The Many Shades Of VC/Repeat Entrepreneur Relationships

Life Science Leader

July 1, 2019

By Terry Mcguire Th'82

VC firms have several tenets that define their approach to making investments. Some are deeply rooted in a particular area of expertise, and some firms are even looking to computation and machine learning to model what makes a good investment. The approach we’ve employed for 20+ years at Polaris looks a bit old-fashioned in comparison, as the thesis perhaps most core to our identity and deal flow is the importance of sustained relationships with repeat entrepreneurs.

We have intentionally held back from creating a specific program or path to define these relationships, as they emerge and evolve in diverse ways. But we are always mindful of the connections we develop at every stage of company building and the dividends those can pay years or deals later. In fact, earlier this year, we had three companies start trading publicly in one week for a combined market valuation of $7 billion, all of which were founded by repeat entrepreneurs we work with.

Repeat entrepreneur is a term you might hear often in the context of life sciences company creation and investment, so we wanted to take a moment to unpack it and offer lessons for those on either side of the table. Here are our takeaways on how these relationships came to life and the many forms a VC-entrepreneur partnership can take over the course of decades. Before we jump in, it’s also worth noting that all of the individuals mentioned in this article have experiences that go far beyond those detailed here (and certainly can’t be put in a box), but for discussion purposes we’ve assigned them a bit of a label that reflects the nuances of repeat entrepreneurship.

THE PROLIFIC ACADEMIC INVENTOR

ROBERT LANGER

We have created more than 20 companies with Bob, from AIR to Lyndra. He is deeply involved from the perspective of steering the science and technology and on occasion takes a board seat at the company. Bob, however, remains very much rooted in the academic world and is incredibly skilled at mentorship and development.He is thoughtful about leveraging breakthroughs in engineering to solve important medical problems and challenges others in his lab to think the same way. This, in turn, also has cultivated a new generation of academics who have done multiple companies with us.

ACTIVE SCIENTIFIC FOUNDER AND OPERATOR

TILLMAN GERNGROSS

Dartmouth professor and entrepreneur Tillman Gerngross straddles an interesting line between the operational and academic worlds. Still actively teaching at Dartmouth, Tillman has been CEO of antibody discovery shop Adimab for over 10 years and has cofounded or chaired several other companies, such as the newly public developer of drugs to treat neurodegeneration, Alector. Tillman’s entrepreneurial activities stem from his expertise and immersion in the world of yeast display and antibodies, starting with his first company, GlycoFi. He is widely known as a challenger of the status quo, and this creative thinking is a special complement to his deep scientific expertise.

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