Leesa Soulodre: A Trailblazer in Venture Capital and the Pioneer of Planet43

Image by Leesa Soulodre

Leesa Soulodre possesses a diverse background in deeptech leadership, innovation, entrepreneurship, and risk management.

“My approach has always been to take unconventional paths and question established norms – and to take the road less traveled – so it’s no wonder I ended up in venture capital.

– Leesa Soulodre

Originally from Australia, Leesa Soulodre’s entrepreneurial journey has taken her around the world. Here are some of her career highlights:

  • Advising over 400 companies across 19 sectors in Europe, Asia, and America.
  • She is a sought-after speaker on global stages due to her expertise in digital transformation, masters and robots, reputation risk management, and innovation strategy.
  • Playing a role in 3 tech exits across cybersecurity, financial services, and telecommunications and accelerating more than 280 founders across borders through the R3i Group

In this exclusive interview, we delve into Leesa Soulodre’s role as the founding partner of R3i Capital and its R3i Impact Foundation’s Planet43 Program.

Finding Inspiration and Overcoming Challenges

Q: Leesa, your journey is fascinating. What inspired you to become a transformational business leader?

Leesa Soulodre: You know, it wasn’t a sudden realization. Since childhood, I’ve been passionate about making a positive impact and creating change. I come from a “sunburnt” country with droughts and flooding rains, far horizons, fires, and water scarcity. Transformational leadership involves igniting the spark within your community, propelling them toward solving complex problems to achieve remarkable impact and personal growth.

But to make that happen, it’s about crafting a compelling vision that motivates, inspires, empowers, and nurtures the individuals—together fostering an atmosphere of positivity and collaboration in the workplace driven by an intrinsic “purpose” not only financial returns. Together, it’s how we accelerate impact.

Q: Can you share the hurdles you faced on your path to becoming a transformational leader, especially when servicing in the military? What did you learn from those challenges?

Leesa Soulodre: During my military service, I encountered a significant obstacle that altered the course of my life. Imagine my truck rolling down a mountainside, leading to a year where I lived in a military hospital. My university classified me as “disabled,” forcing me to pause my career aspirations in healthcare and confront my vulnerability head-on.

This period taught me more about resilience and humility than any textbook ever could. It taught me the importance of seeking support in the face of adversity. Instead of being overwhelmed by broader challenges, I learned the power of setting achievable goals and taking incremental steps toward them. These lessons, forged in the crucible of difficulty, have guided my career as a deep tech entrepreneur.

Being a Leader at R3i Capital

Q: How do you cultivate an environment that fosters innovation and creativity within R3i Capital?

Leesa Soulodre: At R3i Capital, we’ve created a culture that encourages open communication, inclusivity, a level playing field, and a fearless approach to risk-taking. We wanted to live and breathe what we invest in – digital transformation and remove the information asymmetries and risks from our workflows.

Our team implemented an AI-driven deal platform with our partners, Hatcher+, that now provides 100% near-real-time transparency to our team, founders, LPs, and co-investment partners. Our founders receive real-time feedback on the quality of their information inputs, with GPT advice on a step-by-step basis as to how to improve it. They have a real-time understanding of our fundability analysis, valuation entry, and exit points, as well as their SDG and impact analysis, and we have one-click reporting to our LPs and co-investors.

We worked with our Japanese partners to emulate the best physical workspaces in a 7-floor global geo-agnostic digital office — a place where team members can freely share ideas, engage in open dialogues, and pursue independent projects while valuing diverse and global perspectives. We have everything from a thousand-person stadium to a pitch tank, investor lounge, extended co-working space, private rooms, and auditoriums. 

Additionally, we provide abundant access to resources, collaboration platforms, and a dedicated team to support our founders and our team. We invest in professional development through formal academic and short certification training programs, workshops, and mentorships, equipping our team with the skills needed for innovation. By promoting cross-functional teamwork and idea exchange, we leverage our diversity and foster contrarian ideas. My goal as a leader is to set the tone for innovation, encouraging our team to think boldly and embrace change. Through continuous feedback channels, we actively seek input, fostering an environment that champions improvement and innovation. We embrace calculated risk-taking, seeing failure as a stepping stone to growth.

Q: How do you balance the interests of stakeholders and shareholders when making business decisions?

Leesa Soulodre: Balancing the interests of stakeholders and shareholders is crucial for us at R3i Capital. First, we conduct a thorough stakeholder analysis, recognizing and understanding the diverse entities involved. This analysis includes investors, portfolio companies, employees, local communities, and regulatory bodies. By delving into their perspectives and interests, we ensure that our decisions are well-informed, encompassing a broader impact and addressing the unique needs of each stakeholder.

Adjacent to the above, transparency is central to our decision-making process. We prioritize open and transparent communication systems, fostering honest dialogue with our stakeholders and shareholders. This commitment ensures they are fully briefed on our decision-making rationale and potential implications. Building trust through transparent communication is crucial, offering stakeholders a comprehensive view of our decisions, even when they may not perfectly align with their interests. This commitment to transparency helps us uphold strong relationships and enables stakeholders to grasp the reasoning behind our business decisions and long-term vision.

Q: How do you build and manage your team at R3i Capital?

Leesa Soulodre: Team building and talent management are at the core of our success at R3i Capital. We aim to attract top talent who resonate with our values and global ambition for impact and returns. As I mentioned before, our focus goes beyond recruitment — we foster a collaborative culture, provide growth opportunities, offer performance management and feedback, recognize excellence, and organize engaging team-building and community service-based activities. This holistic approach aims to cultivate a high-performing and engaged team that aligns seamlessly with our mission and adds value to our ecosystems and their development.

Q: How do you measure the success of your transformation initiatives at R3i Capital?

Leesa Soulodre: Success in our transformation journey at R3i Capital is well-defined. We rely on clear objectives, relevant Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), data analysis, stakeholder feedback, industry benchmarks, and alignment with our strategic goals to measure our achievements. This comprehensive approach ensures that every step we take contributes meaningfully to our overarching mission.

Q: Dealing with resistance to change can be challenging. How do you navigate this challenge within your organization?

Leesa Soulodre: Addressing resistance to change is an art we’ve mastered at R3i Capital. We delve into the underlying reasons, actively listen to individual concerns, and acknowledge their perspectives. Importantly, we repeat their concerns to emphasize that we’ve heard them. Then, we reiterate why the change is necessary, how it will impact us, and why their support is crucial. This transparent and empathetic approach has proven effective in navigating the complexities of organizational change.

Q: Ensuring organizational agility in the face of unexpected challenges is crucial. How do you keep your team agile and adaptable?

Leesa Soulodre: Maintaining agility in the face of challenges is ingrained in our culture at R3i Capital. We prioritize adaptability and encourage continuous learning, communication, and collaboration. We stay resilient through scenario planning, embracing technological innovation, and fostering collaboration with external partners. Remaining open to feedback is critical; it sharpens our ability to navigate uncertainty effectively, ensuring we stay agile in the ever-evolving business landscape.

Q: Can you share a challenging decision you made and how you handled it?

Leesa Soulodre: In venture capital, decisions sometimes deviate from the norm, and tough choices are inevitable. Recently, we faced the challenge of canceling a startup investment due to the deal structure and its governance. Despite the promise the opportunity held, the opacity caused by a non-disclosure agreement posed significant fiduciary constraints. We returned the funds to our LP in their best interests. We are building a company for intergenerational returns, and reputation and our values matter.