Marie Thompson is a Principal Investor at Powerhouse Ventures, an innovation firm that works with leading global corporations to help them find, partner with, invest in, and acquire the most innovative startups in clean energy, mobility, and climate. Despite her struggle with health, she’s made valuable contributions at Powerhouse Ventures, where she was offered her dream role right after her internship.
Marie’s perseverance shines because of the mindset she cultivated through athletics. In this episode, Marie shares her story of pursuing an MBA and choosing Haas, the relationships she formed along the way, and overcoming a life-threatening illness. She also talks about helping industries pivot to clean energy and address today’s climate crisis.
Marie’s reasons for pursuing an MBA
[00:06:42] I had two north stars that really made it clear that business school is the right step for me. One was just that personal development. I stalled out where I was. I wasn’t going to get an opportunity to practice leadership or management skills or be able to connect to people in a real way. I knew I couldn’t get that in my current corporate environment. The other one was very practical and functional. I was done with oil and gas. I strongly wanted to pivot industries into kind of clean energy or climate tech.
On choosing Haas
[08:40.97] Once I finally started interacting with Haas students and learning more about the school environment and how amazing everybody is in an inspiring way and not an intimidating way, that was huge. Being in a place where I felt like I could learn from people and collaborate was so much more important than some prestige or some specific class. I got a little lucky that the Bay Area is home to where the industry I wanted to be and Haas happened to be right there.
On creating and preserving meaningful connections through BERC (Berkeley Energy and Resources Collaborative)
[00:14:23] The number one thing I got out of BERC was that experience of leadership and connecting with so many people in the industry. That facilitation, especially across different majors and departments, was really special and important and something that I think BERC did a really good job of. I’m still in touch with most of that executive team.
Recovering from cancer with the help of her athlete mentality
[00:25:54] The athlete mentality was really helpful in some ways of just getting through it, pushing through, enduring. It really was just endurance. I thought recovery might be like a path of a mountain; as long as you walk the path and follow the rules, things will get better and easier. But it’s really more like you’re staring into this giant void, and nobody has some answers for you. People my age and gender typically don’t get this type of cancer. There’s no guidance, and you’re just off in the wild to rebuild your body and rebuild your mind. That lack of structure and detachment from the athlete lifestyle that was a part of my twenties and my athletic career has been a journey every day to choose to be nice to myself and proud of myself and keep moving forward with my teeny little baby steps.
- Marie Thompson on LinkedIn
- Powerhouse Fund Official Website
- Berkeley Energy & Resources Collaborative (BERC) Official Website
- The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management
- Watt It Takes podcast
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
[00:00:00] Chris Kim: Welcome to the OneHaas podcast. I’m Chris Kim. Today, we have Marie Thompson, Principal at Powerhouse Ventures. Marie is a Haas MBA alum and works on early-stage sourcing and diligence for Powerhouse Ventures. Marie has an amazing journey, both pre and post-Haas, and we’re excited to share her story on the podcast today.
[00:00:23] Chris Kim: Welcome Marie, and great to have you on the show.
[00:00:25] Marie Thompson: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. It’s really nice to be here.
[00:00:29] Chris Kim: Marie, I know we were talking a bit before we started recording, but would you share a bit about your origin story? Where did you grow up and how did you end up becoming an MBA at Haas?
[00:00:37] Marie Thompson: Yeah. I actually grew up outside of Philadelphia in a place called Exton, Pennsylvania. So, my parents still live in the same house. I’m actually here right now for the holidays, recording out of my sister’s childhood bedroom. But yeah, I had a really great childhood here. Family, neighbors, an amazing public school kind of up the road, and because of that, I got to explore lots of different classes, bands, sports, everything in between. So, from there, I was a runner in high school and I took that very seriously and was lucky enough to get an athletic scholarship to a place called Rice University in Houston, Texas. Yeah, so all of these simpletons are fourth-generation Penn State graduates and I’m the kind of weirdo that was like, “Hey, I really want to go to this place in Texas.” And my parents were understanding enough to let me fly a little bit.
I did my undergrad at Rice University, had an amazing experience representing my school through athletics. I was a division one athlete in cross country in indoor and outdoor track. So, a lot of seasons, my teammates for life, I mean, some of those girls are my closest friend in the world. I poured my kind of heart and soul into running.
