MVCA Venture Fellow Reda Jaber’s resume includes many impressive titles: medical doctor, MBA graduate, startup founder, investor, and children’s book author. But he’s most surprised by another role he’s assumed, as Partner at IncWell: cheerleader. He says becoming emotionally vested in the companies he backs financially has been a happy by-product of finding great technologies led by inspiring founders. As he concludes his Fellowship period, we asked Reda to share other things he’s learned in his three years as a Michigan venture investor.
Tell us about your MVCA Venture Fellow position – where are you, what have you been doing?
I am now a Partner at IncWell – an early-stage venture capital fund based in Birmingham. We provide seed funding, strategic partnerships and mentorship for U.S. and Canadian startup companies. I participate in our advisory services and have lead responsibility for all medical sector activities. My current target investment sectors are primarily focused on Artificial Intelligence in Medicine and Consumer Health Products.
How did you use your Fellowship period to contribute to the growth of Michigan’s venture capital community? How did the Michigan venture community help you grow in your understanding of the industry and your role in it?
IncWell has become one of the most active early-stage VC funds in the Midwest, making more than 40 investments within the last three years. We have traveled to other startup hubs across the United States, giving me a chance to promote the Michigan startup and venture capital community on a national stage. We have also invited more than 150 startups from around the country to visit Michigan and pitch to our LPs at our Birmingham office. This ongoing outreach lets others see how strong the Michigan venture community is, and lets those who have left the area realize just how much we’ve grown.
Do you have a favorite Michigan-based portfolio company, technology, CEO or solution you’ve encountered during your time as a Venture Fellow?
Sentinl and its mission have really resonated with me. The company designs and manufactures a Michigan-made biometric gun lock. This was a very early-stage investment and we were involved as one of the first outside investors. Omer Kiyani – Sentinl’s founder and CEO – has an inspirational story and is a graduate of TechTown’s Venture Accelerator in Detroit. He survived a shooting when he was 16. With Sentinl, he created a lock that fits over the trigger of most existing firearms and can be unlocked with the owner’s fingerprint. The technology can protect children and give gun owners more control. Omer has received national attention and become a voice for a safer, more secure America. We’re excited to be part of this mission and to see how far Omer and the company have grown.
What’s one thing you’ve learned during your Fellowship that you didn’t know before you started in the industry?
Honestly, there is more collaboration than I expected. You walk into the profession thinking that venture capitalists work by a cut-throat, no-holds-barred approach. Maybe it’s the media that feeds into this stereotype, or maybe I’ve just been lucky to work with great people! I’ve learned that each firm and each investor can add a different type of value to the investment beyond a cash injection. There is cooperation on due diligence, closing existing rounds and other aspects as well. This has been a pleasant surprise.
Has your perspective on venture capital as a profession changed since starting your Fellowship?
One thing that has surprised me is just how invested you become in these startups. I mentioned Sentinl and its mission. There have been countless others. I’ve visited top incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces across the country. We’ve got elite businesses starting up right here in Michigan. It opens your eyes to the entrepreneurial spirit and excitement that exists in our current business landscape. You can’t help but get inspired. With IncWell, I am in constant contact with members of the local startup community. I try to be someone they can lean on for business advice and mentorship. You build relationships with entrepreneurs, follow their every move and root for their success.
What are you plans post-Fellowship?
I plan to continue to live, work and give back to the community in Michigan as a Partner at IncWell. This is an extremely exciting time for our firm. I believe that Michigan’s economy will continue to thrive, especially in the technology sector, and I’m eager to be a part of the growth. We are lucky to have some of the top academic universities in this state churning out high-quality graduates, top-notch research and new technologies in healthcare, mobility and other sectors. I will forever be thankful to the MVCA Fellowship program. They have provided a one-of-a-kind opportunity to “grow up” as a professional in Michigan.