Hailing from tech giants to upstarts, the folks at Playground bring deep technical, design and operational expertise to help grow companies and build ecosystems. Our cross-functional team knows how to execute and scale at every stage of a business.

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Peter Barrett
General Partner
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What's your favorite thing about Playground?

 

I learn something new here everyday working with our team at the boundaries of hardware, software and AI. I'm inspired by entrepreneurs building watershed technologies that are challenging but consequential.

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Peter Barrett is a founder and CTO of Playground Global. Peter believes the computing revolution—and arguably even the industrial revolution—haven’t happened yet. He is drawn to the toughest challenges at the boundaries of deep tech and hard science.

Peter has been writing software since he was a teenager. At 19, his first security program caught the attention of the NSA. From his first company, Rocket Science Games, he’s had an adventurous career in technology from creating the first widely used video codec in the early 90s, building the world’s most popular IPTV platform at Microsoft, cloud intelligence for automotive at CloudCar and now quantum and optical computing, robotics and artificial intelligence at Playground. He holds over 100 patents.

At Playground, Peter delights in the opportunity to deeply collaborate with entrepreneurs and help create transformative companies with multigenerational impact. He thrives on technologies that lie somewhere between improbable and impossible and companies whose success will help move civilization forward.

Peter lives in Palo Alto with his wife, two children, a surly cat, and a friendly dog.

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Jory Bell
General Partner
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What's your "must read" book recommendation?

"Tetrascroll" by Buckminster Fuller

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Jory Bell is a General Partner at Playground Global, having joined the firm as Vice President in 2015.

Jory grew up in Rochester, N.Y. and went on to attend MIT where he earned three undergraduate degrees in architecture, literature and earth atmosphere & planetary studies. After graduation, Jory worked as a researcher as part of the joint MIT/ Wood Hole Oceanographic Institute climate change program where he designed, built and deployed autonomous deep sea robotics.

Drawn to the Bay Area by his passion for entrepreneurial technology, Jory spent six years at Apple as a laptop designer. In 2000, Jory left Apple to found OQO, a computer hardware and software manufacturer credited by the Guinness World Records as having created the world's smallest Windows PC.

Upon joining Playground, Jory discovered his passion for working with brilliant technical founders using science and technology to build massive companies to address large-scale societal needs.

Jory sourced some of the firm’s earliest investments including Nervana Systems (acquired by Intel) and subsequently led the firm’s investment efforts in deep tech areas including advanced manufacturing, aerospace, genomics and synthetic/computational biology.

Outside of work, Jory and his wife can be found practicing acrobatics and tiger parenting their young daughter.

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Matt Hershenson
General Partner
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Why did you create Playground?

One of the greatest benefits we can provide to entrepreneurs is sharing what we learned in building our own companies.

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Matt Hershenson, a Founding Partner at Playground Global, knew he was going to be an engineer from an early age. As a teenager, he had an after-school job at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, where his size made him ideal for running cables under the raised floors in labs and machine rooms and above the dropped ceilings in the offices. He also learned how to repair and maintain the Computer Science Department’s Xerox Altos.

His earliest professional experience was at Apple, where he worked first in manufacturing engineering in Apple’s “Mac Factory” and later worked in the PowerBook group on the design of Apple’s line of PowerBook laptops. In 2000, Matt co-founded Danger, which went on to produce the first consumer smartphone.

After creating nine versions of the T-Mobile Sidekick and beginning the process of going public, Danger was purchased by Microsoft. Matt stayed at Microsoft for two years after the acquisition, serving as a Partner in Hardware Engineering.

Leveraging his mobile hardware experience, Matt joined Google’s Android team as Director of Hardware. At Google, Matt built the Android hardware team to span all aspects of hardware development - from chip design to regulatory compliance and everything in-between. Matt and his team shipped over 10 generations of devices across phones, tablets, and streaming receivers.

In late 2014, Matt joined up with the founding team to start Playground. The idea was to invest in transformative companies with multigenerational impact, while working side-by-side with portfolio companies to help them advance faster than if they were on their own.

