Emma Ball leads the regional “company creation engine” arm of Illumina – a NASDAQ-listed, US-based genomics technology company. As Head of Illumina for Startups Australia, Asia Pacific, Middle East, and Africa she works with genomics startups and investors, as well as governments, universities and corporates.
Emma’s role with Illumina was one of several new opportunities that emerged after she completed the VC Catalyst investor education program in 2021. She also began angel investing, joined the board of Startup Shakeup (supporting entrepreneurs in North East Victoria), and became an Entrepreneur in Residence for The Advanced Genomics Collaboration (a partnership between Illumina and the University of Melbourne).
Emma had been “VC-curious” for a while; VC Catalyst meant she could learn from both experts and peers. “I wanted to understand the process in more detail – issues like investment terms and analysing deal flow. And the course delivered beyond my expectations. The content was incredible and we were taught by rockstar experts like Rachael Neumann, Pedram Mokrian, and Colin McLeod, who all offered deep domain knowledge and a unique perspective. That learning was complemented by the rich conversations I had with my diverse cohort of fellow students. It was the best piece of training I have done at any stage of my career.”
The program granted Emma access to a supportive network of fellow investors and entrepreneurs. “VC Catalyst gave me an ‘in’ to Australia’s VC networks, including angel investment syndicates, as well as an amazing group of experts at various stages of their careers. Somehow, despite lockdowns, the team built this close-knit network of connections across all the cohorts. We openly share advice, contacts, and deal-flow with one another. Those connections are so valuable; at the end of the day, this is a relationship business and it’s all about who you know.”
The VC Catalyst network helped Emma start angel investing and build her own portfolio. “I always thought only high net worth individuals or people with big funds could invest in startups, but I’ve discovered lots is happening at the grassroots. I have started angel investing through Flying Fox Ventures, Scale Investors, and also the Ageing Decelerator / Startup Galaxy, and I’ve built a portfolio of about 15 investments so far. It’s still early days and I’m writing micro-cheques, but I love being part of those syndicates and learning from others.”
Emma regularly draws on her VC Catalyst networks in her “day-job” at Illumina. “Because we partner with venture capital funds and entrepreneurs to create, launch and grow genomics startups, there’s a lot of overlap in the people I’m working with. I value being able to share deal-flow, ask questions about terms, or assess whether a concept is founder-friendly. I gained so much knowledge through the VC course, but I’m still learning everyday thanks to these amazing new connections.”
VC Catalyst enabled Emma to build on her long-running support for female founders. “I sit on the Life Sciences Council for Springboard Enterprises Australia, which supports women founders, and I also invest with female founder-focused Scale Investors. Supporting women entrepreneurs is a priority for me. The dollar amounts they attract compared with men is pretty horrendous, and I’m trying to do my bit to help correct that.”
As a female investor, Emma is part of a broader movement dismantling gender disparities in venture capital investment. “Female founders already face unconscious bias from many male investors. The problem is even worse when they are working on female issues, like health solutions for pregnancy, because male investors don’t have any experience of the problem. An important solution is more women investors. I’ve been really heart-warmed recently to witness a couple of investment panels at conferences that were all-female. It’s nice to see things are starting to change.”
At Illumina Emma works with ambitious entrepreneurs exploring emerging technologies. “I’m on a constant learning journey; technology is evolving and the rate of change is increasing. I’m excited by new technologies and their applications and looking forward to learning about concepts we haven’t even thought of yet. Solving the world’s big problems requires entrepreneurs who are bold and prepared to experiment. I’m excited to be a part of that.”
VC Catalyst is our immersive program for active investors to gain best practice tools and skills to make more successful venture capital investment decisions, delivered at Wade Institute of Entrepreneurship. Applications for 2023 program are open – apply now.