thomas at the start of this year as a newly promoted Partner.
An easy one to start off with – describe yourself in three words:
Easy?! That’s definitely a matter of opinion. Let’s go for curious, empathetic and resilient. I’m definitely curious about anything and everything – I’m an avid reader and love to learn everything about the world around me – be it technology, arts or new environments. My current project is to master German, which might be the C++ of languages – very hard, but very useful!
I’m also very empathetic, which is one of the reasons I love working in VC. I enjoy building relationships and connections with people, finding out what makes them tick, and collaborating to build great companies and funds. I’d also say I’ve got a lot of grit and resilience, showing hardiness and optimism towards my goals.
How did you get into the world of venture – and what was the biggest challenge in doing so?
My route to the world of venture capital was not obvious, as is the case for many in the industry. I started out as a “BigLaw” lawyer in Canada initially – and after a few years in the industry I wanted to change tracks. This was in the middle of the financial crisis, so I took the opportunity of the market slowdown to complete my MBA at the Saïd Business School at Oxford. It was there I discovered the world of VC, in particular by participating in a VC competition between business schools that my team won.
I found the dynamics captivating – the idea of interacting with founders and entrepreneurs on a daily basis, and some inspirational conversations with futurists, GPs and LPs sparked my desire to get involved. It also reinforced my desire to get away from the service provider side and take a more hands-on role in business, which led me to building my own startup. Alongside two co-founders I built an online marketplace for ethical fashion and jewellery made by African designers. Effective sourcing and logistics, decision making and managing the challenges of working across time zones were just some of the experiences and skills I learned along the way. This experience further fueled my admiration for entrepreneurs and my ambition to work alongside them.
Following my startup experience, the transition into private investment proved the trickiest challenge. I didn’t fit the typical profile for the industry – I had no investment banking or consulting background and I was a twenty-something woman in a very male-dominated industry. I had to start again at the bottom, as an intern, and convince my bosses that lawyers could actually do Excel models! That was certainly a tough experience, but I knew that this was what I wanted to do and that gritty characteristic proved useful.
How did you get involved with Isomer?
Following my time with a growth equity fund I was working as an LP investing in VC funds. Many of the deals I worked on were as anchor investor, where my role was seed-investor like and very hands on – assisting in fund formation by tackling challenges like strategy, operations, legal, and marketing. Having the desire to be a good partner to funds is often an intangible, yet vitally important, role in getting them off the ground. Working in such a role with the transatlantic VC firm White Star Capital on their first fund led me to meeting Joe and Chris at Isomer.
I’m not shy to say that I fell in love with the team and their efforts to build a platform that captured the quality and high potential of European tech investing. The chance to work with clever and thoughtful colleagues who care deeply about the funds and companies they back played a large part in my decision to get involved when Joe pitched the concept to me. Added to the fact that I had an opportunity to be part of the founding team of a new firm, and I knew I’d love life in the UK from my previous time here – it was a no-brainer.
Can you explain what your role at Isomer entails?
Whilst a promotion is always very exciting, my actual role doesn’t change much. I split my time between leading investments and looking after the operations of the firm, including team training, compliance and reporting. Like the VC firms we back, we have to balance these responsibilities with the very enjoyable task of meeting VCs and companies as part of our ongoing research and sourcing activities. We still have many plates spinning, but we’ve come a long way since the beginning of Isomer where it was just Joe, Chris and myself!
What will you be focused on for the next 1-2 years?
The next couple of years will be a lot of fun for Isomer. We’re launching two new funds this year, and will continue to deploy capital into amazing European VCs and companies. Our team will also grow, so I’m excited to bring new staff on board and teach them all the Isomer magic! I personally look forward to continuing to deepen our research of Europe’s early stage tech VCs, and meeting new firms in regions like Spain, the Nordics and Central and Eastern Europe.
What are your thoughts on the European technology scene, and what the future holds?
It is an exciting time to be involved in the European technology landscape. The last decade has seen major changes in the landscape as the ecosystem matured and given rise to increasing numbers of world-leading companies. As an investor we’re so proud of the funds and companies we back – the success of which will no doubt continue to grow as the industry does. It’s also great to see an increasing awareness of ESG factors in our portfolio and in the broader market – many European founders and VCs are intent on building great tech that actually does something good for the world.
We’ve seen funding, talent and operational experience all grow in the market – and the commitments of VCs in European companies have more than doubled from $15.3bn in 2015 to $34.3bn in 2019. We’ve also seen some of the most exciting businesses in the world develop here, such as Spotify, Adyen, Supercell and Farfetch. And it’s all done with a culture of openness and collaboration that in my opinion is uniquely European.
It’s not perfect, however. There remains an element of negativity and defeatism about the prospects of European tech – and it surprisingly often come more from within European media than outside. The ecosystem is not trying to become another Silicon Valley; it’s going its own way – and that’s the key to its future, rather than trying to replicate what has been done before.
The issue of diversity in the industry also continues to frustrate me. With $92 in every $100 invested in Europe going to founding teams that are all men and no material improvement in the share of capital invested in European tech going to diverse founding companies between 2015-2019, it’s clear more work is needed.
It starts with us as individuals – what we can change is how we conduct our business, and that’s our approach at Isomer. We’re 50% female and a nice mix of nationalities, generations, education, personalities, etc. – we live the values we profess. The key is focusing on backing the best teams and founders and making sure the VCs we back are aligned with these values – after all, it makes no sense shutting off whole portions of the market. As LPs it’s important for us to show leadership in this area.
Finally, tell us some things we wouldn’t expect about you!
Well…I’m actually a big fan of street photography! I love getting together with a group of fellow amateur photographers and wandering the streets of London or other photogenic cities in search of beauty in everyday settings and human activity. Another thing, less unexpected as a Canadian, I’m a big fan of winter sports and love nothing more than a good powder day on my skis or trusty snowboard. Professional snowboarder was the original career plan!