Today, Matt is still unafraid of technological risk. His reasoning is: if you’re going to go through the trouble, you might as well create something with significance.

Matt lives in the Bay Area with his wife of over 20 years and three children.

Bruce Leak
General Partner

What invention will be ubiquitous when your kids are your age?

The holodeck will be used for “in-person” meetings making the daily commute unnecessary. Decoupling where we live from where we work will obviate the need for many office buildings and transit systems.

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Bruce Leak is a Founding Partner at Playground Global. From an early age, his intellectual curiosity led to a fascination with computers and emerging technology, and later informed his career path which took him from the frontier days of Apple and Microsoft, to entrepreneurship, to his time at Playground investing in complex ideas with the potential to change the world.

With a Master’s in Electrical Engineering from Stanford, Bruce spent two summer internships at Microsoft. There, he tested an early prototype of Microsoft Word for the original IBM PC and later worked on the first versions of Microsoft’s Macintosh applications.

His first full time role was with Apple’s System Software team where he led the company’s efforts on 32-bit Color Quickdraw which became the foundation of true color display on Mac screens and led to the birth of Quicktime. Bruce spent five years at Apple expanding the Quicktime team, shipping several versions of the product and speaking at developer conferences.

Bruce was later recruited by Steve Perlman to General Magic, and they set out to build a color version of the platform for gaming. In 1993, Bruce joined forces with Peter Barrett and Steve Blank to form Rocket Science Games, where he hired many members of the Quicktime team, supported developers, and built the gaming platform.

Bruce’s next venture was WebTV, which he founded with two General Magic alumni, Steve Perlman and Phil Goldman. WebTV was acquired by Microsoft and the company went on to ship the first DVR products for Echostar and DirectTV.

After founding several startups selling technology and services to mobile phone operators and automotive OEMs and traveling the world, Bruce co-founded Playground Global—the venture capital firm he wished existed when he was building his own company. From robotics to quantum computing to groundbreaking medical advancements, Playground’s true north is leaving a lasting impact for generations to come.

Bruce lives in Palo Alto and can still be found adventuring outdoors by kayak and by land. He is passionate about wildlife conservation, preserving natural habitats, and supporting animal sanctuaries.

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Laurie Yoler
General Partner
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What philosophy or vision guides your work?

A tenacious, focused, interdisciplinary team of scientists, engineers, and marketers with the right leadership can create extraordinary companies.

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Laurie Yoler is a General Partner at Playground Global. An ambitious problem-solver and prolific connector by nature, Laurie has decades of experience operating, scaling, and advising companies from seed startups to multinational corporations.

After spending time at Accenture and PwC, Laurie worked at Visa for four years. There, she worked on fraud prevention and helped create a new division focusing exclusively on debit cards, which eventually yielded the groundbreaking Visa Check Card. Next, she was at Sun Microsystems, where she helped the company emerge as the go-to server platform for software in the internet age. Next, Laurie was a founding team member at Packet Design, focusing on incubating networking and security companies.

Laurie served as a Founding Board Member of Tesla, serving on the board of directors, and later on the board of advisors as the company went public. She also served on the board of Interactive Investor International in London through taking the company public.

She became a founding managing director at GrowthPoint Technology Partners, advising entrepreneurs, completing M&A transactions and raising funds. Laurie was also President of Qualcomm Labs and SVP of Business Development for Qualcomm, driving new innovation, and closing new strategic partnerships and joint ventures.

At Playground, Laurie is applying her decades of experience and learnings to help early-stage tech companies grow and thrive. Playground was simply a perfect match for everything she accomplished in her career, and they invest in areas Laurie is passionate about.

In addition to Zoox, Laurie currently serves on the board of directors of Bose, Church & Dwight, and the Computer History Museum, and on the advisory boards of Accenture, Platform Science, AI4All, and the Washington State Frank Fellows Entrepreneurship Program. She is also an active angel investor with Broadway Angels and HealthTech Capital.

Dedicated to a lifetime of learning, Laurie enthusiastically continues her education at Stanford in subjects such as board governance, biotechnology, biochemistry, neuropsychology, neuroscience, and geology. She also guest lectures for the Engineering, Law, and Business Schools at Stanford.

