Encourage, educate, and empower women through mentorship to enter into the VC world.
As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the VC gender gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Faye Sahai.
Faye Sahai is Managing Director at Vinaj Ventures, an innovation and investment services firm working to support digital wellness and behavioral health across corporations and philanthropic organizations. One of its leading funds, Telosity by Vinaj Ventures, specializes in the investment of youth mental health and wellbeing.
Prior to joining Vinaj Ventures, Faye spent nearly three decades working across financial institutions, healthcare, and insurance businesses such as Kaiser Permanente, Schwab, AIG, Blue Shield, and Deloitte Consulting. An entrepreneur at heart, she also founded three startups.
Faye has received several prestigious recognitions including Insurance Business Hot 100 and Elite Women in Insurance Business America, Ascend Leadership Award, Computer World’s Top Premier IT Leaders, Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Kaiser Permanente Asian Community and Innovation Enterprise Best Ideation Award.
She serves as an advisor and/or board member with organizations like UCSF Catalyst, ANA Innovation Advisory, Innovation Executive Forum, Ascend Leadership NorCal, and Berger Research.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?
I began my career at a financial institution focused on multi-million dollar investments, negotiating repurchase agreements, working with bonds that help to prevent non-communicable diseases (NCDs) of up to $100M, and building a $150M certificate of deposit marketing program. During the Desert Storm era, the market was fluctuating quite a bit so I decided to leave banking to pursue something more meaningful, which led to my working on global issues, as part of the United Nations Environmental Program, and advocating for children’s rights on an international scale. Following this experience, I decided to go back to college to pursue my MBA. At this time, I wanted to find a career path that would allow me to couple my professional skills with those initiatives that were close to my heart. After completing my MBA, I joined Deloitte and that gave me the opportunity to gain experience across multiple industries and functions. It was here that I discovered my passion for healthcare; this particular sector allowed me to use both my analytical skills as well as do meaningful work that benefited others. Later, I joined Kaiser Permanente and led the company’s Innovation Fund and Lab to identify innovative solutions and services.
My passion to help others has led me across global venues as a speaker and given me the chance to serve as an advisor on numerous boards. I have received prestigious awards and recognitions for my work. Today, I work with Telosity by Vinaj Ventures, a venture capital fund that invests in and addresses youth mental health and digital startups. Mental health is a prominent conversation in our society as it impacts one in five young people; and half of all mental illnesses start around the age of 14. Our goal at Telosity by Vinaj Ventures is to identify scalable innovative solutions faster and offer consumers more personalized treatments. To date, we have invested in eight startups, which — in 2020 alone — managed to touch two million young people’s lives.
Can you share a story of your most successful Angel or VC investment? In your opinion, what was its main lesson?
At the time that I was leading the Innovation Fund and Lab at Kaiser Permanente, we were actively looking for solutions to tackle diabetes for our members. Following extensive research and review, we opted to fund Omada Health. We offered them a pilot program in 2013–2014 targeting a pre-diabetic clientele across various companies. The pilot program was successful, as it helped our members reduce weight, which resulted in the control of the onset of diabetes. Fast forward to 2021, Omada Health now has more than $357M in revenue and has raised more than $250 million in funding from 27 different investors.
Can you share a story of an Angel or VC funding “failure” of yours? Is there a lesson or take away that you took out of that that our readers can learn from?
When you are evaluating a company, always keep in mind that 9 out of 10 startups fail, 7.5 out of 10 venture-backed startups fail, and 2 out of 10 businesses fail in their first year of operation. My professional experience has taught me that you cannot focus on just one aspect of a company — such as a charismatic founder or a shiny new technology — and should look at a startup holistically. Ask yourself some simple questions like: Is the problem this company is solving considered significant? Is the solution that it is offering differentiated and scalable? Does the team have the right capabilities and capacity to execute on its idea?
Was there a company that you turned down, but now regret? Can you share the story? What lesson did you learn from that?
During my career, I also worked at AIG. We were looking at health startups for our consumers and we met with a company called Livongo. Personally, I had liked their offering for virtual care and remote monitoring — it would have been a great way to complement AIG’s life insurance offering — but the other AIG leaders on the project didn’t want to pursue it. This was a lesson for me because if I had been more vocal and continued to push for it then AIG might have pursued it. Fast forward, Livongo was acquired by Teledoc for $18.5B.
Okay, let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this article in Fortune, only 2.2% of VC dollars went to women in 2018. Can you share with our readers what your firm is doing to help close the VC gender gap?
Vinaj Venture is actively working to close the VC gender gap. We have a strong emphasis on DEI. In fact, our team is equally 67% women and people of color. Half of the companies that we invest in have female and/or underrepresented founders. We mentor women founders across The Founders Institute, Tech Match, and Nursing Innovation Hub, among other accelerators. The Vinaj Ventures team is also involved with the All Raise Speakers Bureau, How Women Lead, and Women in Finance in an effort to increase awareness and bring about positive change.
Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the VC gender gap.
- Encourage, educate, and empower women through mentorship to enter into the VC world
- Collaborate with companies like All Raise, How Women Lead, Women VC, 100 WF, and other key organizations that work to support women across the industries of VC, leadership, and/or investment
- Venture capital firms should report their diversity, equity, and inclusion statistics for greater transparency and peer review
- Encourage limited partners to fund diverse emerging managers
- Create new and open opportunities — as we have seen with crowdsourcing — such as exit to community, rolling funds, and more
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
The idea of “doing well by doing good” is something that has always inspired me. I would love to inspire a movement where we realign efforts to consider more than just profit, but also consider people, place, and peace of mind. A great example of this is Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index, which measures everything from living standards to health and education to culture, environment, and the wellbeing of others — all of these elements play a key role in the equation of having a balanced life.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is from Buddha: “One moment can change a day, one day can change a life and one life can change the world.” In terms of relevancy, I feel it is empowering to know that all of us can make a change that can create a positive impact in our world. Even when our days are filled with bad news, it only takes a moment or person that can turn the day around. I try to live each day to the fullest and make every moment count — sometimes this causes me to be overscheduled because I have a big fear of missing out! But I do take time to reflect back on each day to acknowledge my accomplishments. Looking at it from a bigger perspective, at Vinaj Ventures we have invested in eight startups that have positively impacted the lives of 2 million teenagers and young people in 2020 alone! I find my work to be meaningful because it brings awareness and solutions for digital wellness and mental health treatment for our youth that would otherwise silently suffer from anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!