Photo Credit: Austin Business Journal
This month’s Austin Business Journal’s FACE 2 FACE speaker series brought in the co-founder and CEO of Pantheon Enterprises, Laura Roberts. Roberts formed Pantheon Enterprises to end the myth that green technologies are less effective and more expensive. The company’s mission continues to be to develop and commercialize products that help increase financial growth, while at the same time sustaining human health and safety.
Prior to joining the company, Laura was a self-described “treehugger” and owned many “kill corporate America” t-shirts while working as an elementary school teacher in the ’90s.
Her transition to Pantheon was circumstantial after her father passed away. Both parents owned a small chemical company, and in an effort to help her mother save her business, Roberts stepped in. She frequently stated during the interview that she recognized her own empathetic nature from a young age.
Roberts aims to be an example for women entrepreneurs. She persevered after 300 investors said “no” to funding an elementary school teacher’s company. “Not having industry specific management” was the top reason for venture capitalists not to invest. She was pitching during the “dot-com era,” where there was much more of a focus for investors receiving liquidity in a 3-5 return. Since then, there has been a shift to the “impact” investor that is not so focused on the fast return, but the real change the company is trying to make. She advises young entrepreneurs to only take from shareholders who are purpose-aligned and mentioned that when you know you are holding onto something big, these “no’s” are only minor annoyances.
She referenced the story of Erin Brockovich and the toxic chemical, hexavalent chromium (chemical used on airplane to prevent corrosion). Her company was just beginning to take shape at the tail end of these unfolding events. Pantheon developed an alternate chemical to replace hexavalent chromium, but remarkably it took ten years for widespread adoption.
Roberts enrolled in the MIT Sloan School of Management to receive her MBA. She said she learned that as a founder, she will be her own biggest barrier to her company at some point in time. In school, she learned how to identify some of those ceilings and learn how to step aside to take your company to the next level. When asked if she would ever step aside as leader of Pantheon, Roberts responded that the mission and purpose of her company is far greater than her own.
Pantheon’s main purpose is to rid the world of toxic chemicals and change the industry on a global scale. The number one most important rule: Do no harm. She noted that sadly, toxicology is not a part of the degree programs for chemical designers and engineers and the focus needs to shift to designing chemistry for “end of life.”