di , 26/10/2021

Tanja Dowe is the CEO of Debiopharm Innovation Fund, the strategic investment arm of the Swiss pharmaceutical company Debiopharm. The Fund invests in digital health, smart data, and innovative tech start-ups.

Debiopharm is a proud partner of Frontiers Health 2021 conference that will take place in Milan, Italy & virtually on November 11-12th. As a part of the conference’s program, Debiopharm will curate the session ‘You’ve Got Your Series A Funding – Now What?’ where the speakers will reveal numerous insights into scaling a digital health company in the post-series A phase. The discussion will include both startup and investor perspectives on the topic.

In the anticipation of the session, we asked Tanja about the role of investors in a startup scaling process.

Nowadays, there is a lot of talk about ‘smart money’ from investors, meaning that startups are looking for something beyond just investment, like quality network and other support. What’s your opinion on the role of investors in the startup development path?

It’s true that when startups look for investors, they usually have a certain profile in mind. But we have to acknowledge that money is the first most important factor. Without it, no matter how wonderful advice an investor gives, there is no startup development happening.
If we talk about further support from the investor’s side, I’d point out helping the startup to understand the domain and the market. Many digital health companies come from an intersection of technology and healthcare, and very often at the Series A stage, while the engineering side of the company is well developed, the medical part is still less-shaped and there is no fully comprehensive understanding of market needs. Understanding of market needs also includes a clear vision on who the startup is ultimately serving: pharma companies or health care providers, etc. and investors can add a lot of value here.
Then, investors can contribute a lot with the connections to potential customers, providing access to the type of advisors that intimately know the fields that the startup needs expertise in and guiding the startup in asking the right questions.

And obviously, another important point are good relationships with the next round investors. If a startup is raising Series A, it is beneficial to have an investor that has deep enough pockets to participate in Series B and bring other investors along.

Can you tell us more about how Debiopharm Innovation Fund supports the portfolio companies? What sets you apart from other investors?

My answer to this question consists of two parts. First, our specialty is providing startups with an access to pharma experts from Debiopharm. Depending on whether a startup is selling, for example, to pre-clinical or clinical operations, or to the market access team, we facilitate connection to panels of experts from Debiopharm to help the startup’s team to understand the needs of their clients. The idea is to give them an opportunity to talk with our experts in a relaxed environment and test their ideas before they go and talk to their actual customers. In this way, we help the teams to understand the market dynamics and the pains of the clients they will be interacting with.

To sum up, a warm relationship with Debiopharm’s internal stakeholders and the willingness to help figure out the target market is definitely something we can offer.

Then, the second part is about what sets us apart from some other funds that offer the same kind of support as well. I’d say, we are very entrepreneurial.

Just like every startup is different, investors also have very different teams in terms of their approach and working culture. One of the greatest compliments that I’ve heard from one of our startup CEOs was that he would define us as almost more entrepreneurs than investors.

What it means is that we don’t just sit on the board controlling the company’s cashflows. We join the CEO in figuring out how to make that company successful. We are actively helping, if the startup management wants this kind of a hands-on approach. Having been serial entrepreneurs ourselves, we are bringing this attitude into our investor roles as well.

Debiopharm Innovation Fund is continuously looking for ambitious entrepreneurs in digital 
health within evidence-based and regulatory environment (consumer products and wellness are 
outside of the Fund’s investment focus). Join Frontiers Health conference 
on November 11-12th in Milano or online and get a chance to network 
with Tanja and her colleagues!