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Meet the Investor of the Year: Excelestar Ventures Founding Partner Tasneem Dohadwala

Updated: Jul 8


It should come as no surprise that Tasneem Dohadwala was named Startup Boston’s Investor of the Year. As founding partner of Excelestar Ventures, Tasneem has led her team to a succession of wins – including multiple acquisitions by Boston Scientific – all while promoting diversity and inclusion throughout her career.


Startup Boston caught up with Tasneem to learn more about her career history, her work at Excelestar Ventures and Golden Seeds, and her outlook on tech and the VC industry. 

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Startup Boston: Since your first job at Lehman Brothers, you’ve been heavily involved in promoting women in the workplace. Given that, how would you say the workplace has changed for women in the investment industry since you started out? What are the biggest challenges that remain?

 

Tasneem Dohadwala: There's so much more awareness now. When I was at Lehman, the women's initiative was quite nascent, and awareness was just bubbling up that women need their own spaces. The question at the time was, how can we women figure out the best way to fit into a male-dominated world? It wasn't really about reimagining a world that is rebuilt with women and men in mind.


It all probably started when I went to Wellesley College, where you learn that the female experience is different from the male experience. And it was an amazing transformational education. 


In many ways things have changed; there are so many more female-focused funds. While the numbers are still small in terms of the amount of female-led startups, there are more people looking to invest. The issue is that the most female-focused funds are considered emerging, so they don't have as many dollars allocated. 


And I still think there's lots of work to do. But just the idea that there are female-focused funds, and an emphasis on having female partners at the table as decision makers, is progress. And the fact that you and I are discussing this now is progress. We're naming it, we're aware of it. There are people that are working on it. That's different from when I first started.

 

SB: And another area that I saw throughout your professional profile was an emphasis on mentorship. Can you talk a little bit about any notable experiences acting as a mentor or being mentored?

 

TD: When I first started at Lehman Brothers, I was on the trading floor and about 95% of the people I worked with were men, and the majority of the women were executive assistants. There were very few women in leadership roles. But one of the managing directors in my group was a woman, and I think that made all the difference in my experience. Other than myself, everyone on her team was male and reported to her, and she knew her stuff.

 

She was a fantastic mentor. She made sure that I didn't get any flack, because she understood how difficult it was for me to be such a junior woman on a male-dominated team. She was always sticking her neck out for me, helping me learn the ropes, and providing an example of another female in a leadership position on the same team. She was with me day to day, and when I needed to transfer to Boston, she really made it happen for me, and I was still able to stick with the same team. I owe a lot to her.

 

SB: Fast forward to the current day, can you walk me through your roles at Excelestar Ventures and Golden Seeds?

 

TD: I'm the founding partner of Excelestar Ventures and am still very active in Golden Seeds, although I'm not in a leadership role there. 


Golden Seeds is fantastic; I wanted to get connected with much younger companies, where I could really connect at their very nascent stages through an angel group, where you’re able to help them hone their story and potentially build their team. You really get immersed in mentoring the company that way – even if you don’t invest. And so I did some research and I found Golden Seeds and found that it philosophically very much aligned with what I wanted to do, especially with their investments in female founders. 


SB: So is Excelestar Ventures more your day-to-day? What’s your focus now?

 

TD:  It is. We invest in B2B tech and medical devices. For B2B tech, we invest in companies that have achieved product-market fit, and are getting ready for commercialization. And with medical devices, we're really focused on devices that deliver therapy and are entering large markets; we’re really looking for the larger markets, like $1 billion plus.


SB: On the B2B side, is there any tech that you're particularly bullish on?

 

TD: Not right now. We're very focused on making sure the tech is exponentially better than what is currently being offered. We focus a lot on the technical side of it; we bring in primary experts to help us understand the market, the technology and the innovation. And when we’re doing our due diligence, we’re looking to see whether the company has seen a gap in the market and then innovated, creating a dramatic innovation to address that gap.

 

SB: And has the Generative AI boom reshaped your thinking at all?


TD: No. You have to be really careful with AI, because everybody's trying to figure out a way to weave it into their story. Do I think that AI in general is going to dramatically change multiple market landscapes? Sure. Am I changing my investment thesis? No.

 

SB: My last question is on your outlook for the rest of the year; what are your thoughts for 2024 and 2025? 

 

TD: We're continuing to see relative tightness in 2024. I think that valuations have continued to stay at that lower range, and are not creeping up in my opinion. And I continue to see a lot of bridge rounds. When I’m presented with a bridge, I ask whether we’re bridging to something; just creating 12 more months of runway is not an acceptable answer. But if you can get something done in six months that's meaningful, that will be sufficient to raise your next round, that’s interesting. 


On the funding landscape, there have been some challenges, and companies are working hard to raise money. I haven't seen any metrics that would indicate to me that 2025 would be an uptick from 2024. So my prediction as of right now, which I still think is early in 2024, is more of the same.


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About the author: 


Randall Woods is a former editor at Bloomberg News and currently is a Senior Vice President at SBS Comms, a communications agency for technology companies and startups.

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