10 Questions w/ Kanad Das — Investment Director @ Boehringer Ingleheim Ventures
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Kanad Das is an investment director @ Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund where he focuses on early stage therapeutics investing. He has led investments in and sits on the Board of Directors of OncoMyx, Actym, Libra and Sentien. Prior to BIVF, Kanad was at Merck (MSD) where he was Director of Business Development and Licensing in their West Coast Innovation Hub. He led efforts in Immuno-Oncology, Cardiovascular and Metabolic Diseases and Ophthalmology in the preclinical space up to human proof of concept. Kanad started his career at Genentech as a post-doctoral fellow, then going to KAI Pharmaceuticals as a medicinal chemist. There he was an inventor of Parsabiv, approved in 2017 for the treatment of Secondary Hyperparathyroidism. After KAI, Kanad worked at Stanford University’s SPARK program, an academic accelerator designed to take basic science discoveries and bring them to fundable assets.
Kanad earned a B.S. degree in Chemistry from University of California, Berkeley and Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
We sat down with Kanad Das to ask his viewpoints on everything from top founder portfolio traits, seeking mentorship, to advice on preparing for fundraising…
What are the top 3 common traits of founders in your portfolio?
“A never ending desire to learn, adaptability to any situation, and the inner belief that any problem can be solved.”
How does your investment criteria change in a recessionary environment?
“Honestly, not that much. As seed and Series A investors, we look for early disruptive biology in big indications. While we may somewhat rethink investment horizons and valuations, we still firmly believe in getting involved early and providing far more that a check.”
How has your worldview evolved since you first started your VC career?
“At the risk of sounding cheesy, the biggest waves can be started by the smallest pebble. By that I mean seemingly small ideas can have a huge impact. I do this job to work with multiple teams with one goal in mind, novel, approved medicines. If you get there, the rest of it takes care of itself. Watching the earliest stage ideas mature and evolve into drugs is the coolest think about biotech VC.”
Outside of operating experience & higher education, what is one seemingly random thing you look for in a founder’s background?
“Leadership through emotional intelligence and empathy. Being a founder/C-suite team member is hard and the ability to stay humble, data driven, understanding of human emotion leads to high functioning teams. This is a people business at the end of the day and in my experience a strong team that asks the right questions and does the right experiments has the greatest chance at success.”
Outside of investing, what is one seemingly random activity that helps make you a better VC?
“Outside of COVID, it was travel. Seeing the world from a different point of view and doing all we can to avoid the echo chamber. During COVID, it was reading fiction as it forced me to stop thinking about work and reset.”
What has been the most helpful piece of advice you received throughout your career as a venture capitalist?
“Don’t be afraid to make a tough call. If you dispassionately approach a fork in the road and believe there is sufficient data to move forward/make a change in strategy or personnel, the do it. The answer will be the same later on. Make a decision and move forward.”
As an early stage investor, we often pick companies whose directions change. Can you talk about pivoting vs. staying the course?
“Well you gotta be data driven, but the sources of data are variable. The experiments the company is running, the landscape, the overall funding environment and the people in the company. Take that as a whole and think deeply about the central goal, in our case- a therapeutic with an unambiguous, promotable advantage. If there’s a line of sight to that goal, stay the course. If not, discuss and pivot.”
As a founder building something new in the world, you are often in need of knowledge you don’t possess. How would you recommend founders go about seeking mentorship?
“This goes back to the first statement I made, being a founder (particularly a first time founder) means you’re doing something you’ve never done before. That means you’re likely rather uncomfortable. Knowledge can assuage some of that discomfort. Successful founders find creative ways of finding an answer, and a lot of the time it just means picking up the phone. I strongly advise founders to talk to their peers, their board, other partners at the funds who gave them money, their networks and the independent/chair. I can’t overemphasize the concept of group think when it comes to these things. When I was a grad student, my Ph.D. advisor would always say that an afternoon in the library saves a month in the lab. In this case, a few zoom calls can save a lot of time and money. I would suggest that founders start with the Board (it’s our job after all!) and then expand.”
How does your evaluation process change when it comes to backing first-time vs. repeat founders?
“When we look at founders, we differentiate between academic founders and operators. In the case of academics, we look deeply at the science and their previous experiences. Some catch the bug and love the experience, others find some aspects to be inconvenient at best, annoying at worst. It’s important to think about what a repeat founder wants from the experience in order to maintain a strong contacts with the discovering scientist. With operators, experience is a plus and strongly valued.”
How do you advise founders in your portfolio to prepare ahead of time for future fundraises?
“I could write about this for many paragraphs, but like anything, a clear story and ask is the key. I firmly believe that science determines the contours of a deal so I would suggest that they are as open as they can be about the data they have, the risks, and the time/money to a meaningful value inflection point. I would then take the story to a small number of known, trusted and experienced people to ask for feedback. While you likely won’t get consistent messages, the key is to listen to where people feel ‘the story falls apart.’ Take that feedback seriously and try to incorporate it into your deck.”
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