Anthemis Entrance Interview: Jeremy Brown

Anthemis interviews one of our latest hires, Jeremy Brown, who joins us as an investor. Read on to find out more about Jeremy’s career to date and why he’s excited about joining Anthemis.

Will (W): We’ve got a sociology major, someone with a masters degree in cybernetics, a European historian, and obviously many finance degrees. I think you’re the only person at Anthemis with a PhD — in geophysics, no less! You’re certainly the only one of us with a degree from the Colorado School of Mines. Tell me about your journey to venture capital. How did you get here from there?

Jeremy (J) :I’m always going to be a science nerd, and also, I’d say, an earth science nerd. I just love everything about the planet that we live on. That passion led me to Mines. It was a high quality and affordable university, close to home, that offered all of these quirky fields of study like geophysics. Geophysics sounded especially interesting to me because it’s the intersection of physics and earth sciences. Earthquakes, volcanology, glaciology — all these things that you read about as a kid and think, “man, that would be so cool to spend my entire career on a glacier.”

In graduate school, my respect for the science deepened, but along with it came this sense that it wasn’t a 100% fit for me in terms of what I wanted to do in my career. I’m very much a people person. I’m very much a fast-moving person. I like to get things done and see progress being made. In academia, the path to tenure can take a very long time. On the one hand, that means you’re really diving in and becoming a deep expert in your topic, which is great. But on the other hand, it’s a very slow-moving industry in terms of career progression. It was in the middle of my PhD that I realized I didn’t actually want to be an academic, even though I treasured so much about academia.

W: So after you defended your dissertation — “Fault Reactivation Potential And Stress Path Due To Severe Depletion And Subsequent Injection In Paleogene (Lower Tertiary) Reservoirs Of The Gulf Of Mexico” — you actually got a job as a product manager.

J: Doing something very similar to my PhD actually! I joined a large oil & gas company that had acquired my doctoral advisor’s company. He is a world-renowned expert in geomechanics — probably number one or two in the field in the world. In the late nineties, he started a software company with a couple of his PhD students to better model geomechanics. He built this company and eventually sold it to a large oil field services company called Baker Hughes. When I was a student, some of the software that I was using to do a lot of my numerical modeling was a product of Baker Hughes which evolved from what my advisor and his former students had built.

So, I had already become an expert in that software. Baker Hughes was hiring at the time I was graduating with my Ph.D. and needed someone to continue to build out the product suite. As a “superuser” I knew the good and bad and the ugly – where I wanted to take the product and what I would do with it. It was kind of a perfect match. So I moved to the Netherlands, and did that for a couple of years, driving new feature development and releases of the product which was really great. I got my feet wet building something that many customers wanted, and in a field and product suite that I knew intimately.

W: That (pretty unique) product management experience led you back to business school, and then through business school to venture capital. And your entry point into venture, you know, sort of rhymes with your academic background and status as an “earth junkie” — you focused at first on deep tech, industrial IoT, construction tech, and sustainable cities. I can follow that thread. At least at a surface level, fintech seems like a bigger departure.

J: I think we’ve all heard that “every company is a fintech company.” Finance touches every single industry on the planet, and I think the appeal for me is not only being able to dive deeper into fintech and insurtech, but specific vertical applications in energy, mobility, manufacturing, climate, the built environment– the list goes on and on. “Embedded Finance” is creating opportunities in every vertical, including those that I know well. That’s the exciting thing for me, not only because it’s an opportunity to synthesize my deep tech expertise with a new area, but because there’s still tremendous digital innovation that still needs to take place in these industries. There are so many different companies within our thesis that we can be evaluating and investing in now. Bringing a different perspective, from a deep tech background, is all the better in terms of portfolio diversification and just asking a different set of questions that maybe wouldn’t necessarily occur otherwise.

W: How do you define Deep Tech?

I think it depends on who you ask. For me, deep tech is any type of company that requires some level of advanced technical knowledge to build the product. Imagine someone in a science or engineering field who is an expert in advanced manufacturing or chemical engineering, and they’re building a product very closely aligned to that field of expertise. So it’s definitely like a science and engineering-focused company, and the product requires some level of domain knowledge. That’s why a lot of it is related to university spin-outs, a lot of it is related to companies that have a core intellectual property around them — the technology needs the IP to scale it up, whether in quantum mechanics, or drug discovery, or whatever the case might be. It’s a very nebulous term that is thrown around in the VC world a little loosely. But high level, that’s how I think about it.