In school, I majored in political science and economics. And my whole thing was, I just really wanted to solve big societal problems. So, I thought I was going to go towards policy but after a few internships in the policy world, I realized I’m very results-oriented and that doesn’t always align well with doing work in the policy world.
Right after graduation, I instead pivoted hard into the private sector and spent a bunch of years after undergrad at an upstream oil and gas company called APA Corporation. In the oil and gas ecosystem, they’re the ones who are finding and drilling and producing oil and gas. So, I started in a strategic risk group and then moved into strategic and corporate planning. The whole job was just around pulling a lot of inputs, a lot of disparate pieces of information, and rolling it into something that executives could make decisions about. So, it was a very intense job with a terrible work-life balance. I loved the urgency of the work and did not really love the industry or the culture there. So, it got me thinking about maybe what was next.
So, the other part of my story is my husband, boyfriend at the time, was working as a teacher and an administrator at a place called Chinquapin Prep which is a really special place. It’s a boarding school east of Houston. It’s the only privately funded boarding school for kids from underserved communities in Texas. So, students are there Monday through Friday and the teachers live there. I got to live on campus while I was working at this company, but living out of school with all these teachers and an amazing community. So, it was a really interesting and different experience but I was able to volunteer a lot. And yeah, that kind of shaped who I was going into business school.
[00:03:19] Chris Kim: That’s awesome. I mean, could you tell us a little bit about that decision? I mean, going from Pennsylvania to Houston is maybe a totally different experience. How was that like transitioning and did you know about the connection to oil and gas or even to what the socioeconomic situations might be like when you went to Rice or was that something that you discovered after?
[00:03:38] Marie Thompson: Yeah, not at all. I mean, Houston is the fourth largest city in the country. A lot of people don’t realize it. It’s a huge place that has a huge medical center. Going into undergrad, I had some vague ideas about being a doctor. I think like a lot of undecided high-achieving teenagers, but I really didn’t. I grew up in the same house in the same place for 18 years, which was amazing and provided this level of stability that really allowed me to thrive and try all these new things. But it can feel, I think when you’re 18, it can just feel like a small corner of what seems like a very big world. So it was a little bit of an adventure.
I had no idea what living in Texas would be like, what living in the south would be like, so yeah, it was good just, I think, for overall growth and for me to get out of what is like a very privileged, nice suburb that I grew up in and to see other parts of the world. But Houston is a very dynamic place. I had no real concept of the fact that it was oil and gas. I just fell into energy from a few personal passions as well as when I graduated, that industry was just hiring and booming like crazy. So, there were a lot of jobs as well.
[00:04:40] Chris Kim: Yeah. What was that experience like? I know you talked a bit about the culture, but what were some of those early experiences, what was the juxtaposition of that, and what was that experience like for you?
[00:04:55] Marie Thompson: Yeah. It was really stark. I don’t think I noticed it early on. I was a young kid and excited to have a real adult job where I could go and work. But yeah, after a few years, it was really rough. I mean, Chinquapin is located right outside of Baytown. And if anybody knows Southeastern Texas, Baytown is where Mont Belvieu is, where a ton of refineries are, so, I could stand on our front porch and see like flares. I could see the chemical refineries and all the infrastructure. I could see the gas being flared and then I’d drive in from this kind of rural place into the city and the Galleria, which is like a very fancy place in the city. And then go extract more oil and gas to make more money for people who are maybe not always great stewards of what they’re doing.
It started to pull my head a little bit both from what am I doing, in terms of my impact what am I doing to the world as well as culturally? Like, who am I in a workplace? And how am I showing up? I mean, super male-dominated environment, it was very hard, I think, to be a small young woman. So, it was culturally a clash and from an impact and who I want to be in the world, a little bit of a clash, too. And that was part of the decision to go to business school.
Honestly, I hit a point in my career where I was like, okay, I’ve got some skills now. I’ve got some things I can offer the world. I am not kind of a useless 22-year-old. What could I potentially do with those skills? And that’s what started helping me think about a business school.
[00:06:20] Chris Kim: Yeah. How did you decide to pursue an MBA? I know a lot of folks talk about thinking about maybe going to get a master’s or an MBA or do some kind of training. How did you decide on MBA being maybe the course that you wanted to take?
