July 23, 2024
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Zal Bilimoria has been a solo general partner since 2018, and has no plans to stop. And he credits the decision to former colleague, David Lee, who started Refactor Capital with him in 2016.

He said that he would not have been able to start the Burlingame-based firm without Lee, a former Google executive who ran Ron Conway’s seed-stage venture fund SV Angel for several years. Together, they raised an initial $50 million fund. When Lee decided to retire in 2018, he wanted Bilimoria to stay with Refactor as a solo GP. 

Zal Bilimoria, Refactor Capital
Zal Bilimoria, solo general partner of Refactor Capital (Image credit: Refractor Capital
Image Credits: Refactor Capital / Refactor Capital

Being a solo GP means having full authority to make investment decisions alone while also having full responsibility for things like fundraising. And while that level of freedom might sound wonderful, it also means that there are no vested partners to confer with, who push back and make a VC scrutinize investment decisions in ways that may not have occurred to them. While angel investors do this, they are spending their own money. A sole investor is investing on behalf of limited partners who are entrusting that this person will make their money grow.

“He convinced me to stay solo, and that was at a time when solo GPs were not in vogue,” Bilimoria told TechCrunch. “He told me that since I love my independence and authority and love spending time with founders, I should stay solo. I was super nervous, but the more I spent thinking about it and talking to other folks, I realized that was going to be what I wanted to do, and I have not looked back. I am going to be a solo GP for the rest of my career, if I can help it.”

Bilimoria isn’t without his own unique pedigree. Before joining Refactor, Bilimoria spent nearly three years as a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, where he helped get the firm’s $200 million Bio Fund off the ground. Prior to a16z, Bilimoria spent a decade building tech products at tech giants, including Google, Netflix, LinkedIn and Microsoft. He was also the founder of consumer mobile startup Sniply.

With Refactor, he is investing in companies “solving the biggest challenges facing society,” he said. In fact, the term “refactor” comes from computer science and refers to making code more efficient.

And being a solo GP hasn’t slowed Bilimoria a bit. He went on to raise three additional funds and has now closed a fourth fund of $50 million in capital commitments to invest in the areas of biotech, climate and hard tech startups.

Since its 2016 launch, Refactor has invested in over 100 companies, of which four have gone on to become unicorns, including Solugen, which is using synthetic biology to take hydrocarbons out of the chemicals industry and Astranis, which is making micro satellites. 

Last week, Solugen received a $214 million loan from the Department of Energy Loan Programs Office to build their next Solugen Bioforge in Minnesota that will make chemicals from corn sugar rather than petroleum. Awarded to a small number of startups, the DOE awarded a similar loan to Tesla in 2010.

Bilimoria was able to raise the new fund in less than 90 days, he said. Ninety percent of the fund was raised by existing limited partners, including firms like Knollwood Investment Advisory. A majority LPs are institutional investors, and the entire LP group is U.S. investors.

“I feel very lucky to have this LP group,” he said. “I was chasing one institutional investor for the last four funds, and I finally got them into this fund, so they’re part of my new 10%.”

Bilimoria is wrapping up investments from the third fund, but has already committed some capital from the fourth fund. 

This new fund will continue to lead pre-seed and seed investments into startups working in areas, including novel battery technologies, cancer therapies, IVF advancements and chemicals. Check sizes are typically $1 million to $2 million, and will be split between 20 and 25 companies over the next three years, Bilimoria said.

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