I was privileged to spend 10+ days traveling to Copenhagen (Denmark), Lund (Sweden), and Trondheim (Norway). During my travels, I met with a number of emerging biotech companies, helped teach a class on biotech entrepreneurism, and participated in various internal meetings and discussions with my Ventac Partners colleagues.
Sitting in my office in New York, I am still digesting all that I heard and saw on my trip. But three things stand out:
First, this trip reinforced my hypothesis that innovation can be found nearly anywhere. It does not have to be restricted to the known biotech clusters. For example, the Medicon Valley, which covers Eastern Denmark and parts of neighboring Sweden, is home to over 400 biotech companies, 10 universities, and 30+ hospitals. This is further supported by a small, but growing number of multinational companies, such as AstraZeneca and Novo Nordisk. To the West, Norway is shifting away from its reliance on oil revenues and is investing heavily into the life sciences through government-backed loans and grants.
Second, like many other non-traditional regions, Scandinavian companies can struggle to attract early-stage investments. This is not a unique problem, as many investors prefer to invest locally…and for good reason. This could be a good opportunity for savvy GPs (and their limiteds) to develop a counterintuitive strategy of focusing on regions of the world where other investors are not investing.
Having said this, I think making sweeping generalizations about clusters is downright foolish. Ultimately, a good biotech startup needs three things: a great asset, financing, and solid management. Setting exchange rate risk issues aside, financing is obviously fungible. Management can be found and dropped in on a semi-full time basis, irrespective of geography (that’s essentially part of what we do at Ventac Partners).
But no amount of financing or management talent will drive a company forward if the underlying asset or technology does not meet an unmet medical need. The unfortunate truth is that many companies start off with an asset that may be high quality, but that lacks commercial potential for whatever reason (i.e., inferior to other candidates in pipeline).
In a situation like this, few full-time management teams will have the courage to pull the plug on their own company (and hence, their own livelihood)…and who can blame them?
This where I think leveraging quality interim management teams, supported by rock-solid consultants, can really help bring these innovations out from these clusters and through development until they are license-able. Admittedly, many investors do not feel comfortable with this approach (perhaps understandable). But this is what we do as Ventac, and we think it’s a viable model for managing new life science companies until they are mature enough for full-time executive teams.
Overall, it was great trip. We met a number of current and future biotech entrepreneurs. And we had ample opportunities to sample local cuisines and beverages (who knew that wild reindeer casserole was so delicious?). Savvy investors should hop on a plane and check out this dynamic, highly skilled, and friendly part of our world.