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Richard Becker
Prototype Machinist
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What's the most valuable life skill you learned as a kid on the playground?

Always bring appropriate footwear.

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Allison Braley
Operating Partner
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What philosophy or vision guides your work?

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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Allison Braley is an Operating Partner focused on marketing at Playground Global, bringing nearly 20 years of marketing, brand-building and communications expertise to the firm and its portfolio.

Prior to joining Playground, Allison was head of marketing for Canvas, a Ford-owned car subscription company that was acquired by Fair in late 2019, where she then served as VP of Marketing.

Allison's previous experience includes running marketing for The Information (news) and Zoosk (dating), as well as leading communications and brand for ZocDoc (healthcare). She was also a Director of Media Strategy for OutCast Communications, where she helped build the firm's New York office. Allison's agency-side clients over her career have included Facebook, Amazon, Intuit, Johnson & Johnson and Cisco. Prior to joining Outcast, Allison spent three years as director of public relations for Conde Nast Digital's stable of digital media brands.

Allison resides in San Francisco's Outer Sunset neighborhood with her partner and two children.

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Sylvia Donohoe
Head of Programs
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What's your "must read" book recommendation?

"The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho

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Justin Ernest
Venture Associate
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What's the most valuable life skill you learned as a kid on the playground?

Always play like it’s your last game.

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Jeff Freburg
Head of Studio Experience
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What's your "must read" book recommendation?

"Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain .. Gives you a glimpse into the Hospitality world.

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Gabby Halberg
UX Software Engineer
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If you weren't working at Playground, right now you'd be ...

... figuring out how to help fight plastic pollution.

Julia Huang
Software Engineer

What philosophy or vision guides your work?

I want to learn about anything and everything!

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George Ketigian
Director of Prototype Engineering
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What philosophy or vision guides your work?

Perfection to the fringe of a deadline.

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Benjamin Kim
Venture Associate
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If you weren't working at Playground, right now you'd be ...

... a full time triathlete.

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Clinton Lazzari
Senior Hardware Engineer
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What's your "must read" book recommendation?

"The Art of Electronics" by Horowitz & Hill

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Nancy Ly
Finance and Administration Associate
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What's your "must read" book recommendation?

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

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Chika Nakasu
Executive Manager
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What's the most valuable life skill you learned as a kid on the playground?

How to create something out of nothing.

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Anh Nguyen
Design Director
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What's the most valuable life skill you learned as a kid on the playground?

Play on, player.

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Hoang Nguyen
Design Director
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What's your "must read" book recommendation?

"Oh, The Places You'll Go" by Dr Seuss. We often get caught up by logic & reason and don't take shots at the unusual. Try new things. Love the journey, not the destination.

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Sasha Ostojic
Operating Partner
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What's your "must read" book recommendation?

"The Joy of Engineering Leadership" by Sasha Ostojic. A thriller with real world engineering twists and turns. Sitting on the bookshelf in my head.

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Sasha Ostojic is an Operating Partner at Playground Global where he works with portfolio companies on defining and executing technology and business strategies. The Playground founders benefit from Sasha’s decades of operating experience in scaling and motivating engineering teams to achieve product and bottom-line success.

Born in the former Yugoslavia, Sasha moved to the U.S. in the late-1980s where his technical expertise and appetite for knowledge generated an early opportunity at General Electric (GE). There, as a consultant, he was a lead software architect for IBM's innovative DirectTalk Voice Application platform.

At IBM, he found himself gravitating towards a career in entrepreneurship and founded Ultimate Technology, Inc with a colleague. The vision was to iterate on the speech recognition and text-to-speech synthesis technology they designed at IBM and deploy it to new industries. Sasha built the company from the ground up as the CEO and VP of Engineering, serving in the role for 14 years and achieving profitability each year.

Under his leadership, Ultimate Technology formed relationships with Fortune 500 companies including Fidelity, Cisco, and Sun Microsystems. Sasha guided the organization through all stages of growth overcoming the dot-com bubble among other shifting market conditions.

