By Skyler Stein
Originally published June 2017

Skyler Stein en route to Obvious Ventures

I’m a capitalistic environmentalist, a left-handed quant, a carnivorous yogi, and a data-driven surfer. I’m a walking contradiction, but so is Obvious Ventures, and that is why I’m so excited to spend my summer here.

Obvious Ventures prides itself on being different from the herd. It is a commonly held (yet false) belief that doing good for the world and maximizing profitability are at odds with each other — just like being a surfer and loving data.

Obvious is a traditionally structured VC firm with an nontraditional approach to investing. They do not accept the notion that you need to sacrifice values for value. And they walk the talk

I love how they cultivate courageous and contrarian ideas and, like me, disregard traditional perceptions of trade-offs.

Also, two of Obvious’ three #worldpositive investment categories are my most deeply entrenched passions: Healthy Living and Sustainable Systems (see below).

Here’s the full story:

I was born and raised in San Diego. I went to Duke University for college and spent my freshman year in a specialized program studying genomic science and its potential impacts on society.

During my sophomore year, I pulled a 180 — something I can also do perfectly well on a snowboard. After watching some documentaries, I researched, took a few classes, and concluded that the global ecological crisis was real, our current energy system was broken, and that the status quo was unsustainable.

This meant that things were going to change — and change usually means big opportunity. I wanted to be a part of that change.

I spent a summer studying Environmental Economics at the London School of Economics and then decided to create and pursue a customized major and named it Energy and Ecological Economics.

I graduated *insert golf clap here* and moved to NYC.

The capitalist environmentalist in me emerged as I started my professional career at Macquarie Group in the investment banking division focusing on structuring utility-scale financings for wind and solar energy projects. I then jumped ship with my boss and joined Bregal Energy (f/k/a Good Energies), a growth private equity fund focused on clean energy. For six years at Bregal I invested in companies up and down the energy value chain, from molecule to electron, and across North America. One investment that I found myself closely involved with was developing a wind farm on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii (a.k.a the surfing mecca of the world).

Ready for a new adventure, I set sail to Harvard Business School, when three weeks into my first semester, an unexpected health challenge (Lyme) caused me to take a two-year medical leave. The experience launched me into an incredibly fascinating obsession with Health & Wellness. In addition to following my doctor’s orders, I researched nutrition, supplements, exercise regimes, and related technologies. I also experimented with approaches that were a bit more esoteric: cryo-therapy, sensory deprivation tanks, Aryuveda, anti-bacterial / viral mushrooms, phages, cranial-sacral, hyperbaric chambers, etc. Given my shotgun approach, I still don’t know what helped the most (or at all), but the good news is that something worked. I’m now back to 100%.

Skyler freezing himself at -160°F in cryo-therapy. The coldest recorded temperature on earth is -136°F.

During this self-guided study into my own health, I ironically found myself learning about genomics again — this time focused on the microbiome (aka our ‘second genome’), the genes of our resident microbes and how they affect human (and specifically, my own) health.

Academic research has now linked the composition of the type of bacteria in our guts with depression, food intolerance, cancer, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, cardiovascular disease, and skin conditions. The list is growing and the number of research studies is skyrocketing. This topic is particularly compelling because unlike our ‘first genome’, we can exert control over and change our ‘second genome’.

I developed a curiosity with understanding how the things we consume affect the composition of the types of bacteria in our guts, and how this composition in turn affects our health. So, I tracked the correlation of different diets, medicines, and supplements with changes to my microbiome weekly for a year. Completely cognizant that this may seem a bit neurotic, the results continuously fascinated me.

I just finished my first year at HBS (second time’s the charm) and am spending the summer at Obvious doing a deep dive on early-stage investment opportunities related to the commercialization of microbiome science for application in humans, animals, and agriculture.

I have a gut feeling it’s going to be a great summer.

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