New Kid on the BioTech block
New Kid on the BioTech Block: Ascension Life Fund
In March 2021 I joined the Ascension Life Fund team as their first hire. New fund, new team, new sector, but a thoroughly well planned strategy. It was an easy jump for me — Ascension has the best reputation among investors and founders alike and the Life Fund team were approaching a sector I have loved* for 10 years — in a methodical, evidence-based, thesis-driven way. Easy.
The Ascension Life Fund is very new — we officially launched in January 2021 with our first investment in Pangaea Data and we’ve hit the ground running since. The fund was the brainchild of Chris, Özgür and David, who were seeing a lot of incredible deal-flow in the Life Science and HealthTech space (right time!) and wanted to build a structure around their expertise to make the most of it. They spoke to Jean about it, and as it aligned with Ascension’s strong impact focus — they all welcomed the Ascension Life Fund to the fold.
Credit where it’s due! while we are “new”, we’ve had a fantastic head start: we get to build off the strong legacy and infrastructure of Ascension. Now boasting 6+ funds, Ascension is a machine seeing over 3000+ deals a year! Working in a multidisciplinary fund has been incredible for knowledge, trend and insights sharing — it has made us all better investors.
OG VC: Jean is the legend behind Ascension, which has grown to manage 6+ funds under its umbrella (all the while keeping founders + impact at its core). Jean is an exited entrepreneur, ecosystem builder and brings a wealth of investment experience to the team.
Fund Management: Chris smashed it at Angels Den before moving to Ascension to run a FinTech and Syndicate fund. On top of his strong fund management experience he also has an extensive investor network (he knows a lot of impressive angels).
Operational: David scaled his company and got it into most of the NHS before he exited to Omnicell in the US — now a prolific angel investor and startup mentor, he’s incredible at breaking down forecasts.
Industry: Özgür has 20+ years in big pharma in the US before moving into M&A @ IQVIA. He’s extremely well connected in pharma and has deep insights into the industry — he’s now a biotech CEO and is an excellent balance of bigger picture/critical detail.
Scientific: This is where I fit into the team: the scientist — I have a Molecular Genetics PhD from Cambridge and have been working in research/hospital labs since 2010. I also ran an early-stage HealthTech accelerator for the EU based in London. I use all that domain experience to break down a lot of the science/IP and produce deep-dive due diligence reports for each investment we consider. I also do a lot of sourcing — hit me up!
Advisors: We are very lucky to have a network of 25+ advisors that cover a lot of ground and include everything from M&A specialists and Management Consultants to Directors of Research Institutes and Medical Doctors. This expanding network is our sanity check. But more on that below.
Very early on we’ve decided to be rigorous and technical in our approach to vetting companies. We take them through a full due diligence process run by the team.
To make sure that we achieve this we put in a process that involves a 3-thumbs-up strategy:
Once a company has been cleared by our initial/partner calls (first thumbs-up), we get on a conference call with one of our advisors who has the most relevant sector expertise. We then take the company through a list of curated questions and once the specialist advisor is satisfied (second thumbs-up), we move into a full DD process. We will cover what I do in another post, but I’ll use this post to beg founders to include all their primary data in their data rooms! And for David, I want to ask them to make sure that when it comes to markets, it’s a bottom-up model.
The final thumbs up is the IC — the partners usually review the DD documents and in some cases ask for one more meeting with the founder. We like to make sure we give founders every chance to address our issues as we go along. The IC then scores each company on a series of metrics before voting. We collect these scores for review at the end of the year, at follow-on investment opportunities and at exit events (were we right? What are the trends?).
Summary numbers: At Ascension we see 3000+ companies/year > 300 are reviewed for the Life Fund > we take c.50 through to a partner call > 20 to Due Diligence > invest in 8–10.
Our Central Dogma
We invest in companies that are raising their post-Seed to Series A rounds. We are thesis-driven and like to invest in a range of companies leveraging AI/ML to expedite/improve the status quo in Life Science and HealthTech.
- Healthcare Data + Platforms
- Genomics & Diagnostics
- Applied AI in Life Science and Healthcare
- MedTech (+Medical Devices)
- Pharma Value Chains
At present, we don’t invest in therapeutics/single asset drug development/discovery nor do we invest in mental health/wellness.
In terms of criteria — show us some traction! We like IP-rich companies but also consider other HealthTech companies that don’t rely on IP but have incredible impact and traction. We like to see scientifically validated products/concepts, partnerships or letters of intent and a clear distribution/scaling strategy. Some points we look at in our DD are highlighted below:
I caught the bug some time ago and got into angel investing — which is why I thought it’s probably worth mentioning that we also run an ALF Syndicate fund, where investors can co-invest with us on a deal-by-deal basis (and you get access to my full DD!). Drop me a note to find out more.
We are also keen to speak to advisors who want to join our network — if you have deep domain knowledge and are keen to get involved with us, my DMs are open!
And of course — if you know of someone who’s killing it and we should know about them, let me know! Most of our inbounds are referrals/actively sourced (which have been incredible) but we also like proactive founders too — tell us more about you here.
Stay tuned — the Ascension Life Fund has MAJOR announcements coming up in the next couple of weeks 👀