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How Katie Loeb Is Bringing Startup-Style Innovation to the World of Venture Capital

How Katie Loeb Is Bringing Startup-Style Innovation to the World of Venture Capital

Startups are engines of innovation.


They bring us products we never knew we needed, solve problems in ways no one had considered, and create new ways of doing things that save time, money, and sanity for countless people. They’ve changed how we communicate, how we move around, and how we live. They disrupt industries and upend paradigms. The startup is arguably one of the most important change agents of the past century.

In other words, the startup world is one of the most innovative places on the planet. So it seems like a given that the VCs, incubators, and investors that fund so many startups would be the same.

But that’s not always the case.

While startups may be paragons of innovation, the organizations that fund them are far less interested in pushing the boundaries. VCs are all about scorecards: founders may want to change the world, butVCs require a reliable return on investment. They aren’t incentivized to question the status quo or investigate controversial topics. Certainly, the VC world values innovation – but ultimately it must be in pursuit of financial return.

That’s why when someone on the finance side does make the effort to genuinely question the status quo, it’s a breath of fresh air.

And that’s exactly what’s so refreshing about Katie Loeb.

The Startup of Startup Investment


Katie is Director of Brand and Strategy at Loeb.nyc, a venture firm that’s doing just about everything it can to deny the label of venture firm.

Loeb.nyc calls itself a “venture collective,” taking a more integrated approach to startup investment that involves offering not only capital, but also deep operational resources and knowledge from a lineup of experts in various business disciplines. The result is something that’s part-VC, part-incubator, and even part-startup – a surprisingly innovative approach in the venture capital space.

For Katie, joining the collective two years ago was a family affair. Her father started the firm, so it seemed a natural fit. But she’s overseen some major changes to the organization during her tenure. She led a complete rebrand of the firm, revamping the branding and marketing strategy to better represent the difference between Loeb.nyc and a more traditional VC.

“We were doing something very different than other investors,” Katie explains, “But we weren’t really communicating that to the world.”

She’s even behind the name: Loeb.nyc was originally a silo of the firm, but the company as a whole went by the more buttoned-up moniker of Loeb Enterprises. Katie leaned into the more approachable ethos of Loeb.nyc and built the company’s branding around it.

But it’s not just Loeb.nyc that Katie is looking to transform. She understands that innovation is an imperative not only for startups, but for everyone, and as someone with experience both in venture capital and in marketing, she knows that both groups aren’t always as forward-thinking as they could be.

And that’s where the event series she helped spearhead – the Or Not Experience – comes into play.


The Or Not Experience


The Or Not Experience is an annual conference aimed at separating the reality from the hype of trends in the investment and marketing space. Each year focuses on a new topic: the first year was “Bot Or Not,” focusing on chatbots, the second was “Block Or Not,” focusing on blockchain. The event is geared towards brand marketers, but attendees range from subject matter experts for the theme to venture firms, networkers, and others with influence in the space.

But for this year’s topic, the conference took on something a little more controversial: cannabis, or to put it more artfully, “Pot Or Not.”

From the start, Katie wasn’t interested in a debate.

“The legalization conversation doesn’t really interest me – I think legalization is inevitable,” she explains. “But what we need to do is talk about the business opportunity, how we can navigate that and get ahead of legalization, what success looks like and how states have managed it in successful ways.”

Originally, Katie’s programming focused on the business and marketing opportunities behind cannabis: who to market to, what collaborations were possible, and how to invest in emerging cannabis brands. While this may sound almost commonplace for California, it’s already a daring move on the East Coast. But one email sent the event in an even more daring direction.

More Than Innovation


“I got an email from a woman saying you need more diversity on this panel – and I saw she was absolutely right, without a doubt she was correct,” says Katie. “We went back and forth and it was an incredible learning moment. Considering the history of the plant and the role it currently plays in culture and society, I realized you cannot have a conversation about cannabis without including people of color.”

That started a complete shift in the tone and content of the conference. She began to have conversations with people of color who’d entered the cannabis space and connected with leaders like Fab Five Freddy, whose recent Netflix documentary explores the fundamentally racist history of marijuana prohibition laws. She also discovered a gender dimension to the complicated context of legal cannabis.

In her research, Katie found that women make up a major portion of the user base for cannabis, often choosing it over alcohol because it allows them to relax but still feel lucid. And in the earliest days of legalized cannabis, female entrepreneurs made up 36% of founders – far above the norm.

“But in the past four years that’s dropped 7 points,” explains Katie. “So I think originally you were seeing all this female leadership in cannabis because they made up a huge market, but then once it got traction, white men who already had deep pockets were able to swoop in and take over market share, take over leadership.”

In the end, Pot Or Not evolved into a discussion of far more than just the marketing and business opportunities of legalized cannabis. It became a wide-ranging conversation on the historical and social context of cannabis policy in the US, how that policy has alternately targeted and excluded people of color and other marginalized groups, and why emerging companies in the cannabis space have a responsibility to take that history into account.


Learning from the Past


The result was a remarkably unique and inspiring conference.

“I think everyone was really inspired,” says Katie. “It wasn’t what they were expecting, but even marketing execs from these huge CPG brands came away with a completely new perspective on the issue.”

It’s even led to Loeb.nyc making changes internally.

“This has come up before, but we’re really working to broaden our horizons in terms of evaluating investments,” she says. “That means showing up to conferences showcasing the work of diverse founders, looking outside our usual network – it’s something we’re actively working on.”

Even for a startup, that great agent of innovation, this would sound progressive. That goes triple for a VC. The goal of a VC firm is to take a pile of money and turn it into more money – social ramifications generally don’t factor into that equation.

Hearing this perspective from someone on the finance side of things is refreshing, and even more important, it’s something we need more of. Innovation is important, but the conversation too often focuses solely on the product side.

If we want to build not only a more prosperous, but a better world, we need to find better ways to do things on all fronts – and that includes both financing and societal change. Katie Loeb and Loeb.nyc are clearly working to lead that charge.

Here’s hoping more people follow in their footsteps.

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