Marissa Epstein is onto a Bigger Mission to Bring Credible Products that Create Long-term Loyalty to Consumers

With only ten percent of Venture Capital firms being women-led, the recent addition of Marissa Epstein to Austin-based VC firm Springdale Ventures is certainly noteworthy. Even more impressive is Epstein’s background: she’s a former Stanford lecturer and worked under First Lady Michelle Obama. Now, she is the third General Partner at Springdale Ventures, founded by Genevieve Gilbreath and Dan Graham.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist, Epstein has spent nearly a decade partnering with business leaders to build innovative brands since driving nutrition initiatives at The White House, where she was Associate Director of the Let’s Move! campaign for former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. She went on to lead health education technology and services for Stanford Health Care.

Springdale has a portfolio of 27 companies in the Consumer Product Goods (CPG) space which are currently averaging five times revenue growth, and nearly half of which are led by underrepresented founders.

I had the chance to sit down with Marissa Epstein to ask some pressing question that are likely on the minds of founders and entrepreneurs.

Q: Marissa, first off congratulations on joining Springdale Ventures! Since joining the company, how did you get acclimated and up to speed with 27 portfolio companies and how active are you within these companies?

A: I’ve been advising Springdale Ventures for the past couple of years so was grateful to be familiar with the portfolio. My partners are great to work with and the broader Springdale team is fantastic — everyone made it a seamless transition for me so I was able to jump right in to supporting portfolio companies and bringing my network into our deal flow. 

Q: What are the specific criteria that you look for in new portfolio companies? How much of your decision is based on financial performance versus the hustle and vision of the Founder?

A: We look for transformative brands — those that have the potential to be category leaders in need of support to scale. We like both digitally native and retail-focused businesses where we can add value going forward into omnichannel, and as product people look for products with the credibility it takes to create long term loyalty among customers. Critical to us are founders passionately connected to what and why they’re building companies. At our stage of investing, the team matters tremendously. 

Q: If in the event one of your portfolio companies is under performing against budget, how do you offer support and guidance?

A: We’re all hands-on deck when asked and needed, and as entrepreneurs/operators ourselves, we do everything from serve as a sounding board to recruiting talent to tapping into our network to help overcome hurdles for our founders. Most important, though, is the community of Springdale family members that we’ve created to connect founders to one another and the culture of helpfulness that leads to organic problem-solving across the portfolio. 

Q: If any Founders who are reading this are looking for capital and would like to be considered with Springdale Ventures, what is the process and how can they stand out amongst the other companies?

A: Send us a note — it’s easy to get in touch (cold outreach is just fine)! We look for signs that companies have product-market-fit and belovedness — as we do diligence and identify risks to the business, we try to assess whether those risks can be mitigated in ways that make our capabilities and areas of expertise valuable. We love speaking with founders early on to build relationships — if we’re not a good fit for a company right now, we might be a great fit later. It’s all about getting to know each other and ensuring we can help one another — what we call “mutuality” in our core values. 

Q: On a more personal note, have there been any books that have had a massive impact on your life? 

So many! I am constantly reading and rereading my nutrition textbooks. I try to complete nutrition biochemistry through the entire human life cycle every year (I’m batting 0.7 for the last decade). But my indulgence is historical fiction and biography — stories of other people’s lives are deeply instructive to me. Having grown up in a small town in Texas, to a mother who immigrated from another country, the stories of women persevering through their circumstances have always resonated with me and helped me understand my own experience. Some of these are Middlemarch, Malintzin’s ChoicesBeloved… the list goes on. 

Q: How does the future look for Springdale Ventures and what can we expect to see down the road?

This is an exciting time to be investing in consumer-packaged goods — consumers are more educated than ever, and they’re looking for brands they can trust, not only to deliver solutions to challenges they experience but also to solve bigger challenges like health and climate change. The multifaceted demand on brands to do and be good in the world is deeply aligned with our values at Springdale, as are the diverse founders behind those brands. We love getting behind teams who are building companies from unique perspectives — over half our portfolio is made up of diverse founders, and we’re thrilled by that. So, I think you’ll continue to see us back category-transforming brands that are trailblazing a new, better way forward for all of us.