[00:06:31] Marie Thompson: Yeah. And whenever prospective students ask me, I give the horrible MBA answer of it depends, but for me, oh gosh, number one answer in like all things all the time.
I had two north stars that really made it clear that business school is the right step for me. I mean, one was just that personal development. I stalled out where I was. I wasn’t going to get or get an opportunity to practice kind of leadership or management skills or any sort of the soft, squishy stuff we call at Haas of like being able to connect to people in a real way. So, one was just that. I knew I couldn’t get that in my current corporate environment. And the other one was very practical and very functional. I was done with oil and gas. I really strongly wanted to pivot industries into kind of clean energy or climate tech. So, those two decisions both land really nicely to an MBA.
[00:07:20] Chris Kim: Yeah. How did you go about planning that experience? I have my own journey, but I know when folks are going through that preparation process, it can be either super short or maybe a little bit longer. What was your experience figuring out, okay, what program should I do? Where should I go? What schools were you interested in? What was that process like for you?
[00:07:38] Marie Thompson: Yeah, it was terribly planned. And I would advise prospective students of not doing what I did, which was being so indecisive and so insecure about it that it was spaghetti at the wall approach. I applied to nine or ten schools and had really loose guidelines for why I was applying. Ultimately, I’m so glad I landed where I did but whenever prospective students reach out or have multiple conversations with students at the programs about what the school is, that is by far the right way to do it. I didn’t do that until the end of my process and I wish I had done it sooner. So, it was messy. It wasn’t perfect. But got a bunch of it, had a very stressful, got a bunch of applications in, and then, thankfully, I landed at Haas.
[00:08:16] Chris Kim: No. That’s awesome. Yeah. I think probably a lot of folks have a similar experience there. How did you even decide to apply to Haas? I think for a lot of folks, there’s definitely an east coast bias or maybe a major city bias. San Francisco is definitely a big city, but it’s not the biggest. How did you even decide to put an application into Haas?
[00:08:32] Marie Thompson: Yeah. I mean, I think the two north stars really helped me there. So, getting clarity on that if I want to develop as a human being, and I really want to pivot into a specific industry that’s very prominent in the Bay Area. So, that helped provide the initial draw.
But once I finally started interacting with Haas students and learning more about the school, the small school environment, and just how amazing everybody is in an inspiring way and not an intimidating way, I mean, that was huge. I think just being in a place where I felt like I could learn from people and collaborate was so much more important than some prestige or some specific class or anything like that. So, yeah, I got a little lucky that the Bay Area is home to where the industry I wanted to be in and Haas happened to be right there.
[00:09:16] Chris Kim: Yeah, absolutely. Could you talk a little bit about what were some of the things you wanted to get involved in before coming to Haas, and then what did you end up doing while you were in the program?
[00:09:24] Marie Thompson: Yeah. I had a list that was like three pages of what I wanted to do.
[00:09:27] Chris Kim: Oh, my gosh.
[00:09:27] Marie Thompson: It was completely unreasonable. No human could ever. As with, I think, a lot of people, I felt very overwhelmed when I got to school. There were so many things to do, so many clubs to join, so many interests to pursue. Really tried to draw circles around those things that were important to me personally, and then important to me professionally. So, those two big buckets were energy and clean energy and a lot of activities there.
And then Haas is a consortium school, which was also really important to me. So, The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management is an alliance between some of the world’s leading graduate business schools with a mission to reduce the significant under-representation of Black, Latinx, and Native American students in an MBA program. I’m a white person and I was very humbled and honored to be part of The Consortium at my time at Haas. And those are some of my closest friends and best connections from Haas. I think in general kind of commitment to changing the status quo in business was really important to me. And then, immersing myself and contributing to the clean energy. The environment was also really critical. So, I tried to stay focused on those two things.
[00:10:39] Chris Kim: No. That’s awesome. Yeah, I definitely had a very similar experience. Can you talk a little bit about both? Maybe we can start with the consortium and we can talk about BERC. A lot of folks who are in the MBA or at a consortium school may be aware of it, but could you talk a little bit about what consortium is, what are the opportunities, and what was your involvement like when you were on campus?
