Kristina Burow, Arch’s Rising Star in SF, Spots Big Ideas in Biotech, Cleantech

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Kristina Burow came to UC Berkeley as a teenager from Minnesota with a vague idea about what she wanted in life, other than to become a champion collegiate swimmer.

She ended up finding her purpose in both chemistry and business. Operating at the nexus of those two fields, at just 36, Burow has assembled a portfolio of venture-backed biotech and cleantech startups over the past five years with potential to shake up more than one industry.

Burow, a partner with Arch Venture Partners at its office in San Francisco’s Mission Bay district, was one of the key people I had to meet before we launched Xconomy San Francisco last month. Her fingerprints are all over some of the most innovative “big idea” startups that we’ve been covering for the past two years all over the country. The group includes Sapphire Energy, the San Diego-based developer of algae biofuels; Cambridge, MA-based Lycera, the developer of oral pills for autoimmune diseases; and San Diego-based Receptos, a company offering new high-res images of hard drug targets. Her latest big idea, featured recently in the New York Times, is new San Francisco startup Siluria Technologies, which is seeking to convert natural gas into the world’s most common chemical commodity used in plastics.

None of these companies, or a number of others that Burow has been involved with since she joined Arch in 2004, has fulfilled their billion-dollar potential just yet. But they all show a willingness to get in early on big ideas, and they all still have big potential.

“I expect great things from Kristina. I expect her to create a lot of billion-dollar companies,” says Robert Nelsen, a managing director with Arch Venture Partners in Seattle. “I see her being one of the people running Arch in the future.”

Carl Weissman, a managing director with OVP Venture Partners in Kirkland, WA, who managed Burow briefly when she was an intern at Accelerator in Seattle, has been watching her progress ever since. “Her career has been on a rocket path,” Weissman says. “She is driven and focused.” Camille Samuels of Versant Ventures adds: “Kristina is often ‘there’ months before other VCs see the opportunity.”

So who is Kristina Burow, and how did she get on this fast track?

Her story begins in Minneapolis, where she grew up. Her father was an architect, and her mother a registered nurse. Kristina and her younger sister attended public schools. Kristina was a high-achiever, an A-student and top-ranked swimmer who attracted scholarship offers from a number of Division-1 colleges, including UC Berkeley.

She fell for Berkeley, for its combination of a great swimming program, and a wide variety of great programs to choose from. As a high schooler, she had toyed with the idea of studying geology, but wasn’t really sure what to major in.

When she first arrived at Berkeley in the early 1990s, it was a bit overwhelming. “I got to Berkeley and realized, my lab partner was from Andover. It was pretty clear that even though I was an A student in high school, I was underprepared,” Burow says. “You learn to catch up.”

Second semester of freshman year, she fell in love. With organic chemistry. Something … Next Page »

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