Allison Long Pettine can’t help herself — she’s a compulsive mentor.
As founder of investor group Seed San Diego, it makes sense for her to guide entrepreneurs on their way to fame and fortune. After all, she has a stake in the game. The tendency to mentor, however, appears to stretch beyond her portfolio companies. Now, it’s sort of a reflex.
“She’s very giving with her time, especially with young people who show initiative,” said Doug Hecht, her colleague and a partner at Seed San Diego.
Over a cup of coffee at a Qualcomm Inc. café, Long Pettine mentions that she’s currently counseling her nanny, a young woman with a number of skills that go beyond childcare. Later, she practically mentors me (“Trust your intuition, Brittany,” she said. “Like any other skill, it’s one that needs to be honed.”).
This mentoring reflex is the result of Long Pettine’s guiding principle for the past decade: investors should offer support and guidance for entrepreneurs, not just dump cash on the front door.
“(It’s) the best way that we can stay relevant as angels to add value to the companies currently in our portfolio,” Long Pettine said. “When it comes to startup investing, there are investors who are helpful, harmful, and neutral. I always want to be the helpful kind of investor.”
Long Pettine founded Seed San Diego in 2015 after she realized a few local investors were often eyeing the same startups. The organization is a closed group of five angel investors: Long Pettine and Hecht, along with Eric Gasser, Kelly Abbott, and Taner Halicioglu.
“We realized there was a huge inefficiency in the market,” Long Pettine said. “The entrepreneurs were pitching us all individually, and that just wasn’t a good use of their time or ours.”
Besides the efficiency factor, Long Pettine said she felt there was a need for an experienced team of angel investors in San Diego. There isn’t much early-stage funding in town for startups, Long Pettine said, and there are even less “experienced” early stage investors.
“The one common thing that we all have at Seed San Diego is we’ve been early employees in startups or we’ve started our own businesses,” Long Pettine said.
Through Seed San Diego, 35 local companies have been funded, including Edico Genome, Lymber, and Portfolium. The group’s investment range is between $100,000 to $800,000 per deal, Long Pettine said.
More Than Money
Adam Markowitz, the young founder of Portfolium, has been the subject of Long Pettine’s mentorship for many years.
Despite being out of commission for surgery, Markowitz took the time to type out long messages detailing Long Pettine’s support.
“It’s hard to find words to describe what she’s meant to me and my company,” Markowitz texted me from a hospital bed in Los Angeles.
In short, Long Pettine is constantly offering Portfolium her time and resources.
“I think she really does enjoy advising others who she believes in. She founded Seed San Diego to offer entrepreneurs more than just money.”
Long Pettine’s connection to young people may come from the fact that she’s quite young herself. At 34, Long Pettine has already amassed a notable career as an investor.
Other than her role at Seed San Diego, she’s also founder and president of her own investing company, Crescent Ridge Partners. Before that, Long Pettine worked at a venture firm in New York called Viscogliosi Brothers. Long Pettine was appointed to the firm’s incubatorlike arm while still in her twenties, charged with hunting down undervalued startups and other assets to draw into the incubator.
Eventually, she was asked to perform dual roles, working both for the VC firm and for one of its portfolio companies — a medical device firm called Paradigm Spine. Here (with no background in medical devices), she worked her way up from a low-level finance position to director of corporate finance and strategic planning.
But there were some struggles along the way. As a young woman in an office dominated by men, Long Pettine says she was the subject of unwanted attention from a male supervisor. Although “seared into her memory,” she said the experience ultimately led to good things for her professional development. After documenting the inappropriate behavior and alerting the higher-ups, Long Pettine was asked to report to the CEO directly, a man named Marc Viscogliosi. He soon became her mentor.
“It actually gave me the opportunity to be at Marc’s right hand,” Long Pettine said. “I’m a big believer in ‘everything happens for a reason.’ Who knows if I would have had all the opportunities I had without being the CEO’s right hand person.”
Long Pettine said Viscogliosi was vested in her success from the start, and remains a mentor today.
Sink-or Swim Industry
Having an influential mentor likely shaped how Long Pettine approaches entrepreneurs under her wing today. But getting to where she is has not been easy, and that’s shaped her as well. Venture capital is a sink-or-swim industry, she said, and entrepreneurship is much the same.
She expects resiliency from the entrepreneurs she mentors, and a willingness to learn. After all, mentorship is a two-way street.
“If you make a mistake, you have to remove the emotion and forget about how upset you are,” Long Pettine said. “Instead, think critically about what went wrong. Because mistakes are so much more valuable than the successes.”