Camille is a healthcare veteran and joined Venrock in 2014. Although she is based in Venrock’s Palo Alto office, Camille is a New Yorker at heart. Growing up, her father’s relentless pursuit of his dreams inspired her, and today she partners with entrepreneurs in areas like longevity science to achieve novel solutions to big problems.
We asked Camille a few questions to learn a little more about her.
Q: Who do you most admire? Why?
Before I explain why, I have to say that my father died when I was a kid – so he remains on the pedestal he was supposed to be kicked off of when I became a bratty teenager!
My dad grew up a poor Jewish kid in upstate NY. The way he described it, he eked his way into MIT. He would also say that his company, Kordite Corporation, was the product of a failed senior thesis on plastic-coated clotheslines. The company ultimately became the purveyor of baggies and Hefty garbage bags.
Before he founded Kordite (in an abandoned school house that he rented for $20/month), dad worked his way to Lt. Colonel in Patton’s Third army, mainly by being clever about finding ways to get fuel to Patton’s resource-starved forces. In my mind, both the stories of dad’s start-up and his success in the army are about overcoming substantial obstacles – and doing so with cleverness, creativity, selling skills and grit. Today, as a VC, I tend to really gravitate toward entrepreneurs who rely on grit and hustle – instead of overwhelming resources – to achieve their goals, probably as a result of my upbringing. I also love stories of creating something from next-to-nothing – particularly based on cutting edge technology. I suppose it’s not surprising that I love early-stage VC.
Dad’s lifelong dream, never realized, was to be Governor of NY state. He ran unsuccessfully four times on a platform of bringing a businessman’s management skills to government – a topical theme today, but probably not a great fit for 1960’s and 70’s New York. The fact that he kept running and losing is inspirational to me – again, themes of perseverance. I hope to become someone who sticks her neck out and risks failure that much – I am not yet.
On a hidden wall in my house is my most prized possession: an article from the Amsterdam News (NB: a publication that describes itself at the oldest Black newspaper in the country) that was written the week my dad died. There are 8 or so loving vignettes about my father from civil rights and community leaders. In the piece, Ken Auletta describes dad as “the youngest adult I’ve ever known” because of dad’s infectious enthusiasm and his unwavering belief in people. He added that dad was “a better man and visionary than a politician.”
Q: What area are you most excited about?
Tony Evnin (who is Emeritus in name only!) and I share a passion for longevity science, a growing area of interest in biotech.
Longevity science has uncovered 8 or so pathways that contribute to aging – and emerging evidence that modulating these pathways can positively impact diseases of aging. As one player in this field recently stated, “the data is now pretty clear that aging is a disease that can be modulated with therapy.” The goal of the more responsible companies in this field is to extend human healthspan, not necessarily lifespan, although aging science is achieving both goals for mice and has seen the earliest data in people.
I have the privilege of sitting on the Board of company called Unity that we made a seed investment in. Unity recently emerged from “stealth mode” alongside a major publication of its science in Nature. The company is led by Ned David, an entrepreneur whom I have invested with three times previously, and Keith Leonard (as Executive Chair). Keith was CEO of Kythera, a company Keith, Ned, and I made the founding investment in (at a $1M pre-money valuation!) that sold for $2.1B this September. I hope that Unity does even better for Venrock!
Q: What’s your most recent investment?
At Venrock, we like to be non-consensus with our investments, and my most recent investment, Spirox, is certainly that! Spirox is a pre-commercial medical device company. The company has a simple implant that treats a condition called nasal valve collapse (floppy nostrils). Nasal valve collapse is an important part of an overall condition called nasal obstruction that impacts almost three million Americans. If you’ve ever known anyone who had their septum or turbinates treated, they very likely had nasal obstruction. These patients have difficulty breathing and often get sequelae like heart disease and sleep apnea. Spirox is rendering floppy nostrils, a cause of nasal obstruction that was previously untreatable by ENTs (ear, nose, throat doctors), – treatable with a simple in-office procedure.
Which brings me to a theme of mine: I have noticed over the years that physicians only notice those “nails” for which they possess a “hammer.” In doing diligence on Spirox, I spoke to countless MDs who said some version of “Wow! Before I learned about Spirox, I didn’t notice all the patients in my practice with nasal valve collapse – now that I know there is a treatment for it, I am seeing the problem in 10 patients a week.” Some pretty big therapies have been created for those previously lonely “nails” – from Viagra to Botox.
On December 4, 2015 Spirox learned that FDA approved the implant. The company plans to launch within a month.