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Christy Shaffer knows more than a little something about running a company and raising venture capital. 

She spent nearly 15 years as the president and CEO of Inspire Pharmaceuticals. During that time, she raised more than $300 million, took the company public and led its $430 million sale to Merck in 2010. 

Christy Shaffer headshot
Christy Shaffer, Managing Partner at Hatteras Venture Partners. photo: Hatteras Venture Partners.
Today, she says she enjoys her seat on the other side of the funding table as a general partner at Hatteras Venture Partners in Durham. 

Q&A 

What is your investment focus? 
I am a general partner at Hatteras Venture Partners and focus on the early-stage life science space. I work with strong academic groups, primarily on the east coast. We have invested in 9 companies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. However, our recent investments include technologies from Georgia Tech, Emory, Harvard and Yale. 

What attracted you to investing? 
I am a receptor pharmacologist by training and spent years in the pharma/biotech industry, including as a private/public company CEO. I had known Hatteras for many years and I was attracted to assist in building early-stage companies with strong and elegant scientific underpinnings. 

How did you find your first formal role as an investor? What was your path to investing? 
I have been at Hatteras for 5 years now. My first role was as the Managing Director of the earliest-stage part of the fund, called Hatteras Discovery, which was started when I joined. I had been a President and CEO so had raised venture capital in my past. Thus, it was a chance to be on the ‘other side of the table.’ 

What are the most interesting challenges for companies you’ve invested in? 
When to go public or not was one challenge. We chose to take one company public in 2016 despite a rather tough market. Although we priced below the range, the company share price tripled over the next few months. It was a tough decision to go public in challenging waters, but it turned to be a win/win. 

Another challenge is building a strong team – you cannot settle for a mediocre team even if it takes a bit more time and money to find the optimal/best team. 

What does your deal flow look like, demographic-wise? 
We see about 500 companies a year, including biopharma, medical devices, diagnostics and healthcare IT. We only do about 5-6 deals per year, so, we are highly selective. 

What qualities do you look for in founders/individuals you want to invest in? 
Well published, well-funded by the NIH or other government grants- it provides validation. Serial entrepreneurs are a plus as well as a reputation of having high ethical standards. Also, trust is extremely important. If we know the founders or have worked with them in the past, it is very helpful, although not essential. 

Do you think you face any unique challenges or opportunities as a woman investor in a this industry? 
I am currently on 8 boards and chair half of them. With the exception of one board, I am the only woman. While this could be seen as a challenge, it is also an opportunity to demonstrate that women are good board members and strong chairs. I am working to find other women to join our boards. 

What advice would you give to companies/entrepreneurs looking for investments from you and/or other investors? 
Create a crisp and compelling presentation. Length is much less important than capturing the key value proposition and showing strong energy for the opportunity. You generally have 10 minutes to capture your audience. 

What are your thoughts on the investment landscape today, in the Triangle and beyond? 
Science is outstanding at present, and there is very strong deal flow. We have less venture capital firms that we would like to see in the region. However, we have brought many new, co-investors to the region through our investments over the last few years. 

What advice would you give to women specifically who are interested in investing and/or starting a new company? 
For starting a company,build a strong team and create a clear message about why your technology is differentiated. To investors,create ‘go to’ group of experts that you can count on to help provide feedback on interesting companies. Many of the experts I go to have worked with me in the past, so I know I can trust their opinions.