Investing for impact

Donor’s giving fueled by desire to advance the standard of care for glaucoma

MJ Elmore

MARY JANE (MJ) Elmore, MBA, established an impressive reputation as one of the first women partners in the Bay Area venture capital community. For the past 37 years, she has invested in start-up companies with a heart for innovation and entrepreneurship.  

Her career accolades were highlighted in the book Alpha Girls, written by award-winning journalist Julian Guthrie, to showcase four women who paved the way for other women in the venture capital field. 

In addition to MJ’s successful investment career and her many interests, she is passionate about making a difference through philanthropy, having funded efforts aimed at teen mental health, women in STEM fields, visual arts, longevity, and homelessness. Most recently, MJ expanded her generous giving to support the advancement of the cutting-edge glaucoma research conducted by Jeffrey Goldberg, MD, PhD, Blumenkranz Smead professor and chair of ophthalmology, and his collaborators at the Mary M. and Sash A. Spencer Center for Vision Research at the Byers Eye Institute at Stanford.

“Being located in Silicon Valley has placed me at the heart of innovation,” MJ said. “I have been blessed with the opportunity to fund exceptional entrepreneurs and companies. Whether I am investing or giving a philanthropic gift, I seek to find people who are focused on making the biggest impact in their local community and world, and Stanford Ophthalmology is on that track with glaucoma research and development.”

MJ’s path to Stanford from the corn fields of Indiana included earning a BS in Mathematics from Purdue University. She then received an MBA from Stanford University, and later joined the venture capital firm Institutional Venture Partners, located in Menlo Park, California.

Currently, MJ is a private angel investor working with the investment group The Broadway Angels, comprised of an impressive group of all-women business executives and investors. Together, they have backed many companies that are founded and led by women.

“With both investing and giving, my desire is to see the world become a better place for the next generation,” MJ said. “I saw that potential when it came to supporting Dr. Goldberg’s research at Stanford Ophthalmology. I resonated with his desire to merge science and innovation together, as they seek to discover cures for eye diseases in transformative ways.”

MJ and her family have had their own personal vision struggles. Her paternal grandmother and father both had glaucoma, and she watched their vision deteriorate as their glaucoma progressed. Her brother and sister both also have glaucoma. 

“I was driven to make a difference, because so many of my family members have been impacted by this eye disease,” MJ said. “Supporting this work also appealed to me because I saw it as a way to help both my loved ones and the many others with the disease.”

While there is no current cure for glaucoma, there are a variety of treatments that focus entirely on lowering intraocular pressure. MJ’s father was given eye drops and underwent trabeculectomy surgery so that the fluid inside the eye could drain more easily and his pressure could be lowered. 

“Most of the treatments offered for glaucoma then are still the standard of care today, which begs the need for more research and clinical trials to find alternative, effective therapies,” MJ said. “I was encouraged when I came to Stanford as a patient myself to find out there was so much research and reason to be hopeful of potential breakthroughs.”

Currently, no glaucoma treatments exist that directly target the degeneration that causes vision loss (which cannot be reversed once damage is done). Goldberg decided to address these core deficits. He has built the leading regenerative and neuroprotective research program at Stanford and his leadership was recently recognized by his election into the prestigious National Academy of Medicine. He and a team of researchers are focused on neuroprotection and regeneration of retinal ganglion cells and the optic nerve, including novel stem cell approaches designed not only to protect one’s vision, but even restore it if it has been lost. Even rarer in the field, they have expanded beyond laboratory research and are conducting a variety of clinical trials, including the only FDA-approved phase 2 clinical trial to slow down vision loss. 

While Goldberg’s lab receives National Institutes of Health funding, additional funding from MJ and other generous donors allows them to accelerate scientific discovery into patient therapies.

“When I spoke with Dr. Goldberg, I was impressed by his entrepreneurial approach,” MJ said, “and that he is tackling glaucoma from multiple perspectives - early detection and measuring disease, and vision preservation and restoration for glaucoma patients. I knew that this was something I wanted to support, because I saw possibility for real change in the next 10 years.”

“These kinds of opportunities don’t present themselves everywhere,” MJ said. “I cannot pass up a chance to make a lasting improvement for generations to come. I am proud to team up with Stanford on this. In my business as a venture capitalist, you back your winners and that is how this feels to me.”


Kathryn Sill is the former web and communications specialist for the Byers Eye Institute at Stanford.