[00:10:59] Marie Thompson: Sure. Yeah. So, The Consortium is a nonprofit, it’s a separate entity, and it sits outside of any business school, but it has created this alliance of, oh, I’m not going to have the right number of many business schools and some programs that you’ll recognize. I mean, University of Michigan. Rice is in there. There’s a number of just really amazing programs that are consortium schools. And it’s almost like a cohort. So, I think in my year there were 30 or 35 of us that were consortium fellows. Sometimes it comes with a scholarship, sometimes it does not come with a scholarship. And it’s just to provide that cohort experience. So, it brings folks together.
It helped, as a consortium class, kind of align with different initiatives at Haas, which was the racial inclusion initiative while I was in there, and the gender inclusion initiative, and things like that. So, it’s just a loose grouping of people. We all go to a big conference with all the other consortium students, where we used to before COVID, and that was a big thing, to build that network. And then I think the goal was really just to live those values which is to produce that under-representation in whatever ways we can both in business school, but especially out of business school, bringing those values with us.
[00:12:05] Chris Kim: That’s awesome to hear. Yeah, I think we’ve had maybe a couple of folks who’ve been part of the consortium, but it’s definitely a great opportunity for folks who are really passionate about diversity and inclusion and being part of an organization. That sounds awesome. Could you talk a bit about BERC as well? I mean, I know for Haasies, BERC is definitely a known entity, but can you share a bit about what BERC is and what your experience is like?
[00:12:25] Marie Thompson: Sure. Yeah. BERC is the Berkeley Energy and Resources Collaborative. So, it’s a cross-campus energy and resources club. So, not just Haas students which for climate tech, energy, mobility, in general, I mean, not just having business students solve it, it is pretty important. So it’s across all departments. I was the co-president of a club along with a fantastic woman from the public policy school named Caroline Palmer. And the goal of the club is just to enable people to understand more about our industry, to enable opportunities to grow within the industry, and to make connections.
We did put on a really big conference. That was another kind of flagship event that we held and it was great. So I was part of, I think, 9-person executive team. We had PhDs from electrical engineering, computer science, and we had public policy folks. We had a Ph.D. in chemistry folks. So it was really nice to be able to collaborate with people with the same passion. It’s about coming at it from different angles. And so, I learned a lot about leadership, a lot about energy. It really was my main passion and the way I spent my time, especially in my second year.
[00:13:30] Chris Kim: Absolutely. Just for folks who may not be that familiar with BERC, is it about energy, about kind of climate, or alternatives? What’s the big focus of the organization as a club?
[00:13:40] Marie Thompson: Yeah, I think it’s evolved. I mean, we’re called the energy and resources collaborative, but I think we have deservedly got some criticism that the resources side of the equation never got as much attention as it should. And it changed year to year depending on the leadership team. But I think it is slowly evolving towards more of that kind of climate catchall, which is a theme, not just at Berkeley but also across the industry as well.
[00:14:04] Chris Kim: Gotcha. And just to get folks who might be interested in terms of what do people get out of the club? Do they get exposed to job opportunities? Is it more like a social group or a way to connect? Do people become like entrepreneurs? What’s pretty typical of students as they join BERC and graduate later on from their programs?
[00:14:20] Marie Thompson: Yeah, I think it’s probably all of the above. I mean, the number one thing I got out of BERC was not only that experience of leadership and connecting with so many people in the industry, having a really good excuse to bug lots of great people with cool jobs and say, Hey, I’m representing BERC. I’d love to have you on a panel or speaker series or something like that. It’s also just the people. I mean, Caroline is one of my best friends. I’m still in touch with most of that executive team. And those connections of people who are at Tesla and all these great companies that now we’re still friends, we’re going to talk, we’re going to collaborate in the future of our professional lives as well. So I think that facilitation, especially across different majors and different departments, was really special and really important and something that I think BERC did a really good job of facilitating.
[00:15:07] Chris Kim: Awesome. Can you talk a bit about what you plan to do after your MBA? I know you did a couple of internships and now you’re at Powerhouse, what was that experience like going through that, especially, I think you were talking about energy and climate is an area of your interest. How did you leverage the resources at Haas in order to go pivot into that industry and go in the direction you want it to go?
[00:15:29] Marie Thompson: I was a big fan of the hypothesis testing approach to figuring out what the heck I wanted to do after my MBA. So, I interned at a company called Bloom Energy based in San Jose. They were off the edge of Clean Tech 1.0. They made hardware that involves natural glass and converting that into electricity and they IPOed while I was there that summer interning, which was really cool to see. So, it was one baby step towards clean energy.
