Mary-Kay James, Managing Director of DuPont Ventures, Shares Her Insights

By Reese Schroeder,  Managing Director, Motorola Solutions Venture Capital

Mary Kay Photo Issue 2We spoke with Mary-Kay James, Managing Director of Agriculture, Nutrition & Health investments for DuPont Ventures.  Mary-Kay recently became Chairwoman of the NVCA Corporate Venture Group Advisory Board.   We wanted to find out what drew Mary-Kay to take a leadership role with NVCA and have her share her thoughts on the NVCA CVG today and where she would like to take it.

Reese: First of all, can you give us a little bit on your background, including your role at DuPont Ventures?

Mary-Kay: The DuPont Ventures organization started in 2003 and I have been a part of the group since that time.  Prior to that I was involved in various global marketing and business management roles in some of the big businesses at DuPont, but what drew me to the Ventures idea was that I saw an opportunity to address the difficulties I saw in trying to consistently support new business development initiatives.  I thought Ventures could bring a new tool into the equation that would facilitate new business development opportunities.  As a strategic corporate investing group we have the ability to easily enable access to venture-backed companies developing relevant technologies. We look for startups that are a perfect fit to match our corporate and business needs. We are centered on three important growth areas in our company Agriculture & Nutrition, Advanced Materials and Bio-Based Industrials.  My focus is primarily in the Agriculture, Nutrition & Health side.

When did DuPont Ventures first join NVCA and why did you join?

I was a strong advocate for our membership and we joined shortly after the Ventures group was formed.  To me it seemed like a no-brainer and was similar to what we would do if we were looking to enter other industries that were new to us.  Memberships like these are critical and help to deeply understand and support an industry and build the relationships that are needed to be successful.

Did you realize the benefits of membership that you expected after you joined?

I think it took us a little while to fully appreciate the offering.  We first attended the NVCA annual meeting and that was a real eye-opener.  Not only did we learn about things the NVCA offered, but we also were exposed to other organizations that were providing supporting activity.  For example, through the NVCA we learned about the Venture Capital Institute (VCI) and IBF conferences that were both very relevant from the corporate investing perspective.  The model document area on the NVCA website, in particular the Model Term Sheet, was invaluable information especially for our early deals.

From your standpoint, what are the key reasons for a corporate venture capital group to join NVCA?

What I used to say to my global market development team was that you are either “in” the industry or not.  My point back then was if you are not actively engaged in industry organizations within the sectors of the business you were developing, then I believed you would be less successful.  Active industry involvement gives you early insight to developing trends, gives you access to industry insight and knowledge not available as an outside observer, and can even put you in the cat bird’s seat to be able to even influence the industry – not to mention that it is easier to develop key relationships.  Suffice it to say I believe our membership and association with the NVCA is one of the things that continue to make our Ventures group successful. And from an innovation ecosystem perspective, the NVCA works to sustain our industry by continuing to educate and represent our interests to our legislators.  Clearly this is an important effort of continued support for those who are participating in and deriving the benefits of the industry.

You took over as Chairwoman of the NVCA Corporate Venture Group (CVG) Advisory Board earlier this year.  First of all, what is the CVG all about?

The CVG is one of the seven member peer groups in the NVCA.  Our group is composed of close to 100 members who are Corporate Venture investors.  When I first joined the group there were so few of us, and our jobs were just being recognized within most of the companies, so we basically had problem sharing sessions.    Now though the group has grown and evolved and we are truly setting the global standard for corporate venturing. Within the group we have the chance to learn about corporate venture investing best practices as well as develop relationships that could help lead to syndication and other types of partnerships.

Can you describe your role as Chairwoman of the CVG?

Basically the CVG Chair oversees all CVG activities.  I think the most important part of the role is to provide a sense of continuity, as Elaine Jones, Pfizer, who came before me expertly accomplished. I work with the executive committee to provide the main focus of CVG strategic plan and tactical direction for the year in “office.”  Our objective for the year May 2014- May 2015 is to ensure that the NVCA CVG remains the global leader and “gold standard” organization for corporate venture investors.  Additionally the CVG chair leads the new member recruitment efforts as well as identifies new candidates to serve on the CVG Advisory Board.

There is an important element of linkage that needs to occur between the NVCA managing Board and the CVG and we are so lucky this year to have two Board members from the CVG with great energy and experience to help us, Claudia Fan Munce, IBM, and Sue Siegel, GE.

What prompted you to take on that role?

