Interview with Neil Goldsmith, Director Strategy, BaseLaunch
“If you want to play on the big stage, then Basel is where you should be.” Neil Goldsmith, Director of Strategy, answers questions about BaseLaunch's functioning and its impact on the biotech ecosystem.
Neil Goldsmith, Director Strategy, BaseLaunch
You have been an entrepreneur all your life. How has this experience shaped you and what do you believe BaseLaunch can bring to the table to support early ventures?
After spending 30 years building and operating various Life Science companies I have seen first-hand how difficult it is to get started, how many things can go wrong, and how much need there is for meaningful early-stage support. And I think if done right, groups such as BaseLaunch can provide tremendous value to early ventures. In fact, I have personal experience of this myself – back in my post-university days when I first benefitted from a very early venture accelerator program that was run by the University of Stirling in Scotland. BaseLaunch has a very unique offer, with the critical mass that the Basel Area has in life sciences, together with the detailed input that BaseLaunch gets from its partners and its super pragmatic approach. For me, that was attractive since I thought it made it more likely we could truly add value. The Basel region itself is, for me, the best possible location to put biotech in Europe. I have seen that for myself, for example when we relocated my previous company – Evolva – from Copenhagen to Basel. It has a tremendous talent pool, good access to financing, and very good quality of life. So, I have no hesitation in recommending Basel to anyone!
What is the mission and differentiation of BaseLaunch?
We do not try to fit ourselves into a specific bucket. Our aim is to help founders create and build their ventures to the point where they can raise a Series-A. We are completely pragmatic on what that may involve – every venture is different. One major thing we provide is funding. We do not have a set program or require that everyone co-locates together. Everything is customized. And we do whatever is needed to help our ventures succeed; always relying on our network of connections, advisers, and partners. We recognize that each venture has its own specific needs and that it is their company, and not ours. We also have a unique structure that we think gives us more capabilities than most, in order to provide very specific and real-world commercial input to our portfolio. Because we are operationally local to Basel and are part of Basel Area Business & Innovation, we can tap into the local talent and infrastructure of the Basel Area, which is the strongest life sciences/biotech cluster in Europe. The insights you can gain from working alongside or having a coffee with, someone who has been active in that sector in a truly global player such as Roche, J&J, or Novartis cannot be overstated. Moreover, the money we provide to our ventures comes from our pharma and financial partners. This gives us access to the scientific and commercial know-how of our partners. If you want to play on the big stage, then Basel is where you should be.
Apart from funding, what do you offer to portfolio companies?
We support all aspects of development from scientific backing to strategic corporate advice. We help de-risk the science by defining key milestones and sharpening the overall positioning of a venture. We can connect the founders to commercial and drug development expertise. Additionally, we can assist with building the team – which whilst never easy is certainly facilitated by the tremendous biopharma talent in the Basel Area. Where required, we provide physical infrastructure- access to fully equipped laboratory and office space – but it is not a condition for us. And last but not least, we leverage the contacts to our partners, investors, and venture funds, as well as to the global biopharma community.
What has been the impact of BaseLaunch in the biotech ecosystem so far?
We have supported thirteen ventures to date. We believe our track record speaks for itself. Since we started in early 2018, our ventures have, to date, raised over USD $ 200 million in Series A or equivalent financing. Plus, one has been sold.
Why do pharmas, biotechs, and VCs partner with BaseLaunch?
Four main reasons:
– Access to a very high-quality deal flow from across Europe – they can see what is emerging and if interested start to talk to groups
– That 100% of their money goes into the ventures and partners can convert when they eventually invest in the series A (the running costs of BaseLaunch are met by Basel Area Business & Innovation and the public sector)
– Delayed gratification – our funding structure gives our partners the ability to wait on the final investment decision until it is clear if, over time, the venture is going in a direction that fits them
– A desire to support the early biotech ecosystem – it is a clear benefit for the larger companies to be in a milieu where they are surrounded by smaller, innovative, entrepreneurial ventures.
In addition, our partners have the ability to bring us projects that are too early for them and can benefit from us working on getting them developed. Finally, we have found that each of us, including our partners, can benefit from the general insights of the team. No one is the fount of all wisdom.
What selection criteria do you adopt when choosing portfolio companies?
We look predominantly for transformative science backed by good initial data. Ideally, there should be some initial in-vivo data. And we, of course, want a strong commitment from the (scientific) founder(s). We do not have a focus on any specific therapeutic area – across our partners we are interested in just about everything, and many of the projects have applications in several areas. We are interested in all therapeutics including CNS, immunology, inflammation, metabolic, cardiovascular, antivirals, etc. – and all modalities – small molecules, antibodies, enzymes, peptides, gene therapy, cell therapy, etc. We do not support medical devices, e-health, or diagnostics projects.
How does someone apply?
It’s quite simple! Fill in the expression of interest on our website, and we will be in touch.
From your perspective, how is the biotech ecosystem evolving?
There has of course been a significant influx of capital in the last few years. Especially in the US but also Europe and the European biotech scene has evolved massively, which is great for everyone. Partly as a result, the bar is going up on professionalizing the companies meaning that academic-only biotechs find it more difficult to raise funding. This is one reason why BaseLaunch focuses in such cases on building out the teams by bringing in people with drug development expertise (and those who can think deeply and creatively about indication selection), usually into a board or advisory role. And of course, the receptiveness of public investors for biotech means that it is increasingly possible to build standalone companies. Lastly, I would say all of this has driven something of a concentration effect, with an even greater focus on the big clusters like Boston and San Francisco in the US, or the UK Golden Triangle, and Switzerland in Europe. The “churn” and accessibility of talent in these locations moves them ahead of those that have not achieved critical mass.
About Neil Goldsmith
Neil Goldsmith founded or was instrumental in the early development of fourteen ventures in five countries during the last 30 years. Among them are companies like the synthetic biology company Evolva which is also listed on the Swiss Stock Exchange, Personal Chemistry (now Biotage), or Topo Target. He received a first-class BA Honours degree in Zoology from Balliol College, University of Oxford. Currently, he is building a set of new companies, alongside working with BaseLaunch.