Five Female Investors Who Are Making Their Mark in Life Science 

November 26, 2019

Less than 10% of decision-makers at U.S. venture capital (VC) firms are women and a whopping 74% of U.S. VC firms have no female investors at all, according to TechCrunch. While the number of female VC decision-makers has increased over the last few years, progress has been painfully slow. 

The life science industry, and the venture capital ecosystem that supports it reflects this broader U.S. gender gap. A 2017 Lifestream study found that only 10.9% of publicly-traded biotech board seats were held by women and less than 8% of public biotech CEOs were female. (The survey included 177 biotech companies that were publicly listed between 2012 and 2015.) 

The national biotech and VC gender gap are at play here in the BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR) as well. However, increased BHCR support for women in the life sciences and the emergence of several prominent female VC decision-makers are two signs the region is making steady progress in this area, though it still has a long way to go.

TEDCO’s Task Force for Women Entrepreneurs is the most recent example of a concerted effort to support women in the technology and life science industries. The Task Force’s mission is to “…assess the challenges that women entrepreneurs in Maryland face when accessing capital and implement strategies to overcome those challenges.”

The Task Force, chaired by TEDCO board member Myra Norton, who is also President and COO of Baltimore’s Arena, is dedicated to the recruitment, funding and operational support of women-owned and led startups in Maryland. 

Women in Bio’s (WIB) Capital Region Chapter offers two programs, MAPS (Mentors, Advisors, Peers, and Sponsorship) groups, and the YWIB (Young Women In Bio) program, both of which are designed to help women thrive in a wide array of STEM fields. 

The support ecosystem for women in tech and the life sciences is growing within the BHCR at the same time several prominent female investors and fund directors are making their mark on the field. 

If you’ve been making the rounds at regional events like TEDCO’s Entrepreneur Expo, BioHealth Innovation’s (BHI) BioHealth Capital Region Forum or the Maryland Tech Council’s Bioinnovation Conference, sessions and panels involved these VC thought leaders are can’t miss.  

Here are the five trailblazing investors shaping the future of life science investing in the region.

Kyparissia (Kyp) Sirinakis, Co-Founder, Managing Partner at Epidarex Capital

Kyp Sirinakis

Kyp Sirinakis co-founder Epidarex Capital, which is a venture capital firm focused on novel and innovative life science and health technology companies. Sirinakis played a critical role in the success of Baltimore’s Harpoon Medical, which was acquired by Edwards Lifesciences in 2017 for $250M. Epidarex Capital, with Sirinakis leading the partnership, was the lead investor in Harpoon Medical. (You can read more about how the Harpoon Medical acquisition is still shaping the future of the BHCR here.) She has more than 25 years of experience as an early-stage venture investor and as a senior executive at a number of life science and tech companies. Prior to co-founding Epidarex Capital, Sirinakis was on the senior management team of MASA Life Science Ventures (MLSV) where she co-led the fund’s investment strategy and managed several MLSV portfolio investments through successful exits. She was also the Chief Financial Officer at Oncologix, an early-stage biotech that was sold to Antigenics, Inc.

Sirinakis serves on the boards of the Tech Council of Maryland and on the Investment Committees for Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology BioLife Fund and the Ivy Foundation (University of Virginia). She is currently on the Board of Harpoon Medical Inc., Confluence Life Science Inc., Nodthera Ltd., and Sirakoss Ltd. Sirinakis graduated from Boston College’s School of Management Honors Program and she is also a CPA in Maryland. 

Claire Broido Johnson, Managing Director, Maryland Momentum Fund

Claire Broido Johnson

Claire Broido Johnson MBA, leads the Maryland Momentum Fund (MMF), a $10M investment fund that supports early-stage companies affiliated with the University System of Maryland (USM). The MMF provides investment funding for promising technology ventures that emerge from USM’s 12 institutions. The MMF has invested in up-and-coming BHCR life science companies Gemstone Therapeutics, Veralox Therapeutics, and NeoProgen. Broido Johnson was appointed managing director in June 2019 because of her deep experience building and managing successful companies and fixing struggling departments and organizations. Prior to joining the MMF, she was the founder of CBJ Energy, financing, operations, and business development energy solutions firm headquartered in Baltimore. She remains the active President of the firm. 

Most notably,  Broido Johnson co-founded solar giant SunEdison in 2003. By 2015, SunEdison had become the world’s largest solar energy services provider with 7,200 employees and a market cap of $10B. She has served as the Energy Efficiency Advisor to the Department of Energy which led to managing the Office of Weatherization and Intergovernmental Programs in 2009-2010, an $11B deployment. 

CEO Talks with Serial Biotech Entrepreneurs

Broido Johnson participates in the Baltimore Angels and Blu Ventures investment groups, sits on the board of the Living Classrooms Foundation, the advisory board of Betamore and earned a Masters of Business Administration from Harvard Business School and a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard University, where she helped to create that major. 