I consider it a great honor to be given the opportunity to contribute to the group. I had served as an Advisory Board member for a while and started to see some changing trends including the increasing level of importance of corporate venture investing in the industry. I am very grateful to have the chairpersonship opportunity at such a pivotal time for corporate venture investors as our numbers have significantly increased and many of the strategic investors are becoming a more important part of funding syndicates including taking on the role of lead investor.  I think this puts more pressure on the CVG to meet the needs of an organization that is both fast growing and one that is more demanding as the members feel the need to adapt to this larger role.  Today’s members are interested in extracting very specific benefits from the CVG and it is really important now for us to make sure we are addressing the critical needs of our membership. I feel more strongly than ever about the criticality of an organization like the NVCA CVG and wanted the chance to help position its current and future value for our membership.

What kind of time commitment does this role require?

I guess an easy answer to that question is it takes as much time as you want to give it.  I have not really kept track, but at some point during every week I am working on CVG efforts.

Can you describe some of the things that the CVG is doing?

We have a 16 member advisory board and each member serves on one of three committees.  The committees are designed to meet the critical membership needs we identified:

  • Education Committee is chaired by Matt McElhattan from Chevron Venture Capital, who is also the CVG in-coming Chairperson.
  • Events and Outreach is chaired by George Hoyem from In-Q-Tel
  • Communications is chaired by Reese Schroeder, Motorola Solutions Venture Capital

The Education Committee is focused on providing web-based group discussions for our membership on topics that will address industry insights and CVG best practices.  We are calling them “Coffee Pots” and we have had three so far, one on measuring performance and the other on due diligence.  The Events and Outreach Committee will continue to organize and sponsor regional gatherings across the country to provide networking opportunities for the CVG membership.  We also use the opportunity to invite potential new CVG members so they can get a first-hand view of the organization.  We have plans for NYC, Boston, Washington, DC, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle and San Francisco.

Additionally I want to highlight our big annual event, the CVG Fall Summit.  This year’s Fall Summit was held in Huntington Beach, CA on November 6th and was hosted by Intel.  There was a lot of energy and collaboration there and I felt it was a real success.  The third committee is our Communications Committee.  It is a new committee for this year as we respond to the needs of our membership who would like to have an easy way to know what is going on in the corporate venture investing arena, as well as what else within the NVCA is relevant to our membership.  This publication was just started earlier this year.

 What really energizes you about this role?

I completely enjoy working with really smart, committed, nice people and that basically describes our group.  In some small way I want to be able to make a difference.  I respect the hard work and dedication from our three committee members and to set stretch goals and then to achieve them is something that is really gratifying.  I am especially excited to work closely with the committee chairs, you, Reese, Chairman of our Communications Committee, Matt McElhattan, Chair of the Education Committee, and George Hoyem chairing the Outreach / Events committee.  Additionally, it is a great opportunity for collaboration across the community, which is also a key focus for DuPont.

Can you give us a preview of some of the things that CVG will be doing in the next year?

In addition to the current activities from each of our Committees, we have some future directed objectives. 

  • Develop a baseline of understanding about CVG educational courses / programs that are currently available and determine which ones are important to recommend to the membership. We are also thinking about the potential for a CVG Investment profession certification.
  • As we have become a more significant force in the industry a lot of other groups trying to cater to corporate venture investing community have sprung up. The NVCA CVG considers this an opportunity to make stronger connections with the best of these groups and help guide our members to these groups based on their specific need.
  • Another important element is to see if we can land on a legislative agenda that is supported by the corporate membership and will benefit the innovation ecosystem as a whole. Over the past few years we have become aware of actions taken in the UK, Japan, France and others who are passing legislation that encourages corporations to invest in startup companies.  We want to determine what would be effective, as well as supported by our government.

I will only be able to see these through for so long, because after the May 2015 NVCA Annual Meeting Matt McElhattan, Chevron, will take over as CVG Chair.

Why is now the right time for corporations to join and become part of CVG?

It is important to step up and support our industry and with favorable winds for corporate investors there has never been a better time to join.   As the world changes and technology advances, it is becoming more important than ever to work together to develop solutions.  The CVG is an established organization with almost every Fortune 100 company that has a venture investing group participating, so it can be an excellent venue to enable collaborations and partnerships.  The benefits derived from networking and the knowledge gained from the sharing of best practices cannot be overstated.  If you are interested in learning more please feel free to reach out to Janice Mawson, NVCA VP of Outreach and Development.  Janice is very knowledgeable about corporate venture investing, is a strong advocate for our group and has been directly engaged in its genesis and growth.


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