People and Leaders

Changing the World One Startup at the Time, An Investor Perspective

Exclusive Interview with Josko Bobanovic, Partner at Sofinnova Partners. Sofinnova Partners invests in start-ups, early-stage companies, corporate spin-offs and occasionally restarts.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself.

Who are you?

I am a former basketball player, who then became an ocean scientist and worked on understanding and predicting climate change impact on our daily lives, explored entrepreneurial world and found it very interesting; became an investor and am now looking to help solve global problems by applying latest technologies to develop sustainable industrial applications.

What is your current occupation?

I am a venture capital investor in early stage companies focusing on industrial biotechnology. We look to find environmentally impactful solutions using biology and apply them in agriculture, food, specialty chemicals and materials.

Why did you choose this profession?

Venture capital is an interesting mix of finance, strategy, technology and marketing, allowing us to help entrepreneurs realize their dreams by supporting them form their early days. It keeps you in constant contact with latest technologies while remaining singularly focused on their business potential, and I find that very exciting. Getting involved early allows you to think through strategy, product-market fit and go-to-market planning.

Can you tell us more about the the profession of investor in the industrial biotechnology sector?

What is it?

Our job is to identify best innovations with strong business potential led by exceptional teams that are ready to change the world.

What are you looking for?

First and foremost, we look for exceptional entrepreneurial people with drive to succeed. Ideally, they have access to a differentiated, well protected, technology with strong barriers to entry that is serving an unmet market need.

Do you only invest in startups? If yes, how do you define a startup?

We only invest in startups and very occasionally in restarts (startups that did not get it right the first time, but have a new idea how to get going again). A startup is a company that is in early phases of its development, has proven certain parts of its technology, has an idea where to go business-wise and is building its management team and commercial strategy.

How do you recognise an opportunity?

The entrepreneur able to create excitement is the best indication of an opportunity. If they can get us excited, most likely they will be able to excite other people. Once that is confirmed, we look for a unique element in their technology that will provide an edge in a market with strong demand. In talking to our network, we prove or disapprove our original thesis and then move forward with an investment.

What are the most important tools you use in your day-to-day work?

Experience is likely the most important tool. Having seen many entrepreneurs, one develops an ability to identify great people, but also recognize those that will work well with us. Not every investor is good for every startup, no matter how great the opportunity might be.

How do you approach the companies you want to invest in?

We are very present at leading events, establish communication with CEOs and then try to slowly understand their plans, personality fit and what they want to do in the mid to long term.

What should a startup do to become attractive to investors?

Startup needs to think through their story and develop an attractive narrative that communicates their strategy in simple terms. We all get carried away by the uniqueness of the technology thinking that it sells itself, but that is mistake. There is a fine line though between credible well marketed story and hype and that is the challenge for a startup to craft.

Are there any cultural and regional differences or preferences?

I have had the privilege of working in both North America and Europe. There are a lot of cultural and regional differences across Europe, significantly less in NA. One needs to be conscious of that when dealing with entrepreneurs as it can create unnecessary problems due to lack of cultural understanding.

From the point of view of the startup, what is the difference between a bank loan and getting an investor on board?

First of all, no (sane) bank will give a startup a loan, but let’s suppose for the moment that it does. The key difference is the alignment of interests. The investor needs the company to succeed so that it can be successful (make a return). The bank needs the company to have enough capital/assets to repay the loan, without necessarily carrying what happened to the company in the end. The investor works closely with the company to help them develop their strategy, build the board, recruit key people, etc. A bank asks for financial statements on a quarterly basis.

What is the difference between a private investor and an institutional investor?

A private, or an individual investor, is a physical person with enough money to put at risk ready to invest it into a startup. Save for some exceptions, these people do not have sector expertise and rarely have ability to continue re-investing once the company grows. An institutional investor brings certain type of discipline to the company through demands on governance (building a board), reporting, organization, etc.; while at the same time, if all goes well, being able to provide additional capital as needed and open doors to other professional investors with time.

What have been your best investments?

This like asking a parent which child they like best. We have a portfolio of great investments that are featured on the Sofinnova Partners Website

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