NAME: Christy Cardenas, Managing Partner
COMPANY: Grit Ventures
HEADQUARTERS: Palo Alto, CA
TECHNOLOGY VERTICALS FOCUS: Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Energy
PREFERRED ROUNDS: Pre-Seed to Seed, occasionally Series A
CHECK SIZE: $250,000 - $5 million
NOTABLE INVESTMENTS: ViaBot, RIOS, Cognitive Space, Tortuga AgTech
Christy Cardenas is Managing Partner at Grit Ventures, where she focuses on clean energy, logistics, AI, and data platforms. Prior to joining Grit, she held positions at Mercury Fund and Ecliptic Capital. Before transitioning into venture, she invested in large-scale private equity with firms First Reserve (now BlackRock) and Arroyo Energy, focusing on the ongoing clean energy revolution across energy and power infrastructure sectors. She is a proud Texas Hill Country native, and in her own words, she’s, “in love with Austin!”
Q: What is the origin story of Grit Ventures and what was your path to joining as a partner?
Grit Ventures was founded in 2019 to capitalize on the robotic revolution. I joined Grit in late 2020, to expand this focus into clean energy. Grit is an impact investor, across sustainability, diversity, and economic development. These are the causes to which I’ve decided to dedicate my life.
Q: Grit’s focus areas of space, robotics, AI, and energy have a lot of overlap with defense and national security applications. In fact, Grit has several “dual-use” companies in its portfolio. What have you learned about the defense and government markets from those investments?
The American government is the largest economic force on the planet, and I believe in America. Many of the American government’s needs are consistent with those we need to improve society. Look at your smartphone – almost every fundamental innovation within it is rooted in government funding. Dual-use companies also come with unique diversification benefits, which is particularly important in a state of economic flux. That said, working with the government can be tricky. There is a fine line when it comes to balancing the commercial and government sides of the business. This approach requires the right expertise, the right connections, and patience.
Q: Grit Ventures primarily invests in deep tech sourced from academic and research labs. How does your sourcing strategy feed into Grit’s broader mission focused on impact investing, sustainability, and diversity?
Many of the technologies that will make the world a better place – clean energy is a notable example – require deeper innovation, outside of “normal” venture capital activity. The universities are hubs behind these deep technologies, providing the experts, talent, and industry required for driving radical innovation. There is a deep queue of impact-oriented technology waiting to be commercialized, after decades of myopic focus on enterprise software. The universities are also inherently more diverse than the entrepreneurial and venture capital communities. All in all, these institutions hold the key to impact.
Q: What is Grit Labs and how does it fit into that mission of impact investing?
Grit Labs is our platform to bridge technology to industry, capital, and the market more broadly. We believe the “valley of death” between research and development (R&D) and venture funding is the perfect point for influence – to ensure these companies are viable and equip them with diverse talent from the beginning. This is where Grit Labs plays.
Q: Tell us more about Grit’s Diversity Program. What have been the biggest challenges to achieving the program’s goals? What about the state of diversity in the deep tech startup ecosystem encourages you?
Grit’s diversity program focuses on the whole enterprise – including board, executive, and staff roles. Diversity is a network challenge. Diverse networks are largely disconnected from the legacy entrepreneurial and venture networks that allow for the sharing of knowledge, connections, and ultimately, opportunity. We require a bridge. I am encouraged by the passion I see from people in positions of power. There are freedom fighters all over, looking to effect real change. These people must be mobilized.
Q: Another part of Grit’s investment strategy is built into its name - you invest in founders with “grit”. What does “grit” mean and how does it overlap with your diversity targets?
Grit is the passion and perseverance for long term goals. This has everything to do with our diversity targets. A short term, naïve perspective will not work. This complex problem must be approached realistically and considered in the landscape of our lifetimes. This is true of sustainability and impact more broadly as well.
Q: Studies have shown that increasing the number of female partners at a fund correlates to an increase in fund performance. Why do you think that is the case?
Yessir! In private equity, I was the only woman on the investment team. My perspective was by definition unique – as if I was preaching gospel! I could see opportunities others could not. This same situation is playing out in venture.
Q: Are there specific female investors that you follow / admire?
I have always admired Cathie Wood, who runs ARK Invest. She has a unique and brave perspective.
Q: Where do you see opportunities to bring more women into the deep tech VC space?
Deep tech is the opportunity of our lifetime – which makes it mission critical for diverse talent. Women must first choose to focus here, where impact lives. Then, women require sponsorship in order to succeed, just like any other individual. Those in positions of power must see the standout women – who are all around – and bridge them into opportunity. Upward and onward!