Investing in People, Not Products

It’s a cliche that “VCs invest in people first and foremost.” VCs will argue that the an experienced management team knows what it takes to commercialize a technology. But does it make sense to invest in entrepreneurs without a technology or product? Apparently, VCs think so.

Clovis Oncology raised $145 million earlier this year without a single product to commercialize. Clovis’ management team consists of former executives from Pharmion, which was acquired by Celgene in 2008 for $2.9 billion. Clovis plans to acquire or license and develop oncology products. Investors include Domain Associates, New Enterprise Associates (NEA), Versant Ventures, Aberdare Ventures, Abingworth, Frazier Healthcare Ventures, and ProQuest Investments. ProjeX Therapeutics, which is backed by Sofinova, Ascalon, and Kineta are also pursuing similar acquisition/licensing models.

Given the risks and costs of developing drugs, investing in companies pursuing acquisition/licensing makes sense. Why invest in five separate companies with five seperate products and five management teams, when you can get a portfolio of products all managed by one, experienced management team. Investors still get a say in what products/technologies to license/acquire as long as they have board representation. It’s simply much more efficient and cost-effective.

I think we’ll start to see more and more companies like Clovis get funded in the future. It will be interesting to see how successful these companies become. Unfortunately, if this trend continues, the individual entrepreneur will have an even harder time raising capital.

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