Fission’s New Principal is a Polyglot Columbia Alum with a Fire for Entrepreneurialism

Marco Casas (CBS ’17), who joined Fission after working in emerging markets investment banking, says his alma mater inspired him to work in VC.

Fission Principal Marco Casas (CBS ‘17). Credit: Arielle Amsalem.

New full-time Principal, Marco Casas, is a perfect addition to the Fission Ventures investment team. He’s an experienced angel investor, he’s lived around the world and relishes new ideas, and—most importantly—he’s a Columbia alum who’s passionate about the school’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Since coming on board in May, Casas has immersed himself in vetting Columbia-connected deals, getting to know alumni entrepreneurs, and connecting alums with similar interests as well as startups on Fission’s radar. He understands that Fission’s mission is not simply to raise capital from Columbia alums to invest in Columbia-connected companies. It’s to ensure that Fission Ventures plays a vigorous role in enhancing the school’s incredible entrepreneurial community.

Casas recently spoke to us about his background and entrepreneurial enthusiasms—from vodka companies to brain science.

What’s your connection to Columbia?

I am a graduate of the School of Business (‘17), where I took courses like Dean Hubbard and Morten Sorensen’s Entrepreneurial Finance and Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad. I see Columbia as the place where I formalized my interest in venture capital and entrepreneurship.

How did you land a job in VC?

I started my career as an investment banking analyst in Russia, and one of my favorite deals there was taking a vodka company public — especially in the winter! I learned truly unique lessons about founders, exits, and customer captivity.

The next chapter was in emerging markets equity sales, where I learned about investing, fundraising, and customer service—skills that would come in handy when making my first angel investment three years ago. I quickly became more involved with startups and, when I met Fission’s Managing Partner, Steve Zausner, he thought we would make a strong investment team. I didn’t disagree.

What sparked your interest in working for Fission Ventures?

I have always had a deep sense of belonging and appreciation to my alma maters. From the moment I learned about Fission, I loved two main aspects about it: It makes venture capital a viable and accessible option for Columbia alums, and it supports Columbia’s entrepreneurial community.

Which venture trends are you most excited about?

I’m excited to see different business models emerging from the spread of machine learning and predictive analytics across sectors. My passion for languages and the behavioral sciences has naturally drawn me to the human brain. I’m excited by all trends that are helping decode our own human algorithms, from digital pedagogy to brain-computer interfaces. I agree with The Economist that “beneath the skull lies the next frontier.”

What are the three most important lessons you’ve learned in VC?

So far, my lay learnings are that I should always:

  1. Trust and follow the Fund investment process: Our mandate is to co-invest alongside top-tier VCs. Even if I love a company and its founders, I always have to pause and assess whether the fundraising round in question fully meets our investment criteria fully.
  2. Be respectful: Entrepreneurs make significant sacrifices to follow their passions. I respect that deeply. Even if I pass on a deal, it’s nothing personal — it’s usually a function of fit with our investment philosophy and pipeline.
  3. Keep a growth mindset: With every deal comes an opportunity to learn something new. It’s important to put my biases aside and learn every business model from scratch.

Which resources or sources of inspiration (podcasts, books, blogs, mentors, etc.) are most useful to you on a regular basis?

All of the above. For long-term industry trends, I go to MIT’s Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson’s books. Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake’s Capitalism Without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy is also great. Within fiction: Paul Auster and the Russian giants. Blogs and podcasts: I scroll through the usual industry staples and listen to our own AVG podcast series, Founders and Funders.

What else would you like to share about yourself?

It’s probably too late, but you should have read the above with a Venezuelan accent. I grew up down there and finished high school in the Kingdom of Swaziland before moving to the U.S. to attend college (Middlebury ‘07). I seriously lucked out, as most of my education was paid for by scholarships. These experiences made me a big believer in the maxim “learn, earn, and return.”

Fission Ventures is a network of Columbia alums investing in Columbia-connected businesses. Click here if you’d like to learn more about venture investing with Fission.

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