It was still a tangible thing. I could see and hold like oil and cast but it was towards the industry I wanted to be in. But I could still leverage some good skills and do well in that internship. Otherwise, yes, it really was about leveraging and squeezing everything I could out of the Haas experience. I mean, with BERC, with different classes, internships, projects, events around the Bay Area, there were so many different ways to tap into the industry. And I did them all. I knew I was on the lower end of the learning curve for clean energy and wanted to make up for it.
[00:16:32] Chris Kim: I know you’re in an early-stage fund, Powerhouse Ventures. Did you know that you want to be on the investing side or did you want to become like an operator working at a company? How was that process like? I know a lot of current MBA folks might be going through a similar process of trying to figure out where they want to land if they know the industry they want to go into.
[00:16:50] Marie Thompson: Yeah, definitely. I really enjoyed being on the operation side. I really liked building things and actually doing stuff. And I had an attitude that was not deserved at all towards investors and towards consultants of like, oh, well you’re only on the side, what are you really doing?
And obviously, I know better now. I really thought that’s where I wanted to land, but I’m also very much a generalist. I came from a strategy background. I didn’t have specific finance skills or specific marketing skills, and that’s often what startups need. They need really specific people because they’re cash-strapped and have a lot to do.
I wasn’t getting anything back from startups which makes sense in retrospect, but what it did show me was there is a whole other side of the operator world in early-stage technology that I had no idea. I just didn’t understand venture capital. So, I took new venture finance at Haas and started to come up to speed. But I also, like a lot of my Haas experience, reached out externally to see if I could do some projects or some externships or something to bring myself up to speed. That’s really how I landed at Powerhouse Ventures. I cold outreached to them in very early 2019 to see if they needed an intern. They had just publicly announced their first fund and Alex Harbour and Emily Kirsch are both amazing, took my call, and were willing to take me on for 20 hours a week for an internship.
[00:18:14] Chris Kim: Oh, that’s awesome. What was that experience like? I know doing an internship can be intimidating. I know for some folks who didn’t have that type of experience, either an undergrad or post, before they came to the MBA experience. What was that like being a student and then also having to think about oh, I need a job. Especially in a place like VC. I think a lot of folks at Haas are really interested in VC, but it’s very kind of nebulous. It’s a little bit more of a ground out make your own way type of industry. What was that experience like for you?
[00:18:42] Marie Thompson: Yeah, definitely similar. It’s just, and now being in the industry, on the outside, it doesn’t feel like a lot of rhyme or reason for how and when at least small firms hire. It’s like you raise a fund and all of a sudden you have opportunities and now you’re posting JDs. It’s not formal or you’re not thinking about recruiting at least again on small firms like mine. Yeah, it was very much compartmentalization.
I was like trying to be a good friend and partner over here and trying to be a good student over here, cleared my calendar, which was the beauty of being in my final semester at Haas. And then it was trying to learn how to be a good investor and thankfully, Powerhouse Ventures was and still is a very small team. So, I think it’s can be very scary.
And I was definitely scared in the early days where it’s very visible, but the upside of that is you can make an impact and kind of come up to speed and do some good work quickly if you’re ready for it. And at that point in my MBA, I had failed enough so many times in really low-risk environments, thankfully. I had a grip on what I could do and couldn’t do and how to approach different problems and honestly just identifying gaps of “Hey, their team doesn’t have someone who loves Excel. I love Excel. Let me jump in there and figure some stuff out”. And doing things like that really helped.
[00:19:59] Chris Kim: That’s awesome to hear. Yeah. I think from on paper folks probably look at your background. They say you graduated from Haas, you got the job, you’re in venture capital, but I know you shared with me a bit earlier, Marie, that you had a bit of a twist in your journey that folks can’t see just on the surface. Could you explain maybe what that was like and what that experience was after you graduated from Haas?
[00:20:19] Marie Thompson: Yeah, definitely. So I graduated In June 2019, I had just signed for a full-time role at Powerhouse Ventures. I loved my time as an intern. I was so excited to start this full-time career doing something that was so cool and so fun and really challenging. All of these things, like when I laid out, if I could find my dream job, it was these things. So, I was thrilled, just about to hunker down and start my post MBA career.
