Elise Bernal, Bernal Family Office
Elise Bernal is an investment manager at the Bernal Family Office. For the last five years, she has been focusing on impact initiatives within health care and environmental sustainability on behalf of her family, as well as in collaboration with foundations and other impact-minded family offices. Elise Bernal has also held executive-level positions at several sustainable food companies and holds an MBA in Health Care Management from Wharton.
Hi Elise, what are you working on today?
I’m currently focusing on increasing the Bernal allocation to impact investments, especially in sustainable/plant-based foods, and to investments that address global systemic shifts to more sustainable food systems in general. In addition to food tech innovation in the US and Europe, Asia is a huge area of focus. On the fund side, I’ve been looking at adding early-stage funds in impact, such as those focused on decarbonization, as well as impact ETFs.
How did you get to where you are now?
My first life was in biotech and stem cell innovation. I worked in Los Angeles, Paris and Germany, and then returned to the US for business school. It was there that I started learning more about sustainable food and began supporting initiatives personally while also working in alternative investments, helping family offices allocate to private equity and hedge funds. Over the last few years, I’ve had incredible opportunities to combine my passion for sustainability and food tech with my work in asset allocation as initiatives become more institutionally investable. The Beyond Meat IPO last year was such an exciting example of this, and this space has only just begun to heat up.
What attracted you to this business?
My interest in health care was driven by the fast pace of innovation in the field that could help improve outcomes and democratize its accessibility, such as with novel cancer treatments and the growth of telemedicine. On the investment and impact end, I was drawn to the opportunity to work with incredibly smart people that also care about making a difference for the planet and improving the lives of those around us. Plus, I get to sample a lot of really delicious plant-based food.
What has been the most pivotal moment of your career so far?
One of the most important moments in my career was also a very personal one. Early on in my work in health care, when I was 22, a new stem cell therapy had been developed for cancer and I scrubbed into one of the first surgeries ever performed for this to collect the cells from my own father, who had developed advanced renal carcinoma, which we were told was untreatable. His waking up at all from this risky surgery was a huge relief, but then his making a full recovery thanks to that treatment is the absolute highlight of my career. They are now using a similar stem cell technology to successfully treat Covid19 and other conditions in Asia, which I hope will become more widely available soon.
What aspect of our industry excites you the most?
The fact that private capital can be allocated to initiatives that may not only generate significant returns but can also address existential threats like climate change and food security is incredibly exciting to me. It’s also amazing to see investors use their positions as stakeholders to influence policy and social justice issues through divestment, for example, or activist investing.
What would you change?
I would love to see more diversity, especially women and people of color, in asset allocation and leadership roles within family offices and institutional investors. I’d also like to see more support for diverse entrepreneurs by way of mentorship, access to networks of influence, and, of course, funding.
What do you invest in personally?
I invested personally most recently in the B round of a protein alternative company called Gathered Foods, and for fun in a rural sustainable farming operation in the Philippines. In a world where supply chains will continue to experience disruptions and access to nutritious food is increasingly challenging in parts of the world, there are some groups working on ways to make organic farming sexy to the next generation in these rural communities.
Where do you celebrate?
Ski resorts have some of my favorite celebration spots because you mix nature, sports and dancing, but with lockdown that might not happen next season. Fingers crossed, though. This is incredibly cheesy but I find the Folie Douce-type slope side parties pretty fun with buddies around. Otherwise, a much more civilized venue that has been in a friend’s family for years is where I celebrated my birthday recently – Ashby St. Ledgers. It is a gorgeous manor just an hour outside of London, where the Gunpowder Plot was hatched. We played beer pong in the living room, so that weekend was perhaps not as civilized as it has been throughout history.
What is at the top of your bucket list right now?
The Galapagos. I’m a wildlife nerd and would love to see the Blue Footed Booby one day! Who knows how long these incredible places and creatures will be around. I’ve also been wanting to see Japan during Sakura, the cherry blossom festival. It seems absolutely magical.
What does success mean to you?
If I’ve done my small part in making the world a better place and perhaps helped the next generations in some way along their path to do the same, that’s success to me.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and don’t be afraid to fail. Vulnerability is what makes us human, and sharing that is what can create some of the best human connections. I think this is true of snowboarding too- if you don’t fall every now and again, maybe you’re not pushing yourself hard enough. Also- adopt a dog. It’s a total game-changer.
Elise Bernal has been an AYU member since 2019. AYU is the digital private members club for alternative investment professionals. Join AYU today and connect with her by applying for membership here.
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