Hanadi Jabado is a passionate advocate for entrepreneurship and innovation. When she relocated to the Cambridge ecosystem, her exposure to the best of tech in Europe allowed her to develop a skill for understanding and explaining the needs of early-stage ventures. With successful investments across diverse sectors, she has since seen many startups go on to great things.
In 2012, Hanadi was the driving force behind the creation of Accelerate Cambridge, the in-house start-up accelerator at Cambridge Judge Business School which has since built up a £1 billion portfolio. She has deep roots within the University of Cambridge, as an alumna, as the founding executive director of the Entrepreneurship Centre at Cambridge Judge, and a former fellow at Lucy Cavendish College. Well engrained within the UK early-stage ecosystem, as an advisory board member for several startups, with a portfolio of angel investments and as a non-executive independent Credit Committee member for Innovate UK Loans and a managing partner at innovation investment fund Sana Capital, Hanadi is the very definition of a seasoned investor.
Ahead of appearing at the 32nd edition of the MedTech Investing Europe Forum (MTi) in Lausanne, Switzerland, on July 12 and 13, she talks to Campden FB about starting a successful career “by accident” and the importance of understanding an innovator’s vision…
"I’ve always wanted to find a balance between making money and having a positive impact on the world."
How did you get started in your career?
I would describe my life as MBA… Management By Accident. There are a lot of things that have happened through serendipity. 25 years ago, when I matriculated at Sidney Sussex College in 1995, I was surrounded on the one hand at Cambridge Judge with MBA students whose clear career path was in consulting or investment banking and on the other hand at College and in the wider University with astrophysists and scientists who were firmly on the academic track. When I would say, ‘I'm an entrepreneur’, people would look at me nodding vaguely and clearly thinking ‘You poor woman!’ 25 years ago, being an entrepreneur was not an established career choice and it definitely was not the career of choice of Cambridge University graduates. Today, it seems that everybody and their grandmother wants to be an entrepreneur!
Throughout my work and personal life, I’ve always wanted to find a balance between making money and having a positive impact on the world.
My parents’ generation had a job from when they started working life all the way to when they retired. It was very much frowned upon to change jobs every five or so years. My generation is messier, you no longer had the opportunity or the expectation to hold the same job for 30 years. My path is even less conventional as I was probably even more inclined to embracing the unknown than my peers. I always dislike it when people say that entrepreneurs are risk-takers. We're not gamblers, we’re just a lot more comfortable with uncertainty than the average population. I also firmly believe that entrepreneurs see opportunities where others see obstacles.
So, in a nutshell, I wouldn’t say that I took a traditional career path, or even had a career at all, I’m driven by a desire to have an impact on the world and I want to make a lot of money in the process!
Cambridge Judge Business School
How did you evolve into doing what you are doing now?
I come from a family of entrepreneurs and was exposed to entrepreneurship at an early age. My dad built his own business into a multinational which traded around the world.
When I studied at Cambridge, I was lucky to meet [serial entrepreneur and business angel] Jack Lang, who is the chief technology officer (CTO) of every single tech success that came out of the Cambridge cluster.
Thanks to his generous mentorship, I was exposed to a lot of tech businesses. Being immersed in the Cambridge tech cluster, meeting amazing people doing great things and developing great technologies allowed me to realise that my secret power is that, on top of speaking seven languages, I also speak fluent ‘Nerd’, which means that I was able to extract what these scientists were doing, turn it into plain English and put a business model around it.
After working with tech businesses as an advisor and an angel investor, I approached the University of Cambridge with a project to develop an accelerator program focusing on the needs of deep tech ventures, Through that collaboration, I was introduced to AstraZeneca and the biotech world.
More and more, there is a huge crossover between healthcare innovation, life science innovation, computer science, machine learning and data science. I found that all my experience from tech can be transferable into biotech. That’s how I got to what I’m doing now.
"It's important to work with people that you admire and respect, so I'm always in search of excellence."
The ability to not only understand a passion but to help others understand it is quite a skill…
My grandmother used to say that every language you speak, makes you a different human being. Understanding a language is about understanding the culture and the people. It's the same thing with the nerds! Beyond the very scientific language lays the culture of a research group, and its history. It's not dissimilar to studying Russian, you're not just studying language, you're studying the culture, the people, the history…
Your areas of interests cover a wide range of industries – from education to biotech – what influences your own investment decisions?
I always wanted to support important issues, so my first filter is ‘Is this meaningful?’
My second filter is the team. At such an early stage, the main due diligence you can really carry out is on the team. They are people driven by a mission to make the world a better place, but will they able to take your advice and digest it and implement it? Are they coachable? It's important to work with people that you admire and respect, so I'm always in search of excellence.
What advice would you give family offices wanting to get into venture capital (VC) but don’t know where to start?
First and foremost, family offices should look at what makes them tick. If you are interested in education, then you should definitely be looking at EdTech VCs. If your family has made money in retail, you may want to get into fashion tech or sustainability.
Secondly, family offices should also identify the people they can work with. Not everyone can deliver the same return on investment and the journey might be quite difficult.
Finally, ask yourself, ‘Do I want to do it directly, sourcing and investing in my own deal-flow? Do I want to invest through a VC? Or do I want to do a mix investing in a VC and investing directly in startups at the same time?
The third question will be influenced by one and two, which is what areas do you want to invest in and secondly, and most importantly, who are the people I'm investing in? Are those people aligned into my mission and values? Everybody looks pretty on the first date, it's another issue when you're living together!
With Sana Capital, you aim to ‘Deliver innovation that can heal the world’, how do you balance the goals of the innovator with making money?
Let’s start by debunking that it's not dirty to want to make money. You cannot positively impact the world if you do not have a solid and robust business model.
You can only make a positive impact in the world if you're mindful of the return on investment. I think people who only want to have a positive impact on the world and don't want to “dirty their hands” by thinking about the commercial are causing more harm than good because they're not building something sustainable.
For further information on the 32nd edition of the MedTech Investing Europe Forum (MTi) on July 12 and 13, contact Peter Newton via email@example.com.
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