Why Cainon Coates (Sloan ’15) Invests Every Drop into MIT’s Thriving Startup Ecosystem
The Principal for Castor Ventures, a successful founder with multiple exits to his name, believes there’s no better place to nurture disruption in IoT and other future-shaping sectors.
Cainon Coates is so fervent a believer in MIT’s entrepreneurial community that he drew plans for his own MIT Venture Fund before he was hired by Castor Ventures. This, after he co-founded UbicaBus as an MIT grad student.
Cainon’s first-hand experience at Sloan confirmed for him that MIT provided unparalled access to battle-tested mentors and paradigm-shifting ideas. And, like his future colleagues at Castor, Cainon wanted to invest in it, giving back to the storied institution while creating value opportunities for investors.
Cainon joined Castor in 2017 after serving on the founding team of three healthcare startups while at his first venture capital firm, which had more than $400 AUM. Cainon helped found Human Design Medical (acquired by Fosun Pharma), Revive Pharmaceuticals (acquired by Concordia Healthcare), and Triangle Research (acquired by Lonza). Before that, Cainon founded University Laundry, which was acquired by a national operator and would be sold to Proctor & Gamble’s marquee Tide brand.
Now, as Castor’s Principal, Cainon is devoted to finding the most promising, forward-thinking MIT-connected startups, to sharing and gleaning knowledge about entrepreneurship in MIT forums and classrooms, and to networking with entrepreneurs and investors across the spectrum.
Cainon recently spoke to us about his path to Castor, his preferred methods of learning, and his rustic upbringing.
What’s your link to MIT, and how were you involved in the school’s entrepreneurial community as a student?
I completed my MBA at MIT Sloan, where I took lots of entrepreneurship classes, spent a ton of time in the Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, and completed the Entrepreneurship and Innovation track/program. I also met my business partner and founded my fifth startup, UbicaBus, at MIT.
How does being involved in this community result in Castor hearing about MIT-connected deals and networking opportunities?
The MIT community is a critical part of the Castor pipeline. We have hosted events and happy hours as well as spoken on panels across the country to help bring the MIT community together and create networking opportunities. Thanks to this close relationship with MIT alums, we have been introduced to many great startups, and several of our portfolio companies have resulted from this expanding entrepreneurial network.
Tell us about your professional background. How did you land in VC?
I’ve had the privilege of sitting on both sides of the investing table for more than a decade, having been involved in five startups and serving two stints in venture capital and one in private equity. After I sold my first startup, I was invited to join a VC fund and was immediately hooked.
What sparked your interest in working for Castor Ventures?
Castor combines my love for startups, MIT, and venture investing. Every day I get to connect with smart and passionate entrepreneurs to learn about the many incredible and innovative technologies coming out of the MIT community.
Also, funnily enough, I was looking to start my own VC fund roughly five years ago and had actually developed a business plan for an MIT Venture Fund. So I’m really excited to execute on that vision with Castor Ventures.
Which venture trends are you most excited about? Any emerging specifically from MIT that you’re excited about?
I’m really excited about IoT (the internet of things) — technology that connects and digitizes the analog world. There are several MIT IoT startups that are digitizing the sense of smell (C2Sense) and sound (Vesper), as well as better connecting emergency services (RapidSOS) and worker safety (Smartvid.io).
What are the three most important lessons you’ve learned in VC?
1. Great teams make the best companies
2. Pay attention to the numbers (quantitative metrics)
3. A great product doesn’t equal a great company; the best mouse trap doesn’t always win
Which resources or sources of inspiration (podcasts, books, blogs, mentors, etc.) are most useful to you on a regular basis?
My mentors have provided me a ton of advice and encouragement over the years. I also derive a lot of inspiration from experiences: connecting with people, travel, and hands-on activities.
What else would you like to share about yourself?
I don’t have your typical VC or Ivy League upbringing; however, I’ve always been very industrious. My first introduction to entrepreneurship was on my family farm, selling produce at the end of our red dirt road. I also owned a goose named Lewis and a pig named Bacon-Bits, who won a blue ribbon at the county fair and was sold at market to help fund my college tuition.
Castor Ventures is a network of MIT alums investing in MIT-connected businesses. Click here if you’d like to learn more about venture investing with Castor.