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Speaker Highlight: Meet Léonie Weerakoon

Updated: Jun 18, 2021

Léonie is a sustainable investor with nearly 2 decades of experience as an entrepreneur, growth strategist, operator, and a 3x Founder pioneering industries with tech. Léonie’s innate desire to build more equitable practices resulted in her founding an ed-tech platform backed by a tokenized AI to eliminate social discrimination and promote passion discovery utilizing blockchain. In 2015, her work was recognized by the United Nations and White House for solving UNSDGs.

Since beginning her journey as an investor in PE/VC, she leads an emerging investor and climate club and invests in and advises Founders to build multi-use technology across social and environmental justice reform to accelerate climate action and environmental conservation. She resides between New York City, Austin, Luxembourg and is fluent in 4 languages. Winning Woman Series is pleased to have Léonie as this month's speaker feature for the blog and we hope you find this interview interesting , because we certainly did.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do?

Hello, I’m Léonie, and I am a long-standing activist for social and environmental justice reform. I was raised between North America, Europe, and Asia and began my career as a luxury designer and illustrator. Then, transitioned to operator, founder, then investor of tech companies fearlessly building groundbreaking advancements in their industries.

2. What does it take to be a successful VC?

Can you ask me in 10 years? As an investor and operator, I find that intuitively spotting founders who are actively applying systems-thinking to create advanced innovations through proper time and capital management, rather than simply investing in founders to pattern match, is a skill few have. I see success in investors who look at underfunded and emerging fields before they are a fad or backed by institutions. Institutions are often the last to take on more risk with their capital to invest in innovative founders and tech at the most critical inception stages. It is excellent they understand their market fit. However, if I’m not looking at the market from a global lens, then I’ll always be selling myself short and will be doing you a disservice. Most investors are still catching on to the importance of interconnectivity and interculturalism. It’s a driver of growth. I hope more VCs begin to adopt this mindset if they have the desire to discover possibility.

3. What inspires Léonie to get out of bed every morning?

Sunshine! Life. I draw inspiration from many things. Mostly my aspiration to move the needle on how diverse funders and founders have access to influence our world. The desire to innovate, invest and collaborate with like-minded advocates doing similar work. The desire to build upon inventive science solving some of the biggest threats to humanity while also inspiring generations of new transformation. Working with the most incredible minds tirelessly every day to architect a life where we can find meaning isn't a terrible reason to get out of bed.

4. Why do you think there has been a significant rise in ESG Investments?

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing is not new. And the consequences of not balancing our investments across social factors - a necessity to achieve sustainability - have caused many to face these shifts. We cannot talk about rising seas and climate action without talking about migration and social equality. Many investors are still learning how ESG investing is at its core seeing beyond a single, double, triple-bottom-line and expanding our approach from a local mindset. It’s hard to imagine a world where we continue to ignore green fields and don’t protect our natural resources. The state of the health of our planet has been suffering. I believe any rise in ESG investments is attributed to investors catching on to the gravity and nature of ESG effects on their livelihoods and a paradigm shift for more sustainable CPG products, healthier foods, and less waste. I hope more investors think within planetary boundaries and finally see that these Eco investments are arguably more profitable than traditional ventures.

5. Do you think VCs are starting to put a premium on diversity?

I wouldn't classify it as a premium when less than 2% of venture capital dollars support diverse funders and founders. Yes, most VCs led by females or GPs of color are investing across diversity. And not enough investors acknowledge that VCs, too, are founders - we have to raise capital as founders do. Institutions could do a better job investing in VCs led by diverse GPs to accelerate investments into diverse founders that reflect a significant portion of our population. I believe our investments should mirror the world we live in, not a piece of it. Are we pioneers if we only invest in what serves the top 1%?

6. Is there one thing college did not prepare you for in your career/life?

Only one thing? Other’s perceptions of college made me believe that access to opportunity correlates to hard work and talent. Unfortunately, hard work, output, and access don’t always relate, especially if you are not from the 1%. Innovation, time management, and breaking barriers are not always teachable. Thankfully, life did prepare me for that.

7. What is your favorite part of working at a VC/PE Fund?

Connecting the dots. I’m constantly inspired by founders as I learn about the most cutting-edge advancements, across the board, in breakthrough science, tech, and social constructs that spur generational and equitable change. VCs are the matchmakers and the fuel behind our founders who are essential to the betterment of our lives. A win for a founder is a win for the world.

8. What’s the most important thing you learned from your parents?

Many wonderful hard truths and lessons were passed down, either directly or indirectly. I inherited my artistic, creative, and curious mind from them, along with being multi-lingual. However, the most significant gift is seeing how the world and our actions reach far beyond our doorstep, community, and country. This allowed me to understand, at a young age, what keeps us together and what pushes us apart. As a result, I was able to find harmony in both my personal and professional life.

9. Can you share a small win that happened in your life that in the future led to something bigger?

I try to recognize the act of maintaining my health and being mindful as daily wins. Whether it’s meditating for 30 mins, not having sugar that day, doing yoga, these are small wins that can have a massive impact on the outcome of my day, my work, my attitude. To name a few examples in the workspace: speaking up, setting goals, walking away from jobs that no longer served me, learning to say no, and offering to support missions I am most passionate about, i.e., solving for gender and capital equality. I am fortunate to have met many talented women and men in the market who have connected dots for me that opened doors to investments and investors, founders, the list goes on. Whether we set out to resolve an unsolved mystery or raise capital, every step toward it can be a win if we look at it as such. To me, the most essential wins are the battles we conquer within our constructs.

10. What is the one mistake you have learned from the most?

Wanting everything to be pristine. I began my career in a discipline (luxury apparel design) where craftsmanship quality, passion for details, and rigorous handmade workmanship are the core elements of distinction from our competitors. If we did not meet these expectations, we did not ship, or there were severe consequences. It morphed my expectations of almost every company and myself. My journey of undoing this expectation has swayed. I still am a designer in how I look at consumer goods, systems-thinking, architectural design, and see things what most would not bat an eye at until it’s unraveling. Now I understand how to perfect just enough to keep shipping.

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