Steve Tokarz
IMPACT INVESTING

Steve Tokarz

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General and Managing Partner at Cantilever Investors Fund

Getting Feedback – Steve Tokarz

“If you don’t have that direct feedback, that punching upwards, the naysayers, the curmudgeons. Seek those people out but make sure they’re productive. They don’t attack you. They attack the problem. They help you see things you can’t see. Those are talented people. In their own right, they tend to be very successful people who want to give back and are willing to work with great early stage entrepreneurs.”

ABOUT

Steve Tokarz is an experienced C-level entrepreneur, fundraiser and business developer and has been active in early-stage company and product development for the past 30 years. In his most recent corporate role at Masco Corporation, a Fortune 200 company with revenues of $7+ billion, Steve served as Sr. VP of Product Development and Engineering for several of its domestic and international operating companies.

He then transitioned to the start-up world where he developed his own companies, investing & raising $20+ million for start-ups and early-stage companies while establishing relationships with investors from the USA and Asia.

He is founder of Cantilever Investors; a blend of the best of Venture Capital and Private Equity to invest in and provide support to early-stage companies. Cantilever acts as both investor and, for the select few, operators in the company. Cantilever also has close relationships with the Tech Transfer offices of the University of Michigan, Michigan State, Western Michigan & Michigan Technological Universities, previously serving as Entrepreneurs-in-Residence. Cantilever successfully spun-out five university companies, raising over $5M in nondilutive capital.

Through his connections with Cantilever, Steve has adopted roles as investor, CEO and board member in several of Cantilever portfolio medical/life science companies including:

– StabiLux Biosciences a spin-out from Michigan Technological University. It’s platform technology enables biomedical researchers to detect what was previously undetectable by utilizing high brightness dyes in bio-medical imaging.

– Peptinovo Biopharma, a patented drug delivery platform, Peptide-Amphiphile Lipid Micelle (PALM), that selectively targets higher doses of proven chemotherapies into tumor cells while keeping the chemo away from healthy tissues. PALM prevents serious side effects like peripheral neuropathy from occurring, improving patient outcomes by eliminating dose limiting side effects while improving safety–something no other chemotherapeutic has been able to accomplish.

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THE FULL INTERVIEW

Steve Tokarz

The full #OPNAskAnAngel talk

Jeffery: Welcome to the supporters fund ask an investor I’m your host Jeffery potvin let’s please welcome Steve tokarz today general manager General and managing partner at cantilever investors fund LP as our investor for today welcome Steve it’s a real pleasure and honor having you join us today.

Steve: Hey same JP good to be here

Jeffery: Super excited today Steve I know I probably see this about every guest that I get the opportunity to talk with but today you kind of bring this whole different element to the investing side and maybe that’s just because on our show we get to speak to a lot of different people all over the world but you kind of bring this really cool element of that biosciences and I know this is a real tough space and it’s a long game play so I’m dying to dive in and learn a bit more about your background and talk about all the great things that you’ve accomplished throughout your time and of course the time you’ve been spending in the last few years working and operating in the early stage space but maybe to kick things off the way we like to kind of start things turn it over to you if you could share a little bit about your background all the way back to your University of Michigan Michigan days um your MBA all the way up all the great CEO jobs and the businesses you’ve built and then a little bit about what you’re doing today and of course one thing about you that nobody would know

Steve: Hahaha well interestingly I’m not a bioscience life science kind of guy I actually my degree is in engineering physics is the bioscience call guys call me I’m the hardware guy you know the guy used to pound metal but um you know I grew up in Chicago I’m a Midwest person and then you know I came to Michigan to go to school here and the reason I ended up getting an engineering Physics degree is not because I’m smart but because ultimately I really saw in the 1980s what was starting to happen I mean when I started at the college I was carrying Punch Cards to the Mainframe Michigan had the biggest Mainframe next to University of Washington we know what Gates did with that Mainframe but I was literally carrying Punch Cards to the Mainframe at a time I finished my senior design project we were doing CAD cam where literally taking the early CAD programs you had to use a calculator to get things to work on the screen and making functional prototypes and that’s when I realized you know this whole Business Development this whole product development regime it was in a whole Revolution the convergence of events that were happening then were exciting and you know by getting that degree it gave me a tremendous amount of flexibility to do a lot of different things so when I started at Lincoln Electric you know we reinvented the product line there the president of the company then said he wanted to you know change every every product the company had sold over the last you know 50 years within the next five years I mean think about it businesses were were taking five to ten years to launch products launch new business units today if Starbucks doesn’t have a new coffee cup and a new product line they’re out of business and we got to enjoy the cusp of how that grew but fast forward and I ended up working for Masco Corporation after that and Masco was tracking you know 14 billion dollars in sales and I got to move into the project management side but that’s what really moved me toward Business Development Innovation development working with you know Tech Scout up and then moving into the finance side of life to kind of round things up and Masco at one point we created an internally funded Venture Capital group called Innovation Grant where literally we’d have you know our operating companies petition that and we created businesses inside the business so a few folks hear this but I was what we would call an intrapreneur the person inside the large corporation fighting Technologies building business units around it and we would literally recreate our operations when we launched these new core products you know for the divisions I work with and then across the platform we had a plumbing products platform we had a building products platform masco’s Delta faucets beard paints at one point it had a mill guard there was a mascul Canada there’s a Masco Europe it’s a big company but they go by the brands not necessarily the corporate name but um as all folks it was great to be there until it was time to leave and that’s when I started my first companies and you know when I was at Moscow we were finding great great business opportunities that Masco for rightful purposes had no business supporting like we found LED lighting in 2003 when Creed was just starting to come out we saw the Advent the 3D printing and what could happen there in rapid prototyping and then we saw Wireless and batteryless technology that could go into homes for different types of functionality it was the precursor of Nest which obviously everyone knows today as ring and other things in your
home but um you know Nest ultimately sold the to Google for you know hundreds of millions of dollars and so these are the things we were seeing and at that same time we all could all remember you know Tech Stars was starting to evolve you know 500 startups things of that nature so when when I left and created our first companies we looked a lot like text Tech Stars and 500 startups but it was 2008 not a great time to form out new companies so we get we saw four million of soft committed Capital vanish overnight even though we were tracking with the University of Dayton Research Institute and the great things they do there and the University of Michigan we had a hunker down focus on one and ultimately you know we we had us you know spin out the others and stop supporting them because we didn’t have the financial resources at that time so we we um like all entrepreneurs will see is you know I love how Mike Tyson said it you know everyone has a plan they get punched in the nose you will get punched in and always repeatedly so you know we got our punch then and we focused on one company which was energy efficient lighting we launched with the first uh solid-state electronic lighting which was inductive lighting that’s Tesla’s genius it’s a great story if you ever read about it just a phenomenal design and what he did it’s also known as inductive fluorescent some of the Crispus clearest light you can produce and then we moved to LED and ultimately we grew that company to about 10 million in sales we had 50 employees we had operations that we moved to