Business Lunch: Lucy Marcus, chief executive, Marcus Venture Consulting
THAT there should be plenty of ambition on Lucy Marcus’ shoulders is obvious from where she studied.
School was the Stuyvesant High School in New York, an institution famous for a steady stream of mathematicians, scientists and artists ranging from Nobel Prizewinner Joshua Lederberg through to Oscar-winning actor Tim Robbins.
She went on to a women-only college in the USA whose alumni happen to include Hilary Clinton, the current US Secretary of State and former First Lady, and her State Department predecessor Madeleine Albright.
That her career so far includes a spell working for the US Treasury department should therefore be no surprise.
What might raise the odd eyebrow among a few former students of Wellesley College in Massachusetts is that she now puts part of her considerable efforts into helping small businesses around Nottingham raise money.
As we’ll see, these are not ordinary small businesses, though, and Lucy Marcus is no ordinary individual. British reserve may frown at her unashamed promotion of success and excellence, but it is a natural facet of someone who sat in the same rooms as high achievers and realised she could do the same.
She says: “When I was at Wellesley, one of the most powerful influences on my life was being in the presence of people who were successful, being in a place where every single thing was done by women. Seeing the alumni, sitting in the same classrooms that they had sat in, made you realise that there was nothing you couldn’t do.”
She worked as an intern for the Democrat giant Teddy Kennedy, and joined the US Treasury Department during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
“It was incredibly hard work but it was fantastic,” she recalls. “There was a sense that we were making a difference. It was great to be around people with high expectations and it shaped the way that I work to this day.”
An interest in political philosophy eventually took her to Cambridge, where she took her Masters. It proved to be a decisive turning point in her life, but not, perhaps, the one she had expected.
“I thought I would do that and go back to Washington,” she says. “But I didn’t â€“ I found a husband and a country that I loved.”
Her next significant career move saw her working at a financial software company learning about financial management systems and banking. This was the beginning of the path that took her out on her own as founder of Marcus Venture Consulting.
Launched 10 years ago, it was set up to help early stage technology companies connect more effectively with venture capitalists. It quickly changed into a consultancy which helped the funds to understand their markets better.
Her expertise in helping connect funding to logical investments is what ultimately brought her to Nottingham, where she now chairs the Mobius Life Sciences Fund.
This is where small businesses with a difference come in. The fund is based at BioCity, the bioscience incubator, and was set up to invest in early-stage life sciences firms trying to get high-risk but cash-intensive new ideas off the ground.
This sounds like a rarified arena and venture funding itself can seem slightly mysterious. But not to Lucy. The key, she says, is to realise that venture funding acts like any other business.
“They need to have a business plan, they need to have a fix on what they are investing in, they need expertise,” she says.
Lucy is very optimistic about what Mobius, BioCity and the whole life sciences cluster in Nottingham and the wider East Midlands can achieve.
“The reason why is that we have a lot of interesting work being done around here by intelligent academics in an environment where that expertise is being supported.”
“You have a supportive council, they have run with Science City, we have investment. That isn’t something you can take for granted.”