Right around when I graduated, I noticed I started feeling poorly. So, my family had taken a trip to Southern France which was amazing, and it was wine and bread, and I just could not stay healthy and could not keep food down. I was tired all the time. Back in my college running days, I had some really bad acid reflux. And when I saw my doctor after that trip in July, that’s what we thought it was. It was like, Hey, we think we have some scar tissue. Some things aren’t working, we’ll get on some pills and see how it goes. It was actually August, I stopped running for the first time since I was like 15, it was like, my body’s just not up for it. And that’s when I knew something was pretty serious.
So, I went in for an endoscopy three days before my 30th birthday. And instead of finding some scar tissue, I had a pretty shocking late-stage esophageal cancer diagnosis. Not something you expect as a healthy 30-year-old who just got your dream job. It was really shocking. My whole world just contracted and shattered. I’m in remission now but it’s been the hardest two years of my life.
[00:21:51] Chris Kim: Yeah, I know you’re sharing a bit that you are in a better place now. If you wouldn’t mind, would you share a bit about that journey? Maybe not just the treatments but also some of the maybe the in your head. You’ve gotten so high and you feel like it’s a serious time in your life where things aren’t going the way that you wanted. What was that like going through your head and how was it as you were coming out of it and how were you able to overcome that? Because I know just from personal experience with friends and family that it can be really trying, not just for you but for your loved ones and your friends and family who are supporting you as well.
[00:22:24] Marie Thompson: Definitely. Yeah. I’m sorry to hear that. I mean treatment was brutal. So, there’s just that aspect of it. I had five rounds of chemotherapy and then I had major surgery to cut everything out in January of 2020, and then went back a few weeks later to do my last three rounds of chemo. It was horrible. I lost 20 pounds and I was recovering from major surgery. My parents actually moved out. They moved into an apartment in the same building so that they could help us walk the dogs, feed me, all that. It was lifesaving and they were amazing. My partner stepped back from his job and went back into the classroom so we could have more work-life balance because to your exact point, it certainly tore me up, but it also rippled effected across my friends and family and the Haas friends I had. I finished chemo in March of 2020. So, on March 13th, right before the world shut down.
[00:23:15] Chris Kim: Oh, my gosh.
[00:23:17] Marie Thompson: There are a lot of things that are not going to be the same anymore. I can’t eat or sleep regularly. I can’t run anymore. I don’t have very much energy. So much confidence stuff to work through as I regrow my hair and figure out a new body. The list goes on and on. So, I’m grateful and very lucky.
I have weekly therapy that’s helping me work through some of the harder mental issues. Emily and Powerhouse, I mean, everybody was unbelievably supportive. I mean, I took medical leave. I was off for a few months and I came back exactly the way I needed to come back with zero strings attached. Emily, just like a blank check, do whatever you need to do for yourself every day, every week, every hour, to show up at work in the way you want to. And without that, I think the anxiety of trying to work full time or get back on deals or push myself would have made me crack. So, thankfully, between work and family, I’ve been super well supported.
[00:24:37] Chris Kim: Maybe could you share a bit about, I’ve talked to some other Haasies who have a very similar experience, how did you stay motivated throughout all of that? I know you said you were a runner and so maybe there’s a bit of mental training there. But having talked to very dedicated runners, there’s definitely a mental component there. But how did you personally persevere? I know we talk a bit about that in the MBA program, a bit about building grit or resiliency, but for you personally, how did that manifest as you’re going through the past couple of years?
[00:25:03] Marie Thompson: Yeah, it’s a great question. And I wish I had a really good answer. I think the one phase of just active treatment and being diagnosed and all the tests. And there’s a stage, there was about a month for me where I knew I had cancer, but I didn’t really know what kind or how much it had spread or how many more procedures I was needed to have before I could start treatment. So, it’s so uncertain. It’s literally life or death. It’s just very scary.
So, there’s the act of treatment part then where now you have a plan. I was treated at Kaiser Oakland and it was incredible. I mean, I had a care team and oncology and surgery that checked in every day. And you have this whole team around you, and your friends send you cards and inspirational texts, and Buddy the beagle visits you while you’re at chemo. There’s like a whole army that’s there to support you and you need it.
