My name is Jean Hammond. I’m the co-founder and general partner at LearnLaunch Fund Plus Accelerator. We work with Ed-Tech companies and workforce upscaling companies to build a better future.
Tell Us About Your Journey
I started as a tech entrepreneur. I got to be a tech entrepreneur after business school, going to Edinburgh, Scotland with my husband’s career. And when I got there, there was this tiny little company, about 25 people. And by the time we left two and a half years later, they were up to about 300 people. And so as a relatively young, out of business school, about a year person, I got to participate in all parts of a startup. And we were selling computer networking gear, sort of think Cisco routers before Cisco routers. And it was a really high-speed, high-growth company and had a ton of fun there.
Later I went on to co-found, another company on similar technology that had a great exit after only four years. And a little while after that exit, one of my business school friends pulled on my arm and said, hey Jean, aren’t you going to invest in my idea? And I thought she was talking to somebody behind me because I didn’t think I was supposed to invest in things. But nonetheless, by the next morning, I was the first investor in Zipcar.
At one point I realized that ed tech companies that I was bringing in for potential investment weren’t getting any attention. So that’s why I decided to found LearnLaunch Fund Plus Accelerator.
What is the History of LearnLaunch Fund Plus Accelerator?
When we were thinking about supporting Ed Tech in a large way, we ended up trying to think about, how can we support the people who are going to be using education technology tools at the same time that we can support the entrepreneurs that we started to see show up at that point in time? So this was about ten years ago, and so we started a nonprofit LearnLaunch Institute. We put on some conferences, helped teachers have trials with different products.
And then I was always excited by the entrepreneurs. So LearnLaunch Fund Plus Acceleratorwas the thing I spent most of my time on and continue to spend my time on. So supporting the entrepreneurs who were bringing great new ideas in to solve problems that were happening in now K-through-twelve schools, higher ed, and also workforce upscaling. So our mode of operation is as a little micro-fund that invests in these companies and we also provide accelerator services to really push them along and get them going.
What Attributes Lead to Success?
When I’m thinking about the attributes of the entrepreneurs that I’m investing in, I’m really looking for people who are thinking outside the box but are also thoughtful about what is the existing structure of the industry. I’m looking for people who are hard workers, but also know how to have some fun and make things feel like it’s worth doing. We really see that the makeup of the team makes the biggest difference in a start-up because then you have different people addressing different issues and that’s really particularly helpful for start-up to get going.
What Are Your Must-Haves Before You Make An Investment?
We make investments based on feeling like we’ve got the right team to really address the issues that the company is facing. Both our capabilities to help as well as their capabilities to get going with the help that we can provide. And so we’re really focused on making sure that the company has a big enough market. Has a path to that market. And then can not only get the funding from us, but also get funding from other players in the industry to scale up and address the problems that they’re designed to address.
What Advice Do You Have For Entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurs, no matter what field they’re working in, really need to get to know what pain they’re going to solve. If you’re just a nice-to-have, there may not be enough market or it may not move quickly enough. So if there’s a real pain and you can identify it and hear it from the mouths of your customers and then tell them back that you’re solving it, then that really moves the needle on being able to address things. So that’s sort of product market-fit research to understand exactly where you’re going to fit into the market and how you’re going to go.
What Value Does Gesmer Bring to Scaling Companies?
Well, what I like about Gesmer is that Gesmer is right-sized law. They sort of don’t make it very complex if it’s a simple problem, and they don’t make it simple if it’s a complex problem. An example is if you’ve got an early-stage startup and you need to get a new term sheet out that includes incentives for maybe existing angels or small funds to reinvest, that’s where Gesmer is a good fit. If you’ve got a merger and acquisition going on where a company is being acquired by a giant corporation, but the budget to spend on legal fees is not giant on your side, you need somebody who’s very savvy to protect the interest of the entrepreneur and the investors in that fund. And again, Gesmer is a great fit.
If you need a firm that’s able to help an entrepreneur that’s moving their company from Australia to the US and sort of understand the process and the steps but not make it too complicated, again a great fit. So those are all great examples of our portfolio companies working with Gesmer and so we feel like that’s a good example of right-size law.
Why Go With Gesmer?
I always suggest that startups take a good look at Gesmer because it’s often a great fit for the start-up stage of an entrepreneur’s journey. And I really appreciate that the law firm focuses on the most important things, helps the Company focus and get on with running their business. I think that companies that want to get going on their business should probably go with Gesmer.