Amy Boyet serves as the CCO at Rainmaker Securities, a FINRA-registered broker-dealer offering clients diversified investment opportunities in private securities. She brings a wealth of executive experience to her role, having worked formerly as the COO of Electio Investments; the COO of Pulse Therapeutics, Inc.; and a principal for BioGenerator. She has a strong background in science which lends itself to her meticulous eye for compliance, as well as to her ability to examine technology company offerings. She holds both an MBA and an MS in cellular and molecular biology.
Ms. Boyet graciously agreed to a 30-minute interview in June 2017, which has been edited for length and clarity.
[OnlineEducation.com] Can you tell me a little bit about your career history? How did you move from earning your master’s of science in biology to working in finance and later as a VC?
[Ms. Boyet] I’ve always been interested in science. I graduated high school at 16 and got a biology degree from Culver-Stockton College and a chemistry minor. I thought I wanted to go to medical school because there wasn’t a lot of education about potential careers in science where I grew up, a small suburb right outside of St. Louis. I ended up not getting into medical school, which was fine because medicine isn’t actually a good fit for my personality. I earned a master’s in molecular biology right after finishing my bachelor’s program. After working in molecular biology in research, I realized that I don’t really love everything about science; I don’t like sitting at the bench designing experiments. I wanted to find other applications for data.
I worked with brilliant PhDs at Wash U. I ran a lab for seven or eight years in flow cytometry, which is using light to identify different cell populations, sorting and isolating them. I did that while I was getting my MBA, and Wash U pays for half of your tuition if you’re employed there. So, I got my MBA, focusing more on entrepreneurship than finance, and worked in the Office of Technology Transfer. I learned about negotiating contracts, working with big corporations, perfecting intellectual property, researching intellectual property, and working with attorneys to create a patent. And I hate to say it, but university-developed technologies are really hard to commercialize because it’s not just the discovery; there’s so much that goes into the commercial development of an idea that may or may not fit into some big corporation’s patent portfolio. To create start-ups out of university research is very difficult.
From there, I moved into my first role as a principal at BioGenerator, a non-profit created in St. Louis by John McDonnell, formerly of McDonnell-Douglas-Boeing. He noted that the scientific talent was leaving St. Louis, so he created an ecosystem of entrepreneurial technology and life science companies. That was our mission. So I spent three years learning due diligence, working with investments, having the support of the community, and sitting in high-level board meetings.
Then I wanted to strike out on my own. In 2008—awful timing—I joined a medical device startup here in St. Louis as chief operating officer. As a member of management, I went out and raised the first round of funding, and you know what, I realized I really enjoyed the finance piece. My family was surprised I was stepping away from my biology background, but I wasn’t really. I was still working in technology.
I left the biomedical start-up and joined Electio Investments and worked on the early conceptual phases of creating a financial vehicle offering a mutual fund approach to private investment in early-stage companies. So you can write a check for $50,000, and diversify it into 5-10 companies. It’s a novel approach to mitigate some risk in that early stage environment through diversification.
Eventually I met Glen Anderson, the President of Rainmaker, and it made sense to work in compliance considering my personality. It’s pretty OCD work and I use my science and due diligence background to examine our technology offerings. We do a lot with fintech, AI, novel materials, plant and ag-science, medical devices, and solar; since I’ve had the training and framework of a scientist, I’m able to understand the science behind these offerings.
[OnlineEducation.com] I want to ask about your experience as a principal at BioGenerator. What are some of the factors that you evaluated in deciding which companies to fund?
[Ms. Boyet] We used a diligence package as a base for local VCs and other investors starting their own diligence process. I helped put together these reports, evaluating the likelihood that we could get together money to get a specific company to their next milestone, where they could raise capital outside of us.
The other item that we always looked at was job creation. It had to create jobs here in St. Louis, and I think it really contributed to the entrepreneurial explosion. This city now ranks high in desirability for Millennials because of the entrepreneurial community and resources.
[OnlineEducation.com] How different is it working, for example, in your previous role as the principal at BioGenerator, and now working in private securities?
[Ms. Boyet] To me, working in private securities is really a continuation. I look at solid legal documents to ensure that a company is suitable for an investor. For example, if we look through the documentation and find outrageous fees, we’re not going to approve investments in that offering on our platform. With BioGenerator, it was a similar process: looking at companies and business plans, trying to be proactive. I helped to diagnose issues and help the companies understand the milestones necessary to procure funding. I brought that experience over as a broker-dealer, where again, I’m doing diligence as if I were a principal help companies and investors.
I’ve got a good toolbox; I’ve looked at hundreds and hundreds of offerings, and I think that’s part of the key of getting into finance—building up that experience, having some war wounds. In a broker-dealer world, you get those quickly.
