As Immunocore TCR Discovery Biology lead Luke Williams PhD and Interdisciplinary Bioscience Postdoctoral Researcher Ross Hendron PhD join us as Scientists in Residence, we explain why today’s investors need scientists.
Venture capital likes to reinvent itself. Since the middle of the twentieth century, early-stage investors have proved remarkably adept at identifying, responding to, and, in some cases, even causing significant shifts in the economic and technological environment.
In the 1970s, the VC industry made bets on computer hardware and software companies; in the 1980s it was the turn of mobility and networking outfits; the 1990s and 2000s brought with them a sea of ‘Internet’ businesses that connected and consolidated. The industry bet the house on companies building and maintaining the software layer that now runs like a filament through the modern world: the payment infrastructure providers, the social networks, and the SaaS enterprises that, little by little, cleared the path for easy access to goods, services and information.
But today’s problems are different. Solving them requires a rejection of the increasingly uniform, risk-averse and short-termist outlook that has dominated some sections of the industry in the wake of the software boom. Investors could do worse than to look to the past for inspiration. First in the crosshair of VC in the 1980s, biotechnology is one area that holds promising solutions to some of the world’s toughest challenges. Now, amidst an influx of new techniques and expertise, today’s biotechnology and life sciences companies may prove adept at solving an awkward paradox that confronts us every day: technology is simply nowhere near important enough in the areas that matter and far too important in the areas that, in the end, make little difference.
As the nature of venture investments changed, so too did the firms making them. Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIRs) have been a familiar sight in VC offices for almost twenty years, drawing on invaluable business acumen and entrepreneurial know-how to help early-stage firms scale. Since then, though, venture firms have opened their doors to an expanding cast of experts — experienced heads in technical domains ranging from artificial intelligence to enterprise infrastructure.
But now, as venture capitalists make one call to action after another, they will quickly find that they need a different type of team to take on an entirely new set of challenges. As the nature of investments evolves, so too must the expertise that guides them. Companies creating novel immunotherapies or gene-therapy delivery systems need support to grow, but they also need guidance from people who understand the intimate complexities of their platforms.
At Oxford Science Enterprises we invest early. We often become creators of companies as well as investors in them. This approach presents a whole new set of challenges — especially in the life sciences. To solve the next generation of early scientific puzzles — the likes of complex molecular systems, genetics, and innovative therapeutic or diagnostic platforms — the answers are often rooted in research that requires translation into companies that can apply it to the real world.
The hardest problems require the brightest minds and smartest solutions. That’s why we invested in Vaccitech on its mission to develop a T-cell mediated countermeasure against infectious diseases, First Light Fusion as it pushes the boundaries of inertial confinement fusion, and Oxford Quantum Circuits as it builds the UK’s first quantum computer.
According to Diversity VC, four in ten venture capitalists have a background in either finance, investment, banking or consultancy. Those with technology experience make up less than four per cent of the total, while science does not feature at all in any meaningful sense in the industry today. To build a new generation of cutting-edge companies — especially in biotechnology and life sciences — it’s a status quo that is simply unsustainable. Biotechnology companies, for example, need scientific expertise for creating innovative new therapeutics, as well as support geared around creating new business models or unlocking market opportunities.
That’s why, today, we welcome two new additions to the Oxford Science Enterprises team. Immunocore TCR Discovery Biology lead Luke Williams PhD and Interdisciplinary Bioscience Postdoctoral Researcher Ross Hendron PhD have joined us as Scientists in Residence (SIRs). As SIRs, they will provide our team with an additional layer of technical depth, offering unique expertise that will enable us to continue to build inspiring businesses.
Luke and Ross will work alongside Oxford Science Enterprises Principals Uciane Scarlett PhD and Lachlan Mackinnon to support — and create — biotechnology companies that will play on a global stage. We will work with them both to bring the industry-specific and technical knowledge needed to help convert scientific expertise into ground-breaking companies.
To solve the hardest challenges you need companies with original ideas; to build companies with original ideas, you need experts that understand them. We hope that our SIRs will enable us to do just that. Together, with our entrepreneurs and experienced managers, they will help to turn ideas into products, products into teams, and teams into science-based businesses capable of tackling the planet’s toughest problems.