I was literally, you’re literally dying. Like one of my chemo drugs is a derivative of mustard gas. I have permanent nerve damage in my hands and my feet because of it. These are brutal, horrible drugs. In some ways, it condenses your world to the point where all you’re doing is getting to the next minute. And there’s a beauty to that in some ways. It’s like you’re just surviving. So, that was one phase. And I think the athlete mentality was really helpful in some ways of just getting through it, pushing through, enduring. It really was just endurance.
But the next phase was recovery. And that’s been really challenging too. I mean, I thought recovery might be like a path of a mountain. And as long as you just walk the path and follow the rules, things would get better and easier. But it’s really more like you’re staring into this giant void and nobody has some answers for you. People my age and my gender typically don’t get this type of cancer. There’s no guidance and you’re just off in the wild to rebuild your body and rebuild your mind. And that lack of structure and detachment from a lifestyle I had really connected to, the athlete lifestyle; impossible is nothing; hustle; you can do it; that kind of stuff now all of a sudden, it’s actually I can’t do it. Impossible is something.
And just detaching that from the hustle grind lifestyle that I think was so much a part of my twenties and my athletic career has been a journey every single day to choose to be nice to myself and proud of myself and keep moving forward with my teeny little baby steps.
[00:27:27] Chris Kim: And there’s definitely a beauty in that and it’s great to hear, Marie. You just talk about how Powerhouse Ventures really supported you. Could you share a bit about what Powerhouse is doing and also share about what your experience has been like at Powerhouse? I know you’re super passionate about the area so we’d love to give Powerhouse a plug. Can you share about what’s going on?
[00:27:46] Marie Thompson: Yeah, of course. I could talk about Powerhouse and early-stage investing and our portfolio companies all day. So, I’ll try to keep it short. Powerhouse Ventures is amazing and we’d love to share a little bit more. So, we are an early-stage venture fund based in Oakland. And our work is to identify and support founding teams building innovative software to rapidly transform our global energy and mobility system. So, we believe that addressing the climate crisis requires deploying our most viable market-based solutions today. Basically, we invest in pre-seed and seed-stage software companies that digitize, democratize, and decarbonize those energy and mobility systems.
[00:28:25] Chris Kim: Can you share a bit about what are the typical types of investments or areas that Powerhouse has already invested in for folks who might be interested?
[00:28:31] Marie Thompson: Sure. Yeah, of course. There’s one, our website is great. So, you can always go check out our portfolio there. But we invest across a lot of different types of technology. So, among the more obvious maybe is a technology that supports renewable energy assets. So, things like wind and solar.
We have our investment in a company called Raptor Maps that creates a system of record with some really cool thermal imaging and ML stuff that they can load onto any kind of fixed-wing or drones and build a system of record for existing solar plants, for example. It just makes all sorts of things way more efficient.
Similarly, we invested in a company called Ensemble Energy. They did predictive analytics for the wind sector. Really hard to do and really expensive if things go wrong in the wind sector. So, they were actually just acquired this year by Spark Cognition, which is a generalist AI platform. Which was really cool to see. So, one is I think really recognizable as “clean energy” or is anything that makes renewable energy assets, easier to finance, deploy, optimize, and operate. So, that’s one kind of really big one.
We have another kind of area of our thesis around market access and participation. Anything as energy and mobility really rapidly changes and evolve as they have over the last few years and as a will, there are so many opportunities to more effectively connect with stakeholders that need new and different things. So, for example, we have a portfolio company called Solstice and they help build a software solution for customers of shared solar community, which is really exciting and something that’s growing rapidly.
And lastly, we have another pillar around anything that finances and deploys. So, a really good example is a portfolio company called Energetic Insurance where they’ve created an insurance product, a credit swap policy that you can layer on to commercial industrial solar like 90% is either unrated or underrated. And so banks can’t finance them. But with this credit policy, you can add it on and all of a sudden, potentially unlock a ton of finance to really get that sector underway.
Digital technology, I think, as a caveat and just to recognize there’s a lot of hardware, innovation, and commercialization that certainly needs to happen. And we’re not saying that doesn’t need to happen, but relieving that to the breakthroughs of the world and other funds who are really specialized, I think there is so much low-hanging fruit in these undigitized energy mobility sectors that really can be helped and served by software. And that’s really what we’re trying to go after.
