Sifted 15 Dec 2022
Meet the most active investors in the European techbio scene
European VCs are investing more and more in the techbio space — startups at the intersection of tech and biology.
Biotech funding has rapidly grown since 2020. Last year, European biotech startups raised $8.5bn, and techbio is starting to get a bigger share of that funding.
The European techbio space has already seen some big success stories. In August this year, Gilead paid $405m to acquire British startup MiroBio, which developed a technology platform to design treatments for immune conditions. And last year, the UK’s AI drug discovery pioneer Exscientia achieved a $510m IPO — one of the largest ever seen in the biotech industry.
However, investing in biotech can be quite challenging for tech VCs — as much as it can be for traditional biotech investors to invest in tech.
“There is a lack of specialist [techbio] investors in Europe; it’s a bit of a Wild West,” says Uzma Choudry, investor at Octopus Ventures. “We need more investors who truly understand how to best support these businesses.”
Founders of techbio startups need to look for investors who understand the sector and can support them with the specific challenges they face. To support them, Sifted has put together a list of European investors active in the techbio space, with the collaboration of investors Choudry and Ala Alenazi.
Uzma Choudry, investor at Octopus Ventures
While undertaking a PhD in biophysics, Choudry worked with the University of Manchester’s Innovation Factory to spin out breakthrough science. She joined UK-based VC firm Octopus Ventures in 2018, where she has built the firm’s investment strategy, network and portfolio in the techbio space.
Choudry’s portfolio includes Cambridge-based genomics startup Biofidelity and Ori Biotech, a London-based company that automates cell and therapy manufacturing — which raised over $100m in January in one of the biggest biotech rounds out of Europe this year.
She also organises an annual closed pitch event called Bio Disruptors Showcase where selected European ventures pitch to techbio investors from around the world. The seven companies of the 2021 cohort collectively raised over $450m in the eight months following the event.
Ala Alenazi, investment principal at Ascension
Alenazi worked as regional manager for the pan-European healthtech accelerator EIT Health after completing a PhD in molecular genetics at Cambridge University. She joined the VC world in 2021 as an associate at British VC firm Ascension, and was promoted to principal after leading eight investments in just over a year. Alenazi looks after sourcing, due diligence and portfolio management for Ascension’s Life Fund, focusing on UK techbio startups from seed to Series A.
Alenazi has invested in companies such as Qureight, a startup in Cambridge using AI to analyse data from complex diseases, and Tailor Bio, also in Cambridge, which is developing an AI platform to develop precision treatments for all types of cancer.
Rabab Nasrallah, healthcare investor at Earlybird Venture Capital
After a PhD in stem cell biology and a postdoctoral fellowship at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, UK, Nasrallah left the world of academia to support startups as part of the Australian startup accelerator INCUBATE. She then joined Berlin-based VC firm Earlybird Venture Capital, where she focuses on healthcare investments.
Earlybird’s techbio portfolio includes Gourmey, a Parisian startup making “cultivated” foie gras, and Noscendo, a German company using software to identify pathogens in a patient’s blood sample within 24 hours (instead of several days or weeks).
Leila Zegna, founding general partner at Kindred Capital
Zegna is one of Europe’s most well known entrepreneurs-turned-VCs. After cofounding gene sequencing startup Genapsys and spending multiple years investing as an angel, she cofounded London-based VC firm Kindred Capital in 2015.
Kindred has invested in techbio companies such as LabGenius, a London-based company using AI to accelerate drug discovery, and Dutch-Swiss startup Cradle Bio, which uses machine learning to reverse engineer proteins.
Jason Mellad, CEO and cofounder of Start Codon
Following a PhD in medicine at the University of Cambridge, Mellad worked in diagnostics at biotech companies Horizon Discovery and Cambridge Epigenetix — where he led a technology transition as well as two successful fundraises at Series B and C. In 2018, Mellad cofounded Start Codon, a Cambridge-based VC and venture builder firm focusing on life sciences and healthcare startups.
Start Codon’s portfolio includes Coding Bio, an Oxford-based startup using AI to design new cell therapies for cancer, and Semarion, a company in Cambridge developing cell assays inspired in microchip hardware technology.
Nathan Benaich, founder and general partner at Air Street Capital
With a PhD in computational and experimental cancer research at the University of Cambridge, Benaich went on to become a VC. In 2019, he founded Air Street Capital, a fund dedicated to AI-first technology and life science companies where he is a solo GP. He is also a venture partner at Berlin-based VC Point Nine.
Air Street Capital is now investing out of its second fund — the first fund has invested in notable techbio companies such as Allcyte (acquired by Exscientia), Gourmey and LabGenius, as well as Hedera, a Swiss startup developing rapid cancer diagnostics.