Barely a year into her tenure, Juliana Garaizar has been let go as director of the TMC Venture Fund.
In November 2017, the Texas Medical Center announced the launch of the $25 million fund. The goal was to nurture early stage technology companies in healthcare and make them thrive in Houston’s ecosystem.
“The TMC Venture Fund is a quintessential example of the Texas Medical Center’s ongoing commitment to driving collaboration across our medical city and further establishing Texas as the third coast of life sciences in the United States,” said Bill McKeon, Texas Medical Center President and Chief Executive Officer, in a press release at the time.
Reached via email, Garaizar declined to comment about her firing. On Thursday, a TMC spokesman forwarded a statement from McKeon that read:
“It is TMC’s general policy not to comment on consulting agreements upon conclusion. However, we would like to clarify that Juliana Garaizar was offered a short-term consulting role to assist in the ramping up of the TMC Venture Fund, and her agreement was on a monthly basis since December of 2018. We are thankful for Juliana’s contributions to the TMC Venture Fund.”
A Houston executive who is very active in the city’s angel investing and venture capital community said that Garaizar was let go for poor performance but lacked any first-hand knowledge of her activities at TMC. He declined to comment on the record for fear of being identified in a town where TMC carries much clout.
“I was told that they were not satisfied with her work product. I think they hired her thinking that she had this skillset — in terms of deal sourcing, in terms of due diligence and I think that proved to be not true,” the investor said.
Garaizar was managing director of the Houston Angel Network between 2013 and June 2018 per her LinkedIn profile before joining the TMC Venture Fund as director in September 2018. But she was already a member of the 10-person investment committee since the fund’s launch announcement that dated to Nov. 8, 2017. In fact, at launch that investment committee had already picked five companies in which to invest in: Alleviant, Briteseed, CNSDose, Medable, and Noninvasix. None of the executives leading these startups responded to requests for comment.
During her tenure at TMC Venture Fund, at least two companies won investment from it – NarrativeDx and Medical Informatics. Their chief executives either didn’t respond to requests for comment or declined to do so.
Currently, there are 14 companies in TMC Venture Fund’s portfolio, according to its website.
While no one wanted to comment on the record on Garaizar’s behalf for fear of being identified, there were rumblings that gender bias was involved in her departure from at least one supporter who described TMC as a white men’s club.
When asked to respond whether gender bias played a role in her departure, the TMC spokesman declined to comment further citing McKeon’s statement.
The Houston executive who is active in the angel investing community pushed back against the notion of gender bias in the overall Houston entrepreneurial environment.
“This is raw capitalism. You’re only as good in this ecosystem as the checks you write. And if you can’t write a check you can do work – you can do due diligence, you can source deals etc. There’s many different ways to play in this business, so I don’t accept that statement [of gender bias],” he declared.
He pointed to several Houston organizations that have women in very prominent positions — the Houston Angel Network, which is led by Stephanie Campbell; Campbell is also one of the three women leading the Artemis Fund, which recently launched to invest in women-led startups. Then there is the Goose (Grand Order of Successful Entrepreneurs) Society of Texas, whose executive director is Samantha Lewis. He also pointed to Allison Piper, founder and president of the Blue Catalyst Group.
Campbell didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Lewis was out of the office in South Africa and Piper declined comment.
Garaizar’s removal marks the second time in the past 12 months that TMC’s leadership is making executive changes at the very top of organizations under its umbrella that are dedicated to startup investing and innovation. In December, MedCity reported that Erik Halvorsen, director of Innovation Institute at TMC, who led its accelerator program, TMCx was fired. In March, TMC announced that Tom Luby, head of JLABS @ TMC, a life sciences incubator that’s part of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, was named the new director of TMC Innovation Institute.