Sasha then spent close to 10 years at Nvidia where, as Vice President of Software, he was in charge of some of the key initiatives that contributed to the graphics company becoming a global leader in gaming, AI technologies, and visual computing.

His last stop before joining Playground was at Cruise Automation, where he led and scaled the engineering team for the General Motors autonomous vehicle subsidiary. But once he started spending time at Playground’s Palo Alto campus, there was no turning back.

Sasha initially played an advisory role where he immediately added value for the firm and its portfolio. One thing led to the next, and Sasha found himself in an Operating Partner role. The majority of his work is helping portfolio companies with engineering projects, advising on products, and growing the companies and their networks. Alongside his direct work with portfolio companies, Sasha organizes and leads various engineering leadership events as well as the acclaimed Robochat event series featuring prestigious guest speakers.

Sasha sits on the advisory boards of Samsung Electronics, Zoox, Deepen AI, Cognomotiv and HTEC. In his spare time, he is an avid tennis and basketball player and enjoys spending time with his wife and son.

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If you weren't working at Playground, right now you'd be ...

... spending time with kids/family/loved ones and beach bumming.

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Lucrecia Sandoval
Executive Assistant
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What's the most valuable life skill you learned as a kid on the playground?

How to collaborate and play well with others.

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Mel Sezto
Operating Partner
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What's the most valuable life skill you learned as a kid on the playground?

Walking up the spider monkey bars without hands. Falling just teaches you how not to fall the same way next time.

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Mel Sezto is an Operating Partner at Playground Global, responsible for the firm’s talent network and assisting with talent acquisition on behalf of Playground and its portfolio companies. Mel lives by the mantra “always hungry, always curious,” as demonstrated by her career arc and the impact she has at Playground.

Born in Seattle, Mel spontaneously came to the Bay Area after graduating and immediately began hustling. She found herself at one of the oldest recruiting firms in the Bay Area and developed a knack for building meaningful relationships and finding common ground with everyone she met.

From there, she parlayed her experience into a recruiting job at Google, where she worked to build their product, network engineering and data center support teams. Mel began working on special projects for the executive team, eventually becoming the first recruiter at Google X. She scaled the team from 12 to hundreds across projects such as the Self-Driving Car, Google Glass, Iris, Loon and other confidential projects. Mel also helped Android hire their first hardware engineers.

After Google, Mel spent close to two years at Udacity as Head of Talent & People Ops. As the first recruiting and people operations hire, she tripled the company size in nine months without the use of external agencies, shaped Udacity’s culture, implemented benefits, and supervised the Human Resources department.

Next, she took on the Director of Human Capital Role at Greylock Partners, where she spent three years sourcing talent for Greylock’s expansive portfolio.

Today, she helps meld Playground’s infrastructure into one that will continue to scale by identifying partners, talent, and diving in on projects with its portfolio companies.

Quote icon Created with Sketch. Say there are 3 people in the world who are the experts on a certain technology, well all of them are sitting here at Playground. Alex Teichman CEO & Co-founder, Lighthouse AI
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Guocong Song
Data Scientist
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What's your "must read" book recommendation?

"Romance of the Three Kingdoms" by Luo Guanzhong, but the English translation may lose some cultural meaning.

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Victoria Sun
Venture Associate
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If you weren't working at Playground, right now you'd be ...

... a writer for Comedy Central.

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Shinya Suzuki
Embedded System (HW & SW) Designer
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What philosophy or vision guides your work?

It is what it is, be adaptable, live in the moment, and have no expectations.

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What invention will be ubiquitous when your kids are your age? 

Print at home clothes with reusable filament. Bespoke clothes - style, fit and color - that are benign to the environment.

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Sandy Taylor is the CFO for Playground Global. An entrepreneurial-minded finance executive with decades of startup experience, Sandy brings her passion for building high-performance teams and leading organizations through significant growth to the firm and its portfolio companies.

