Irénée Martre


"Never judge a claim by how it appears, and always focus on the reasoning that led to it."

Irénée Martre

My Backstory

Where were you born?

I grew up in Essen, the industrial heart of Germany, where people are known for being hard workers, straight shooters, down to earth, and easy to grab a beer with. My parents taught me the value of dreaming big and working hard. My mother founded a successful biomedical startup in the 1990s, growing it for 15 years before selling to a large firm. She taught me about perseverance, breaking through barriers, and doing simple things better than overconfident incumbents. My father started as a car mechanic before founding his own dealership in the 1970s. He saw success come and go with industry changes, but his amazing relationship skills allowed him to relate to anyone.

Starting at age 8, my parents had me help out on a small farm, which helped me appreciate physical labor. In my teens, I worked admin roles at my mom's startup, learning efficiency and attention to detail. At 16, I took a monotonous job besides high school at a bank’s account statement printing department that taught me patience - which is valuable as an early-stage investor. I studied energy management and finance, doing my undergrad in Germany before a Master's at Purdue and Tsinghua.

After university, I started in corporate finance and M&A, focusing on renewable energy deals. I then joined a large utility amid industry transformation during and after Fukushima. My role changed to business development in batteries, grid storage, and distributed energy. I also supported early tech investments at the intersection of energy and power retail tech. Later, I helped a global engineering firm leverage its vast hardware expertise to partner with early-stage hard tech founders - right before embarking on my own journey as a founder (unsuccessfully).

Where were you born, where were you raised?

I was born in France (near Bordeaux), and raised at the countryside. I grew up in a house perched on top of a hill, surrounded by forest and farmland.

What is the area you are from famous for?

Bordeaux is famous for its wine, and the people from there are perceived as the Parisians of the southwest. Feel free to interpret this however you want :)

What did/do your parents do?

My mother is an artist who primarily works in painting, ceramics, and photography. My father is involved in wood valorisation projects, he sells industrial equipment.

Any siblings when you grew up?

I have four siblings: one older brother, two older sisters, and one younger brother.

What are the two things (outside of school) that you spent the most time on when you were a kid or teenager?

As a kid, I spent countless hours in the wilderness: exploring the woods with my brother, building tree houses, playing with our dog and - over twenty - cats. As a teenager I dabbled in tons of hobbies, from puzzles to origami to learning how to play gypsy guitar. However, the one that remains deeply personal to me is magic. In my free time, one of my favorite things will always be tinkering with and constructing illusions.

What are you missing from your younger years?

Being surrounded by peers who shared my sense of wonder and who were always up to explore things. As most people grow older, they lose their childlike curiosity and create for themselves a world that is boring and loses its beauty. My prescription: watch "Walking Distance", my favorite Twilight Zone episode and maybe piece of TV ever.

Did you have a side job during school?

I performed a few magic shows in front of a few hundreds people and was asked to teach magic, but I didn’t try to make a living out of it. When you are passionate about something, sometimes it’s nice not to turn it into work.

What did you study, and where?

I studied business at ESSEC, a French Grande Ecole business school. It's a place where beers are cheap.

Summarize your work after university and before Foundamental.

Funnily enough, while I was in business school I almost did a 180° shift to become a researcher in cognitive science. I wanted to work on philosophy of mind. However I realized that I preferred researching many topics at the same time rather than only one, so I did the next best thing: venture capital! Just before joining Foundamental, I was investing for Earlybird at pre-seed in deep tech companies all over Europe, mostly in semiconductors (led two rounds in a quantum sensing and a photonics startup). During this time, I learned how to analyze the readiness level and market opportunity of high-end technologies.

What is your story of getting into Foundamental?

I was pinged by Gabriele, who covers the US with me at Foundamental. I fell in love with the fund’s thesis and people (Adam might be one of the funniest people on the planet), so I was super thrilled when I was offered to join the gang and immediately accepted.