W: I often wonder if Fintech should take inspiration from DeepTech and build more connections with basic research and research institutions.

J: I think so. Universities are obviously thinking about the future in a very different way than a VC is. And so having that sort of communication is just better for the development of Fintech. Even in the engineering and science world, there is a disconnect between the investment and research communities. We all have something to learn from one another. So I think the more that there’s an opportunity for engagement there, not to say that anyone is necessarily going to change their habits or what they do, but at least there is mutual visibility. In the venture world, we mostly think in ten year time horizons because that’s the life of a fund, in most cases. Academia is very much open-ended. We should be aware of the best research that’s happening in fields that we’re focused on. I believe this makes us better investors.

W: You’ve only been with us for a few weeks but you said something earlier that felt, inadvertently, like a very typical Anthemis sentiment. You said that on the one hand, you were excited to bring this deep domain expertise that you have to Anthemis, and you’re also, on the other hand, excited to learn and explore and develop deeper knowledge of FinTech. I want to ask you about both sides of that. I’d love to hear a few examples of opportunities to embed finance in some of the sectors where you’ve spent time.

J: Great question. For example: everyone is talking about carbon capture and storage right now. There are several companies trying to scale and productize direct air capture technology, which essentially is taking carbon directly out of the air. You can also capture carbon and put it underground into existing oil and gas reservoirs, or into saline aquifers, storing it in the ground forever after it’s been emitted from an industrial site. So there’s a lot going on there, on the of ‘science’ side, with a ton of scientists and engineers trying to crack this problem open.

Then, on the Fintech side, we think about carbon credits and carbon allowances/permits and a market being created to finance decarbonization. The market mechanisms put in place incentivize some of these projects to get off the ground, but then further downstream, they also influence the scientists and the engineers actually implementing the technology. That’s fascinating to me because science and engineering only go so far here. There needs to be incentive structures around it for the implementation to actually happen at the end of the day, and I think that’s where Fintech plays an enormous role.

W: And then on the other side of that equation, I’d love to hear about the sectors where you’ve spent less time and you’re curious to learn and explore.

J: Insurance. Definitely. I’m not even close to being knowledgeable about it, but we have a lot of people at Anthemis that are. I’m very excited about learning from them and learning about the the next wave of innovation happening in the insurance industry. I’ve looked at Fintech deals in the past as a venture investor that are related to construction, or in supply chain or logistics or even fashion. But I can’t say the same for pure insurance or Insurtech. That’s the really exciting part for me as it’s a new world that I’ll be able to discover.

W: Okay, so set aside glaciology and geophysics. And set aside this scintillating world of venture capital. What else sustains you personally, intellectually, professionally? What do you take inspiration from? What are you excited about?

J: I take a lot of inspiration from people. I love learning from people whose knowledge and experience are different from my own. A really close friend of mine here in London is an art historian, so I’m constantly learning a lot about art. It’s never been something that I really took the time to learn about. I’ll never be an expert in 15th century art, or know much about the Renaissance period and how art transformed society, but I listen, I learn, I read a book or two, and I think that’s how I grow as a person. And then I think everyone has a different approach to how they interact with people, how they “get shit done,” how they influence, how they set up their own individual mental frameworks to process information. I’m always sensitive to those kinds of things, and I listen very closely to how people find their own way to thrive.

I think the more that we can break out of our own silos, the better. I’m a big believer that diverse funds drive returns because you have decision makers with different perspectives and ways of perceiving the world. You can challenge convention and fill out blind spots when assessing a deal. Diversity of thought matters too. You need the engineers and the humanists and others at the table as venture investors. My intellectual framework is probably quite different from yours, given your humanities background, and I think that’s important.

W: We’ve always felt that diversity and inclusion aren’t initiatives here — they’re foundational to our operating model and to how we succeed as a firm.

J: I was most excited to join Anthemis because of the people. The culture is just so impressive. You (we!) have a strong drive to win, but we also support each other, listen to one another, and celebrate our differences. And there’s very little ego, which you don’t get to say very often in venture capital. The people and the culture are why I’m here and I think everything else will fall into place. That’s why I was very, very excited to join.