Sara Nayeem, Partner, New Enterprise Associates (NEA)

Sara Nayeem

Sara Nayeem, M.D., joined NEA, a U.S.-based, global venture capital firm in 2009; she focuses on biopharmaceutical company investment and operates out of the organization’s Washington, DC location. NEA is a large, diversified, 41-year-old VC firm that is currently investing out of its $3.3B NEA 16 fund, $1B of which will be deployed in the biopharma space. NEA investments run the gamut from seed rounds all the way through crossover rounds pre-IPO, with a focus on rare diseases and oncology. 50% of NEA’s investments would be considered early-stage investments.  

Nayeem has served on a multitude of boards, including the Vtesse board, which was acquired by the BHCR’s Sucampo. Sucampo was led by former MedImmune CEO Peter Greenleaf. She has played an integral role in the funding of approximately 19 life science companies to date, including nine IPOs. Nayeem was selected three times as one of GrowthCap’s Top 40 Under 40 Growth Investors. Prior to joining NEA, she was an Associate with Merrill Lynch’s Global Healthcare Group and worked as an Investment Banking Analyst at Morgan Stanley. 

Nayeem is highly active on the speaker and conference circuit, including participating in panels at BHI’s BioHealth Capital Region Forum. She simultaneously earned her MBA and her MD from Yale where she was a Yale MBA Scholar; she also earned her BA in Biology from Harvard University. Nayeem has an impressive mix of research, business management and venture capital experience unique to the region.  

Arti Santhanam, Executive Director, Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII)

Arti Santhanam, Ph.D.

Arti Santhanam, Ph.D., leads TEDCO’s $5.6M MII fund, which is a program designed to propel research from partner universities towards commercialization MII has had a strong, demonstrable impact on many important life science portfolio companies in the BHCR to date. AsclepiX Therapeutics, Inc., Neuraly/Theraly, NextStep Robotics, Sonavex, and CoapTech are just a handful of the latest MII program success stories having achieved important tech transfer and commercialization milestones for their respective technologies with a jumpstart in funding and support from the MII program. Since 2012, MII has invested $29M that has resulted in 80 startups, more than $200M follow-on funding and 5 exits. 

Santhanam became MII’s Executive Director in 2018. Under her leadership, MII has also attracted several notable partnerships, including WSGR, MINTZ, Cooley JP Morgan, the later two partnerings with MII to launch their first-ever Capital Connections investor breakfast series connecting venture capital firms like NEA to these early-stage startups.

Prior to taking the helm of MII, Santhanam served as an Investment Analyst for the Maryland Venture Fund and Manager for the Life Science Investment Fund, where she was responsible for over $3M of seed investments and served in a Board Observer role for multiple companies. She brings over 20 years of life science research experience to her role as Executive Director.

Santhanam earned her Master of Science in Clinical Biochemistry from the University of Madras (India) and her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics from Rutgers University. She did her postdoctoral fellowship at the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

She serves on the board of directors of the Annapolis-based, non-profit advocacy group METAvivor Research and Support, Inc. Under her directorship, the group has awarded over $4M in research grants. Santhanamis also an active member of the Women In Bio-Capital region chapter.

Elizabeth Cho-Fertikh, Co-Founder, Managing Director, MEDA Angels

Elizabeth Cho-Fertikh

Elizabeth Cho-Fertikh is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of MEDA Angels which she launched in early 2019. MEDA Angels is a healthcare-focused angel investor group comprised of accredited investors with a range of relevant backgrounds, including IT, legal, regulatory/reimbursement, finance, angel investing, venture capital and private equity. The organization is interested in virtually any health-related sector from digital health/SaaS, therapeutics and medical devices to in vitro diagnostics, imaging, and consumer food/wellness products. 

Cho-Fertikh brings a wealth of experience that spans 25 years in cancer research, regulatory affairs, grants administration and angel investing. She first began investing in 2008 through private circles and then became more publically involved in the angel investor community in 2016 through formal angel investor groups. In 2014 she founded ECF Biosolutions, a biomedical advisory firm comprised of MDs, PhDs, & MBAs that provided assistance with capital raising for start-ups (grants & private placement), as well as due diligence support for angel investors & VCs in the technical, financial, and competitive market domains. 

Though MEDA Angels are under a year old, Elizabeth is driven to make a greater impact in the entrepreneurial ecosystem so expect big things to come.  Cho-Fertikh is also motivated internally to be a successful mentor and brings that passion to each startup she invests in.

Learn more about Cho-Fertikh on The Moving Forward Podcast.

Elizabeth Cho Fertikh on moving forward with angel investing and educating entrepreneurs
Original Podcast here
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Steven Surdez

Steven Surdez

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Steve has over 20 years experience in copywriting, developing brand messaging and creating marketing strategies across a wide range of industries, including the biopharmaceutical, senior living, commercial real estate, IT and renewable energy sectors, among others. He is currently the Principal/Owner of StoryCore, a Frederick, Maryland-based content creation and execution consultancy focused on telling the unique stories of Maryland organizations.

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