“Sometimes you just have to take the risk and move forward and know that you're not just picking one path”
Anat Binur, the co-founder of Ukko and MEET, talks to Michael Matias about her path from investor to entrepreneur and the excitement of taking on the world's biggest challenges
Anat Binur, co-founder of MEET and Ukko, is a trailblazer. Having lived amidst the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Binur created a deeply-respected program to address the issues of the region through relationship building. MEET (Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow) was designed to empower future Palestinian and Israeli leaders to take action toward creating positive change in the Middle East. Her vision was to educate individuals on both sides about computer science, entrepreneurship, and leadership. Since inception at MIT, thousands of Palestinian and Israeli students have come together to harness the power of technology and entrepreneurship to create social and political change in their communities. Binur’s latest venture, Ukko, is in the process of solving society’s food allergy and sensitivity issues. Ukko is a biotech organization that designs safe proteins for use in food and therapeutics. In a conversation with Michael Matias, the creator of the 20MinuteLeaders video podcast, Binur spoke about her time at Innovation Endeavors, the global venture fund founded by Eric Schmidt, and explained how she is tackling massive societal problems through MEET and Ukko.
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What led you to work at Innovation Endeavors
Innovation Endeavors is one of the most incredible venture capital firms in existence. It was originally started as a fund that was solely backed by Eric Schmidt from Google and the founding partner was Dror Berman. The fund has grown significantly, and it includes a lot of other investors today. It is an example of how you can use capital to target big, massive problems that have a positive impact on the world, really looking at the places where you can leverage technology to shift the game in either old markets or emerging markets in ways that contribute to solving significant things in the world.
How has Innovation Endeavors defined impact?
You can measure impact in many different ways. At a human scale, you can look at how many human lives you impacted. You can also look at economic impact, job creation, and you can look at solutions to health problems like diseases or the environment.
For a venture capital firm like Innovation Endeavors, you look for that intersection where, and this is not about a double bottom line or triple, but it is about that intersection where deep tech can significantly shift the way things are done in a way that also generates returns that can create solutions and create a better world.
What is Ukko and where did the name come from?
Ukko is the God of harvesting rains in Finnish mythology. We wanted a name that is not overly bio and that is connected to what we do. Ukko is an early-stage biotech company that focuses on solving food allergy and sensitivities, things like gluten sensitivities, and other food allergies such as an intolerance to peanuts.
What is the most challenging path of your current venture?
I would say making sure that we have a good go-to-market. We are a biotech company. Biology is a tough partner because you can’t control it sometimes. Additionally, experiments take time. Making sure that our products are truly safe, wonderful, and provides a solution for these communities is critical.
How would you describe the transition from being a technology investor to being a biotech entrepreneur?
First of all, it was hard because I left something I loved. But I'm also an operator. I love operations. I especially love the zero to something. Those are my favorite things to get involved in. Right now I'm finding myself taking a deep dive into our world versus in VC where I'd go wide, every two hours I'd be looking at a different company and getting a macro view of the world. So that's one difference. Multitasking as a CEO is a mess. Every minute of the day I'm trying to figure out if I'm prioritizing the right thing. Is this really what I should be working on? You cannot get everything done. And when you add small kids to the picture, that struggle only becomes more difficult.
What would be your best advice to entrepreneurs who are finding it difficult to prioritize the right path to take?
My backgrounds are very interdisciplinary and went from one place to another, and I'm still connecting the dots. But I'd say, first of all, don't stay in your head too long. Don't over-plan. A lot happens by doing. You discover a lot of new things about your passions, about what you connect to, what you care about by getting out there and starting to do things. You can't plan the path: it's never going to be the way you planned it exactly. You sometimes have to take the leap and keep thinking about how that leap leads you forward. Take the risk and move forward and know that you're not just picking one path; diverge along the way to other things as well.
Finally, what drives you?
I'm still figuring that out. I'm Israeli but also American, I'm an entrepreneur and a mom. That's a strength but also a struggle because you have to balance and figure out and feel okay in uncertainty and your identity.
|Michael Matias. Photo: Courtesy||צילום: יח"צ|
Michael Matias, Forbes 30 Under 30, is the author of Age is Only an Int: Lessons I Learned as a Young Entrepreneur. He studies Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University, while working as a software engineer at Hippo Insurance and as a Senior Associate at J-Ventures. Matias previously served as an officer in the 8200 unit. 20MinuteLeaders is a tech entrepreneurship interview series featuring one-on-one interviews with fascinating founders, innovators and thought leaders sharing their journeys and experiences.
Contributing editors: Michael Matias, Amanda Katz