I Am On The Lookout For

What makes a great VC investor?

I can't say for sure and I don't think it's a one size fits all, but it seems like at its core there is a combination of radical openness to new and sometimes outlandish ideas, layered with the ability to explore them through first principles. It strikes the balance between optimizing for novelty and practicality, but requires to truly be an independent thinker.

What are 3 things you look for in a founder?

In the end, we are looking for people who use their will as a force to mold the outside world to their image. It sounds almost mystical but when you think about it, will can be framed as a force of structuration of space and time. Keeping this in mind I would say (and what they allow to control for):

Vision --> ambition, communication, meaning;

Resourcefulness --> practicality, action as a perceptive organ;

Reflexivity --> depth of thought, openness to feedback.

What are the things in a business that excite you?

During a paradigm shift, a domain always goes through a phase called the “accumulation of anomalies”. It’s when the current theoretical framework cannot explain experimental discrepancies. And very few recognize the importance of these anomalies. Sometimes, it feels that a founder has found one of them through observation, and is using it to his advantage as direct/indirect leverage.

What are mistakes that AWESOME founders don’t make, but many other founders make and you see repeatedly?

Showing vulnerability, it's one of the keys to developing resilience.

What are values that are ultra important to you in other people in business life. Why?

It usually comes down to accountability, and being true to one’s word. In the end it’s always about trust, so being transparent and reliable matters a lot.

What intrigues you? As in, you see or hear something like this, you stop whatever you currently do.

In general, things that feel mysterious to me. It's how I got into many of my hobbies. But the starting point is usually a fact that seems to contradict my core understanding of the world, or open up a completely new avenue of thought. I try never to judge claims based on how they appear, and always focus on the reasoning that led to them. It led me to strange places, from exploring advanced paradigms in computing or energy to the study of reincarnation.

Think of VC as an artisan craft, where every craftsmen has their unique method and finesse. How would you describe your unique 'craft' to VC?

I’m a very top-down thinker so I always need to frame things to understand them, and get to the 'why' beyond the 'how'. This requires a lot of research, but I have always been a voracious reader so I truly enjoy the process of ingesting large amounts of data to reach a conclusion about something. As a whole, this makes me quite deliberate in the frameworks I use to analyze opportunities.

Any favorite readings?

Ficciones, by Jorge Luis Borges. It's a collection of short stories that explores metaphysical themes such as the limits of human knowledge or labyrinthine structures. One of the standouts is about a man who decides to recreate Don Quixote word-for-word, through his own intellectual journey, as if Cervantes' original did not exist.

What is your favorite quote or mantra that can be applied in a business context?

'Time is nature's way to keep everything from happening all at once.'

Cool. Now give a second quote or mantra you like in a business context.

'Glory is a form of incomprehension, and perhaps the worst.'

What is your secret ninja-skill?

I'm actually a good vulgarizer ! It's easy for me to explain things in very accessible terms.

In what ways do you feel inferior to some people you look up to?

I'm not the best at improvising. I like taking the time to prepare for anything I come across, so I really admire people who have the ability to act on the spot and follow the flow: the instinct of action.

If you were a super-hero, what would be your super-hero name?

Numinous (my favorite word, and fitting for a god-like figure).

What is one person in the world you would like to have dinner with?

Carl Jung. He was one of the deepest thinkers of the twentieth century. In venture capital, we invest in people who are embarking on their own hero journey. He's the one who laid out most clearly the path towards achieving that, and resisting massification. A good starting point would be 'The Undiscovered Self'.

What can you nerd out over for hours with the right discussion partner?

The creative process, I'm fascinated by the act of shaping things out of thin air, whether in art or business. Oh and conspiracy theories (especially UFOs !)

When someone who knows you in your business life very well were to describe you, what adjectives would they use for you?

Comprehensive, and caring.

Is there something you would never mind spending a lot of money on ?

Great whisky.

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