New chapter in my career

Apologies for the radio silence over the past 18 months. My work life took an interesting turn and I’ve been swamped ever since setting up both a new venture capital firm and a new TechBio startup. I’m back blogging now, and from a different perspective – no longer just a retained adviser, interim CBO or board member for startups, but also a startup CEO and venture investor.

Some of you readers will recall that after 30 years collaborating with over 100 life science and healthcare organizations, I had semi-retired to a work life of writing, teaching and ad hoc advisory work on bioscience business models and R&D partnerships. I was advising startups, began writing my second book (“The Bioscience Startup Journey”) and was enjoying teaching my Masters students at Cambridge and UCL. But a career change for my son Alasdair Thong precipitated a string of events that led me back to full time work soon after my 60th birthday. And yes, I’m re-energized and enjoying it!

Alasdair left his Director of Investments role at Bayer’s internal ventures group in Berlin to come back to London. In addition to his venture partner role at Mubadala Capital Ventures (who invest post-Series A), he also yearned to concurrently start his own micro-fund, to invest in Seed stage life science deep tech startups. What began as an innocent question – “Hey dad, how do I set up the legal and administrative infrastructure for a venture fund?” – rapidly led to the first close in April 2021 of Selvedge Venture’s first fund. Selvedge has since invested in a dozen startups with USD 14 million under management and has just begun to raise its second USD 25 million fund.

Selvedge’s investment approach starts with a focus on age-related diseases, specifically metabolic syndrome-related conditions, neurodegenerative diseases and oncology. Our investment strategy is founded on first having a strong understanding of the application arenas, including medical unmet needs and commercialization paths. With this foundation, we initially invest at pre-Seed/Seed stage across the board in our target space – therapeutics, diagnostics, enabling platform technologies such as new therapeutic modalities and delivery technologies, AI/data-centric, digital health, etc. We seek to identify specific venture opportunities in the target space individual companies come to us. In fact, we were engaged in dialogue with and informally coaching the CEOs of nine of our current portfolio companies before our first fund close. And (as discussed below) we also found startups when we can’t find suitable existing ones for the opportunities we target.

One of the opportunities that really intrigued Alasdair and I was precision therapeutics in the metabolic syndrome-related conditions. These chronic diseases affect half the world’s adult population, accounting for almost half of global deaths. All approved therapeutics as of 2021 were “one size fits all” and there had hitherto been little disruptive innovation in targeted therapeutics, unlike say cancer and rare diseases. Owing to the syndrome’s complex multi-factorial nature – including substantial heterogeneity in observed disease progression – we surmised the answer could only come from applying machine learning and other big data analytics to the right datasets. Yet we couldn’t identify a startup with both the right datasets and the right mix of computational biology and traditional pharma skills. At around the same time, Alasdair and I were also getting to know successful Tech entrepreneur and then-aspiring TechBio venture builder Serge Faguet of Curiosity. The three of us decided that we would co-found what is now MultiOmic Health. Initially my role was to chair the company, recruit the leadership team and coach the CxOs, but very quickly it became apparent that my unique combination of expertise in life science business models, biopharma partnerships and improving therapeutic R&D processes made me uniquely qualified to be its founding CEO.

So here I am working full-time again and loving it! My main role as MultiOmic Health’s CEO takes up around three quarters of my time as my “day job”. For Selvedge, besides helping evaluate some new prospects, I oversee directly a couple of our portfolio companies while being available for ad hoc advice to other portfolio company CEOs in my specialist expertise areas. I also manage the relationships with our outsourced fund administrator, lawyers, auditor and regulatory consultancy. In addition, I am a non-executive director and advisor to Curiosity, helping Serge and his COO Corrina Kane develop the bio-data venture studio they are ramping up.

Unfortunately this leaves me precious little time to do much else professionally, unless it aligns directly with my existing commitments. I have had to scale back my teaching commitments significantly to a few guest lectures online. As for my new book in progress, firstly a huge thank you to all 102 people who signed up to be my beta readers – your comments have been hugely helpful. I have decided not to complete the book in the way I had originally planned. Partly this relates to pressures on my time. But more importantly, I feel that the book’s quality will be hugely improved by my revised plan. Initially the book was going to draw mostly from my indirect advisory experiences with startups. Instead I plan to complete the book at some future point based on my personal direct experiences over the next few years as CEO of MultiOmic Health and as an investor with direct oversight of other Selvedge or Curiosity portfolio companies. It should be obvious this will make for a much better book than what I had originally envisaged. My apologies to all my beta readers for waiting longer; hopefully what I’ve sent you already will be helpful in your own endeavours.

Although the book writing is now on hold, I will start writing blog posts again as interesting industry news or personal observations arise. Watch this space!

Cover Image by Ri Butov from Pixabay from Pixabay