Q&A: Jenny Rooke, Lena Wu Discuss Special Collaboration While Navigating Male-Dominated Industries

Jenny Rooke, founder of early-stage life sciences venture firm Genoa Ventures, and Lena Wu, CEO of Intabio, got to know each other in 2017 when Genoa Ventures led the company’s $2 million seed financing.

Nearly four years later, the bond between the two women has grown as they work to build and scale Intabio, a Fremont, California headquartered company developing analytical tools for biopharmaceutical development and manufacturing. The company was acquired in January by SCIEX.

Rooke and Wu spoke to Crunchbase News about what makes their relationship so special, and how they moved up in their industries, typically dominated by males. The following conversation was lightly edited for length and clarity.

How did the two of you meet?

Jenny Rooke, founder of Genoa Ventures

Rooke: I met Intabio’s other founder [Erik Gentalen] when I was referred to the company by another investor in the space. This happens a lot for us because we like to work at the convergence of biology and technology.

Wu: Erik and I knew each other from Caliper Life Sciences. You get to know people from networking, you keep track of people who are good and you like. He said that his company needed some business leadership to work on corporate strategy and raise money, and that is my sweet spot. It took a while to figure out what the story was and how to tell it, but when we did have the market opportunity, we got Jenny on board.

Do you feel like yours is a typical VC/founder relationship, or is it something else?

Wu: I think it is unusual. It is based on the trust and amount of collaboration that differentiates our relationship. For other investors and boards, their mantras are to actively manage, but not enough trust. From the very beginning, Jenny approached this in a unique way. Early on, there were just three of us in the company, so we had weekly calls with Jenny and it felt like we had an extended colleague from a strategic perspective.

Rooke: I agree with all of that. We took time to get to know each other. I was introduced to Erik in 2016, but didn’t make an investment in Intabio until 2017. I had the privilege of seeing that grow. We are all trained scientists and engineers, and those types of people are problem solvers, and we like to put our heads together around that. Lena and Erik were clear from the beginning about the company they wanted to build and exit and, as investors, we are backing your vision.

Wu: Jenny set the foundation for the future relationships that we bring into our networks. Not only did it lead to success, but we achieved it rapidly. We went from zero to acquisition in four years.

Venture capital and life sciences are traditionally male-dominated fields. Have you run into challenges getting where you are today?

Rooke: I tend to tune into more of my accomplishments. The Ruth Bader Ginsberg quote I think of about overcoming headwinds in our careers is, “it helps to be a little deaf.” It has helped me in my career not to notice. I’m so curious and driven about science and solving problems that I don’t have time to notice the challenges, I just focus on the goals.

Lena Wu, CEO of Intabio

Wu: I agree with that, and not just casually not notice, but purposefully ignore that data point because I don’t find it very useful. I had a conversation with a previous manager about what I wanted to do next, and said I wanted to build a consulting business by offering corporate development support to early-stage companies that need sophisticated expert help, but don’t need a full-time person. They told me that will never work, that I needed to work full time. This was a person that I worked for, who knew I was independent. So I say focus on what you want to do, and go get your own data.

Rooke: Challenges are often other people’s expectations about what you could or could not do. I was invited to a dinner one time to help me meet other investors, and when I walked around the room being introduced, someone asked “when the VC was going to get there.” And I answered that I am the VC. I guess I didn’t look like a VC to them. That was interesting, and although they ended up investing, that’s part of what keeps me going on days when it isn’t fun. It really matters that VCs start to look like me. I’m excited to work with Lena to put some data points out there that VC and entrepreneurs look like us because we did it. That’s what I love about entrepreneurs, that they are in the business of redefining expectations.

Jenny, what’s next for the Genoa VC team?

Rooke: We continue to be excited about the life sciences space. The world is waking up to the need for cross-disciplinary companies. Pre-COVID it was esoteric, and now we have shared examples of why biology, tools and technology are required for getting drugs and diagnostics to market.

Lena, now that the acquisition by SCIEX is completed, what’s next for you?

Wu: Even though the ink is dried, we are still working with integrating the company. Intabio is developing instruments changing the way biologics are developed, like antibodies and vaccines. What we developed can do an assay in 15 minutes that used to take 15 days and weeks. We are still shepherding that innovation. I haven’t exactly decided what to do. I’m an entrepreneur at heart, and love to pay it forward, so I would love to do that.

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