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In a recent Q&A, Atacama Biomaterials Co-Founder Paloma Gonzalez-Rojas, SM ’15, PhD ’21, explained that, since the eco-friendly materials startup has proof of concept, they “are now ready to scale.”

Enter milemark•capital, the early-stage venture capital firm whose partners provided Atacama with its first outside investment.

“When a startup is in formation, they benefit exponentially from that external validation in the form of the first-risk capital investment; it’s a vote of confidence on the founders,” says milemark•capital Co-Founder and Managing Partner Sebastian Barriga, SFMBA ’22.

Sebastian, Adela Jamal, SFMBA ’22, Michael Lipton, SFMBA ’22, and Sinan Aral, PhD ’07, (David Austin Professor of Management; Director, MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy) co-founded milemark•capital in 2022. The firm’s mission is to invest in diverse teams out of innovation hubs building firms that use proprietary AI systems to rewrite existing business models.

“When you leave MIT, you often wonder how you can remain linked to its unique ecosystem. We want to be that bridge,” says Adela, co-founder and managing partner at milemark•capital.

Adela Jamal | SFMBA ’22, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at milemark•capital
When you leave MIT, you often wonder how you can remain linked to its unique ecosystem. We want to be that bridge.

Greater significance, greater impact

Before entering the MIT Sloan Fellows MBA program in 2021, Adela worked in tech and finance for over a decade and served at Sony Pictures Entertainment as an executive for seven years, Sebastian worked at The Carlyle Group for nine years, and Michael spent over a decade at the Brooklyn-based fine art and engineering studio, BREAKFAST.

All three left their previous roles to pursue the specialized 12-month MBA program for experienced business professionals because they were curious about what the next steps in their respective careers could—and should—be. They were also inspired to make a change as, at the time, the world was still grappling with the pandemic.

“We were one of the classes that overlapped with COVID-19, so the fact that we were taking a pause in our careers during such a critical time in the world was especially rare,” says Adela.

They could have remained in their roles and continued their current trajectories, but the desire to do more—compounded by the state of the world—proved to be quite strong. As Adela explains, they wanted to discover what would have more significance and a greater global impact. Hence the decision to matriculate at MIT Sloan.

“It’s the magic that happens at MIT, that pushes you to dream or think big beyond your perceived limitations,” Sebastian says of their separate decisions to enroll in the MIT Sloan Fellows program, and their eventual coming together. “We gravitated toward each other.”

After that momentous year at MIT Sloan were discussions with Sinan Aral. The four co-founders of milemark•capital learned they shared similar interests in business, overlapping values, entrepreneurial drive, and an understanding that AI would soon become the next technological revolution. It was quickly clear that Sinan’s entrepreneurial experience and expertise in AI strongly aligned with the to-be milemark•capital.

“We’ve experienced three discontinuous technological transitions in human history–the Agrarian revolution, the Industrial revolution, and now the AI revolution. AI promises to be even more disruptive than the first two. But, to succeed, today’s AI entrepreneurs need more than just capital. They need investors with a scientific understanding of AI combined with real-world operating experience in bringing AI and ML-driven growth companies to life. Milemark differentiates on exactly these dimensions, and we aim to play a pivotal role in bringing this revolution to life,” says Sinan, co-founder and managing partner at milemark•capital.

Sebastian Barriga | SFMBA ’22, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at milemark•capital
We don’t see it as excluding one group versus including another, but as combining all that incredible talent into a common goal.

End-to-end diversity

While discussing his top priorities for the then-newly established MIT Sloan Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in 2022, Bryan A. Thomas (Assistant Dean, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) emphasized the importance of expanding his and everyone else’s institutional knowledge.

The goal, he continued, was to increase transparency about what was working and what was not, figure out why, and determine next steps. The milemark•capital team is taking a similar approach to venture funding.

“We’re shaping milemark•capital to be the firm I was always seeking as an entrepreneur,” says Michael Lipton, co-founder and managing partner at milemark•capital. “We lead with humility, work in the service of our portfolio companies, and do everything we can to help them become successful businesses.”

milemark•capital endeavors to identify and help startups in the MIT ecosystem whose founders, advisors, and ideas—their very nature—exhibit what Adela calls “end-to-end diversity.” At the same time, milemark•capital wants to ensure they are doing the same. “It can’t just be something we’re focusing on,” says Adela. “We ourselves need to encompass it.”

“We don’t see it as excluding one group versus including another,” Sebastian adds, “but as combining all that incredible talent into a common goal.”

To that end, milemark•capital is supporting diverse companies like the sustainable materials startup Atacama; the health tech startup Piction Health, co-founded by Susan Conover, SDM ’15, which uses AI to help doctors accurately diagnose skin diseases; the software developer Catalan, co-founded by Andres Garza Villarreal, MBA ’22, and PhD student Ishaan Grover, SM ’18, which uses AI to develop B2B dynamic pricing-as-a-service software; and many others.

Michael Lipton | SFMBA ’22, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at milemark•capital
We’re shaping milemark•capital to be the firm I was always seeking as an entrepreneur.

MIT and beyond

Aside from their origins at MIT, these companies also have another common denominator: They have been, and continue to be, well-supported by the Institute’s lively entrepreneurial ecosystem. From the MIT delta v educational accelerator and MIT Sandbox to the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Challenge and MITdesignX, these and many other avenues for student startup support all feature in these companies’ stories.

“Great founders at MIT usually don’t have a problem getting funding,” says Sebastian. But what happens when they grow beyond campus?

As MIT Sloan alumni who have operated and sold companies and are involved in the MIT ecosystem, Sebastian explains that the milemark•capital team uses its experiences to help the founders they support. Specifically, he adds, as “a catalyst fund that will help them transition from academic life into the real world.”

For more info Andrew Husband Senior Writer & Editor, OER (617) 715-5933