Drawn to tech from an early age, Sandy moved to Silicon Valley in the late 1990s to realize her dream. She first worked at Oracle as Director of Finance and Strategic Planning, where she relished the opportunity to build a new team at an established organization and developed a keen interest in early technology.

After spending time at early online marketplace Respond Networks, Sandy linked up with her future Playground colleagues at Danger, Inc. With Sandy in the VP of Finance role, Danger’s subscriber base grew from 60,000 to nearly 1.4 million. She helped secure funding from the likes of Redpoint Ventures and Softbank, and played a key role in the negotiation and execution of Microsoft’s $500M+ acquisition of the business.

Sandy stayed at Microsoft for another two years before assuming the CFO role at Zong, later leading PayPal’s acquisition of the firm. Sandy stayed on as CFO of PayPal after the deal, where she was responsible for the Finance and Operational Excellence for PayPal Mobile and the integration of Zong business functions into PayPal and eBay.

Next, Sandy spent over three years at Mocana, an IoT security platform overseeing 100 million devices. There, she oversaw strategy, sales operations, $30 million in VC fundraising, and general finance, among a wide array of responsibilities.

In 2018, she reunited with her former Danger colleagues and joined the Playground team. Sandy loves the energy of the startups combined with their potential longevity and impact, getting the best of both the entrepreneurial and finance worlds. At Playground, Sandy runs the finance team, human resources, and facilities teams, as well as supervises in-house events.

Sandy is married with one daughter and lives in Palo Alto, CA, where she spends most of her spare time working on the constant remodeling of her 100+-year-old home.

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Michael Tolo
Venture Principal
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What invention will be ubiquitous when your kids are your age?

Bitcoin?

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Kim Watson
Finance Manager
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What philosophy or vision guides your work?

Honesty, integrity, hard work and the desire to have fun and make a difference every day.

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What philosophy or vision guides your work?

Learning is essential to happiness.

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Phyllis Whiteley
Advisor
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What philosophy or vision guides your work?

“I not only use all the brains that I have, but all the brains I can borrow”. Woodrow Wilson

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Phyllis Whiteley, PhD., is a Venture Capitalist and a Life Sciences consultant. She is currently a Venture Partner with Wildcat Venture Partners where she provides hands-on leadership in building, investing, and creating companies in the digital health space. She is also a Venture Partner with Mohr Davidow Ventures where she focused on diagnostics, life science tools, digital health, and personalized medicine including Verinata Health, acquired by Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN). Phyllis’ career is grounded on her passion for personalized medicine, global healthcare, and transformative life science innovations. She has founded and built multiple companies in the United States and abroad. She is on the Board of Carrum Health and is Executive Board Chair at Balance Therapeutics.

Her executive expertise includes strategic planning, R&D, start-ups, partnerships and M&A, restructuring, and building executive teams. Prior to joining Wildcat Venture Partners and Mohr Davidow Ventures, Phyllis was an Entrepreneur in Residence with 5am Ventures where she co-founded Anaphore (now Bird Rock Bio). Prior to Venture Capital, Phyllis was an Officer and Senior Vice President, Business Development, Licensing, and Alliance Management at Perlegen Sciences, Inc. Before joining Perlegen, she served as Vice President, Strategic Portfolio Management for Roche. Over her ten-year career with Roche she held various positions in Business Development based in Basel, Switzerland coupled with R&D leadership positions in the U.S. Phyllis also held a Senior Research Immunology role with Merck.

Phyllis is dedicated to helping social entrepreneurs address the problems of poverty, empower women, and build resilience to climate change. She sits on the advisory boards of UCSF Leadership Council for Global Health, University of Michigan School of Nursing Board for Science and Innovation, is a Global Social Benefits Mentor at Santa Clara University and chairs the advisory board for the University of Texas Horizon Fund. Phyllis also serves on the board of Alydia Health, a medical device company treating postpartum hemorrhage around the world.

Phyllis holds a BA in Chemistry and Ph.D. in Pharmacology from Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri.

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Daniel Yum
Principal Software Engineer
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What philosophy or vision guides your work?

Keep on digging until you understand the core essence of the problem. You can only control things that you really, truly understand.