The top 25: Katie Rae, chief executive and managing partner, Engine
Katie Rae has been chief executive and managing partner of the Engine, an accelerator and fund affiliated with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) since March 2017.
She joined from pre-seed venture fund Project 11 Ventures, where she was a managing director for four years, and accelerator Techstars Boston, where she was most recently chairwoman since 2014. Her career also includes stints with internet companies AltaVista and Lycos, online city guide software developer Zip2 – one of the earlier ventures of business magnate Elon Musk – and Microsoft Startup Labs, an incubator unit within software company Microsoft.
The Engine was created in response to an articcle published by MIT president L Rafael Reif in 2015 to support so-called tough tech – technology that is complex and takes a long time to develop but could be profoundly disruptive, such as sustainable energy, biotechnology and robotics.
MIT put $25m of its own money into the $150m fund in April 2017, with cash also raised from venture capital funds and family offices. The fund first grew to $200m, and in September this year it was revealed to have significantly outperformed its initial target and achieved a final close of more than $205m.
The fund does not exclusively invest in MIT spinouts, though the world-class research at the institute means its spinouts stand a good chance of being considered for investment.
Portfolio companies include Zapata Computing, a quantum computing software developer founded by Harvard University scientists, that is developing algorithms for purposes such as chemistry, machine learning and security.
A similarly ambitious company is Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), which is based on work at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Centre and is trying to make nuclear fusion energy a reality. Its investors include energy supplier Eni, which has ploughed $50m into the business, underlining just how much of a world-changing technology CFS is developing. The concept of fusion – energy generated from fusing atoms rather than splitting them – has been around for decades, but so far nobody has been able to crack it on an industrial scale.
While Rae carries a lot of the responsibilities as CEO and managing partner, she has surrounded herself with some other exceptional talent, including her former boss from Microsoft Startup Labs, Reed Sturtevant, who is general partner, and chief operating officer and general partner Ann DeWitt, who spent three years as senior director of investments at Sanofi-Genzyme Bioventures, the corporate venturing arm of life sciences company Sanofi, before becoming senior director, business development and licensing transactions at the corporate.
Rae finds herself in the enviable position of being in charge of a vehicle that sets out to create companies that will have a material positive impact on the planet. Everything suggests she is on the right track.