[00:31:02] Chris Kim: That’s awesome. Yeah, I know you’re in the sourcing and diligence area. Are you still looking at different opportunities and what should people do or prep if they want to reach out to you?
[00:31:12] Marie Thompson: Oh, I’d love it if you reach out to me. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Yeah. I think it’s pretty open-ended what we’re looking for. I mean, we’re at the earliest stages. So, if you’re working on something that is within that and is early, understanding who you are and why you are uniquely suited to build this business and to build this business right now.
I think the market timing and the team are certain things that we look at but we, I mean, our diligence process, run the gamut. I mean, we have a lot of big buckets that we look to understand and to fill around the team, around the product, technology, market, differentiation, business model, revenue model, go-to-market strategy, pretty classic and standard stuff. So, yeah, if anybody’s working on anything, I would love to hear from them.
[00:31:55] Chris Kim: Yeah. Marie, I know we’ve talked about just so much today. Any other organizations or people or courses at Haas that you want to plug? You’ve had an amazing journey and would love to just plug any other organizations or groups that you might be part of that you would want to highlight.
[00:32:08] Marie Thompson: Yeah, I mean, one is just climate and general, if folks out there are technologists or in tech or have skills, there are so many climate companies that are building and hiring. And if you feel compelled to change your career to serve something that is such a massive crisis like the climate crisis, I would just encourage people to go for it, to apply. We certainly have a job board on our website for portfolio companies, but there’s so much out there and there’s so much talent needed. That’s one. It’s just a plug for the climate if you’re thinking about careers, which yeah, I think would love for folks to check us out Powerhouse Ventures and our sister organization Powerhouse.
My boss, Emily Kirsch, runs a podcast called Watt It Takes, where she interviews founders who are building clean energy and mobility solutions in a really personal way, which I think is pretty aligned with Haas and genuine story. So, would love for folks to check that out as well.
And in terms of, Haas yeah, a big plug for BERC as always. Please check it out and go to an event and support them. They’re still doing great work.
[00:33:19] Chris Kim: Yeah, absolutely. And we’ll try to get a link from you and have it either attached to the podcast or share it out on socials. Marie, we always end with a lightning round, sometimes fun, sometimes controversial, depending on your answers. So, maybe we finish off with three or four questions here, and then, yeah, we’ll be done here in our podcast. Favorite topic and number one question on our lightning round: favorite place to eat at Berkeley?
[00:33:53] Marie Thompson: Oh, probably Berkeley Espresso. I know it’s not a place to eat, but I’ve done more work in that coffee shop than any other place around campus. I love that place.
[00:34:03] Chris Kim: Yeah. I feel like coffee shops are regular for Haasies. So, if you’re not a student yet and you do become a student, definitely, you’ll probably be at a coffee shop once or twice. What was your favorite class to take while you were at Haas or one of the favorite classes you took?
[00:34:15] Marie Thompson: Corporate Finance. That was actually an outstanding class, yeah, the professor, the class, I learned so much in that class.
[00:34:22] Chris Kim: Yeah, absolutely. I had a very similar experience with Corporate Finance.
[00:34:25] Marie Thompson: Cool. I’m glad.
[00:34:26] Chris Kim: Yeah. It sounds may be intimidating for some folks, but it’s definitely, I learned a ton, so I appreciate that. Marie, a lasting or fun memory that you have from your MBA experience?
[00:34:35] Marie Thompson: Lasting or fun memory. I think it’s just one amalgamation of all of the silly, fun things, of Drageoke and Haas week. All of those things that kind of seem silly, but we can do it and have fun because we’re all in it together at business school. So, maybe not one, maybe it’s just all of those kinds of events combined. Yeah.
[00:34:57] Chris Kim: Very cool. And last but not least, things that get you excited about the future or the thing that gets you excited about.
[00:35:03] Marie Thompson: So much. And I think especially when it comes to my work. So much has to be done as I think everybody knows. So, I think, I hope, the progress we’re going to see on issues around climate is going to be amazing and really show what humanity is capable of. I’m hopeful and excited for that, I think.
[00:35:23] Chris Kim: Well, Marie, it’s been great to have you on the show today. Definitely, we’ll plug all the relevant links in this podcast, but want to say thanks again for joining us, and thanks for being part of the show.
[00:35:33] Marie Thompson: Yeah, thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity. And it was really nice to meet you and to be here.