Ariana Thacker likes to say that science was her first love and startups were her second. Now, she gets to combine the two into a thesis for her new venture firm, Conscience VC.
Thacker's passion for science started back when she was taking college-level chemistry courses in middle school. Her interest in startups came years later when she joined the founding team of a startup, Mirus Energy, with a professor at UCLA after feeling "trapped in a box" working at a large energy company.
She quickly discovered that the smaller entities were more innovative, and likely to move the needle, and dove in. "I realized I loved venture, I loved founders and I want to do that full time, all the time," Thacker told TechCrunch. "I saw that as the highest leverage way to create impact and transitioned into working in a venture role."
She then took a job with deep tech-focused Rhapsody Venture Partners and learned the trade, but soon felt she had developed a thesis worth pursuing on its own. She launched Conscience in 2020 to invest in companies that sit at the intersection of consumer and deep tech. The firm is announcing the close of its debut $10 million fund after an oversubscribed fundraise that raked in double the firm's initial target. The firm will cut checks up to $250,000 and will largely operate at the pre-seed stage, but will do anything pre-Series A, Thacker said.
Thacker raised backing from LPs including Screendoor Partners, Foundation Capital and Carta, among other institutions, in addition to unicorn founders. Despite being oversubscribed, the fundraising journey didn't go according to plan for the first-time solo GP.
"I liquidated my retirement fund, I moved into my parents two-bedroom apartment and for about a year and a half was just building and pitching an LP network from scratch," she said. "It was a lot of fun but a really high-risk endeavor. It just took a lot longer than I thought. It was pitching hundreds of LPs for just a lot of rejection and long hours."
Now, with capital in the bank, Conscience is looking for companies that benefit consumers but have technical defensibility. This thesis encompasses a broad base of industries ranging from digital health and treatments to physical products in sectors like gaming. The firm has invested in 17 companies so far.
One of which is Last Gameboard, a Denver, Colorado-based startup that is making an electronic board game that can simulate a variety of different games and be played with any kind of pieces. For co-founder and CEO Shail Mehta, who launched the company due to her love of board games — not her technical expertise — Thacker couldn't be more helpful.
"It's like a gold mine," Mehta said. "When I met her, I had a hardware investor and [game developer] Riot Games. Then I had Ariana who straddled the deep tech and the consumer side [of investing]. I had never had that perspective before."
Thacker is deploying her debut fund in a volatile time for the venture market. To help her growing portfolio, she created a fundraising app that includes 1,000 other potential investors from her network organized by sector and stage so founders can move quickly, something that is very important to Thacker. "We are obsessed with having high ROI on time," she added.