[OnlineEducation.com] What are some of the most common problem areas when you’re running compliance checks or using the diligence checklist?
[Ms. Boyet] I have some common issues with these firms, and it really depends on the stage they’re at in their development. The number one problem area is definitely pro forma projections. It’s very rare that a company’s financials are conservative, so that’s usually where I find issues. Some of these are so early stage that assessing a valuation can be difficult. Those are probably the two biggest areas.
Part of what I do now is investor protection, making sure conflicts of interest are disclosed, banking fees, and other factors. We do our best to promote best market practices.
[OnlineEducation.com] What are the demographics like in the industry? Do you work with a lot of men and women?
[Ms. Boyet] It is mainly men. Definitely.
[OnlineEducation.com] I’m not surprised. There’s a lot of research showing the gender disparity among VCs and in finance. In your former experience as a principal or now in your current role, have you ever had any situations where you think things would have been different had you been a man?
Well, I’ve always chosen my jobs not by what they pay, but by the experience I’m going to obtain. I’ve been very strategic in joining groups where I have a good mentor, and so thankfully, I’ve worked for a lot of men that have been staunch advocates for an equal seat at the table. I show up; I know my stuff; I’m prepared—overly prepared; I crank out copious amounts of work. I think because I’m qualified for what I do and am very meticulous in my work, I’ve always had an advocate. There’s always been a culture of respect in the places I’ve worked.
Actually, in academic science, I would say that I saw a lot more sexism than what I’ve seen in finance. Ultimately, I’m now a chief compliance officer, so everyone has to get approval from me that activities do not violate FINRA or SEC Rules; my bosses are very supportive. Ultimately in my role I deliver difficult news all the time, but I try to do it really nicely and help people with next steps.
[OnlineEducation.com] You mentioned that there’s more sexism in science. Can you elaborate on that? Is it mainly with publications or finding mentors?
[Ms. Boyet] Yes, in academic science, that would probably be the experience of many of my friends who publish. In certain situations, the lead author credit is given to someone who didn’t do as much work. Of course, this is hearsay and their opinion, but it’s not an isolated complaint. Certain specialties for MDs, for example, still have an “old boys’ club” in place, but I think things are changing. They can’t afford to have a culture which results in lawsuits.
[OnlineEducation.com] Of the top 100 venture firms, around only 7 percent of the partners are women. Why do you think that there is this long-standing gender disparity?
[Ms. Boyet] Well, the hours are not exactly fun. I’m a single mom. I have a three-and-a-half year old son I co-parent with his dad. It’s a wonderful experience, but it’s difficult to achieve a work-life balance with these hours. This works for me because I’m a virtual employee and I have a lot of flexibility. But the traditional model of going to the office, sitting from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, going out after work sometimes for business dinners, travel, is how business usually works. This is a “belly-to-belly business;” you don’t get deals done over the phone. You need to be there in person and that can be hard to balance for anyone.
[OnlineEducation.com] In addition to the challenging hours and any family-related commitments, can you think of any other unique challenges that women face as VCs or working in private securities?
[Ms. Boyet] I think some members of the older generation can be difficult with their memories of a time when it was appropriate to speak disparagingly of women, the martini lunches and an “old boys club” women weren’t invited to. That generation is leaving the workforce.
[OnlineEducation.com] I learned that a majority of VC funds go to companies that are either started or owned by men. Do you think that is strictly because there are more companies being started by men, or do you think that there are some other factors at play?
[Ms. Boyet] We have an offering on our platform right now with Arria, an artificial intelligence company. The CEO is Sharon Daniels and they’re doing great. I do see more women having roles in senior management, even in the tech companies. If you’re qualified, you’re qualified. If you have the experience and you’re the best person for the job, that’s what investors are looking for.
I’ve also made choices to work with people who aren’t assholes, and I don’t come from a typical Wall Street background; I come from science, so I may have a different approach to finance compared to a lot of my colleagues who have worked as research analysts or lived in New York or San Francisco. I’d never had a corporate job; I’d always worked in non-profits, and then I went straight into banking.
[OnlineEducation.com] Was that a challenging leap or did it just feel natural for you?
[Ms. Boyet] I want to be challenged at work; I found finance to be very interesting. There are various financial vehicles you can construct to create a return for investors, who then support that whole entrepreneurial ecosystem.
[OnlineEducation.com] Do you have any advice for women who are aspiring to join high leadership or work as VCs?
[Ms. Boyet] I would say find good mentors! Find someone who’s willing to help you down the career path and open up their network. Have lunch every once in awhile to bounce your ideas off of them because they’ve got the experience. Anytime you’re trying to learn something new, find someone who already knows something about it and you’re going to get to the heart of what you really need to learn much faster. You can’t look up everything online; you need to find someone who can help you.