Featured Investors
June 6, 2022

Featured Investors | June 2022 - Sara Eshelman of Spero Ventures and Shaun Chaudhuri of Westly Group

Isaac Snitkoff
EVCA Fellow

Sara Eshelman, Principal and Founding Member at Spero Ventures

Sara Eshelman is a principal and founding member of Spero Ventures, an early stage venture capital firm that backs mission-driven founders. She leads investments in health and bio platforms on behalf of the firm, holding the core belief that individuals will assert their agency and take more ownership of their health and wellbeing. Prior to Spero, Sara was a principal at Omidyar Network and began her career as a management consultant at Monitor Group. She received her BA from Northwestern University and MSc from the London School of Economics.

EVCA: What is your favorite thing about working in venture capital and why? How about your least favorite thing and why?

Sara: My favorite part of this job is serving founders in my capacity as a board member. Many parts of venture capital can feel transactional; board service isn’t one of them. Especially at the earliest stages when so much has yet to be figured out, these relationships have to be close and deeply rooted in trust—trust in a shared vision, trust in the team, trust in co-investors, and trust that we are all focused on realizing the company’s greatest potential. My role is to help remove obstacles and friction wherever possible; to cheerlead while also delivering direct feedback; and to help maintain a long-term focus. 

Beyond my own relationships with Spero’s portfolio founders, one of my absolute favorite things is to connect founders to one another. There’s a lot I can do, but founders need peers who’ve solved the same problems they are encountering and can both help them directly and empathize with the day-to-day challenges of being a founder. 

If I had to choose the thing I like least about this job it would be the hype. We’re an outlier-driven industry, and outlier companies and personalities capture public imagination and headlines. But the hype can be destructive because it sets unrealistic expectations. Real life doesn’t match the sensational depiction for founders who are doing the work every day to build an exceptional product, find a market that loves their product (a totally non-linear, highly uncertain process), hire above their weight class, raise capital (an absolute slog for 99% of early stage startups), and grow. Just about everyone in this industry has felt like an impostor at some point in time, but the reality is hard work, long time horizons, and, hopefully, trusting relationships built along the way.

EVCA: What is your most contrarian view on an existing or emerging technology trend?

Sara: I believe we’re going to do most of our healthcare at home in the coming years, and the vast majority of it will be informed by our genetics. 

We’re going to do all kinds of testing—testing blood chemistry and genetic predisposition, collecting biometric data, assessing mental health—from the privacy of our own homes. I’m beginning to think of this as the “flipped classroom” concept in healthcare. Instead of spending time on data collection during clinical visits, we’ll have the opportunity to discuss and analyze the data alongside our doctors. This will spark an unprecedented level of engagement by patients in their healthcare. 

I’m also an avid believer that soon, the economics will make sense for every patient to have their genome sequenced (more about that here). Together, high-quality, high-frequency at-home data collection, combined with broad-based genomic sequencing, will be the watershed for creating the new knowledge we’ve been waiting for about disease prevention and treatment. We’ll see new discoveries in the most underserved areas first (I’m closely watching women’s health and mental health) and areas that operate under fewer bureaucratic constraints (fertility is incredibly interesting to me for this reason). 

Ultimately, I see patients as the main source of discovery and dissemination of healthcare knowledge.

Shaun Chaudhuri, Senior Associate at Westly Group

Shaun Chaudhuri is a Senior Associate at the Westly Group, a sustainability focused venture firm that invests in energy, mobility, buildings, industrial technology, and cybersecurity. Prior to joining the Westly Group, he worked at Apple on the iPhone team, leading the worldwide iPhone forecast and served on Apple’s leadership boards for Women@Apple & Accessibility@Apple. He did his undergraduate work in Economics and Gender Studies.

EVCA: What is your favorite thing about working in venture capital and why? How about your least favorite thing and why?

Shaun: What excites me the most about venture capital is the opportunity to support founders and back the most promising technologies in the sustainability sector. I admire the courage, tenacity, and focus it takes to start and run a startup, and I like to play a role in helping founders achieve the goals they set for themselves. My least favorite aspect of venture capital has been the lack of venture dollars going to underrepresented and minority founders. It is hard to believe that in 2021, only 2% of all venture dollars ($330B) went to companies founded by women. I believe there is opportunity for venture firms to lean heavier into ESG practices to evaluate investments beyond their financial metrics (despite his love for financial forecasting) and drive action in portfolio management relating to measuring environmental footprint and diversity of founders & board directors.

EVCA: What is your most contrarian view on an existing or emerging technology trend?

Shaun: I have been a big fan of the water space and think there is opportunity in the venture space for water operations and monitoring water quality. The water utility bill in the US has increased by 43% in the past decade, more than any other utility bill. While the true cost of water is subsidized to make it affordable for all communities, increasing water scarcity will intensify financial risk for companies and consumers.