Sara Brand, founding general partner, True Wealth Ventures
This story is part of the 2017 Profiles in Power awards, honoring influential women leaders in Austin. Go here to see the rest.
Even from a young age, and unlike many of her female classmates at the time, Sara Brand thought science was cool.
Thanks to a persistent math teacher in seventh grade, who saw some big potential in her, Brand went on to get a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Austin. But she wasn’t finished there, so she moved on to the University of California at Berkeley where she earned an engineering PhD.
Indeed, in an era when the tech sector and investment scene is finally focusing on the lack of diversity, Brand has been a pioneer in both fields.
She held jobs in semiconductor research and the venture capital realm and ended up at California chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices Inc., where Brand worked for a decade and led AMD’s integration with the Canadian company, ATI TechnologiesInc. in 2006, after AMD’s $5.4 billion acquisition of it.
After moving from the West Coast to AMD’s fast-growing Austin offices, she eventually decided to leave the company and parachute back into the VC scene in 2015 — only this time at the helm of her own firm, True Wealth Ventures. She teamed up with another high-profile female executive, Kerry Rupp, the former CEO of Dreamit. Both are general partners.
What’s more, Brand also works behind the scenes at another startup, (512) Brewing Co., a craft brewery she co-founded with her husband in 2008.
While some people decry the lack of funding available to women-led startups, Brand is walking the walk and not just talking the talk. True Wealth Ventures is focused on investing in women-led startups in the consumer health and sustainable products sectors. She said her “aha! moment” to form her own firm came after reading a report that showed companies with women at the helm perform better financially than those headed by men.
In 2016, True Wealth Ventures raised $4.7 million of a planned $20 million for debut investment fund, pulling in the capital from 19 investors. One of its first portfolio companies is Austin-based UnaliWear, which produces a smart watch for senior citizens.
What advice would you give women trying to move into leadership roles? I suggest leaning into your strengths and working to solve the biggest problems you see.
What was a challenging moment in your career and how did you overcome that obstacle? It sounds cliché, but adjusting to a full-time career (and starting a business) with two small children at home was my toughest challenge. After getting a PhD in engineering and being a young executive, I considered myself a relatively strong person, so I was really taken back at how difficult it was to have children. I became extremely disciplined about focusing on moving the big rocks and getting help for all the things I specifically did not need to do.
What is the most important trait for a successful leader to have? In addition to the important qualities of having a strategic vision and being able to execute, I think the most important trait is the ability to invoke trust.
Who has been an important mentor to you, and what’s the best advice they have given you? I haven’t had many mentors along my career path, probably because there weren’t many people who looked like me in roles I was striving for, but I had a lot of fantastic advocates instead. These were people more valuable than mentors — people who pushed me out of my comfort zone and into roles with more responsibilities. I think the best advice I received is a combination from Joanna Barsh, the leader of McKinsey & Co.’s Centered Leadership Project, and Renee Trudeau, a local career and life-balance coach, on really doing the internal work to figure out what it was that is uniquely mine to do.
When you are hiring, what’s the most important attribute you look for? I am going to answer with two that are related: trustworthiness and transparency. After the other basic skills for the job requirements are met, of course, these make business so much more efficient and successful.
Do you have time for any community/volunteer involvement? I actually consider my full-time job my community and volunteer work, or at least I try to align and integrate it all to make the biggest impact that I can. There’s a massive disconnect in the funding women entrepreneurs are getting and a real need for more gender diverse leadership. I think the biggest contribution I can make with my experience is to get more capital to women entrepreneurs at the startup level and to help those teams through a wildly successful exit, thereby creating more women role models and wealth to enable others to do the same. That requires a lot of community involvement, mentoring, coaching and fundraising.
What are your career goals? I feel like all of my disparate experiences have come together to build True Wealth Venturesas the pinnacle of my career, so my goal is for it to be a massive success for investors, for women entrepreneurs and for environmental and human health in general.