Meet Vasudev Bailey, Senior Partner at ARTIS Ventures

Steven Loeb · October 21, 2022 · Short URL:

ARTIS invests in what it calls the TechBio space, where technology meets healthcare

Venture capital used to be a cottage industry, with very few investing in tomorrow's products and services. Oh, how times have changed! While there are more startups than ever, there's also more money chasing them. In this series, we look at the new (or relatively new) VCs in the early stages: seed and Series A.

But just who are these funds and venture capitalists that run them? What kinds of investments do they like making, and how do they see themselves in the VC landscape?

We're highlighting key members of the community to find out.

Vasudev Bailey, PhD, is a Senior Partner at ARTIS Ventures.

Bailey has led investments for the firm in FreenomeLemonaid HealthTessera, and Climax Foods, amongst others, and sits on the board of Eko, Excision BioTherapeutics, Outpace, Unnatural Products, Inc., Seed Health, Johns Hopkins Biomedical EngineeringDelix Therapeutics and The Trevor Project. He is the founder of the ARTIS Ventures Healthcare Pioneers, which brings together some of the world’s brightest minds to accelerate and incubate life-changing ideas in healthcare.
Bailey received his PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine where he was recognized as both a Siebel and a Medtronic Scholar and member of Sigma Xi. He graduated magna cum laude and phi beta kappa from UC Irvine with a degree in biomedical engineering, and was both a Regents Scholar, Hodson Foundation fellow, Whitaker Foundation Fellow, and Henri Samueli Endowed Scholar.

VatorNews: Tell me what ARTIS Ventures is all about. 

Vasudev Bailey: We are investing at the intersection of technology and medicine and that's a category that we trademarked and define as TechBio. We deliberately don't call it biotech and there's a reason for that, and I’ll get into that, but what we think is the next 20, 30, 40, 50, 100 years will be innovation at this intersection of tech and medicine. We felt that in order to succeed at this intersection, you had to have dedicated focus and a team towards this strategy and it couldn't be just a tech fund dabbling in it or a life sciences fund saying, “Hey, we understand deep learning or product build.” We thought that you needed an interdisciplinary team to come together to tackle this strategy and that's what we've built. So, at ARTIS Ventures, we tackle this emerging huge opportunity set called TechBio.

VN: Okay, so what is TechBio? How does it differentiate from biotech?

VB: First of all, about half our portfolio companies already are generating revenue and have some sort of product market fit, or at least are starting to show product market fit, which is very different than venture investors investing in traditional biotech. As a biotech manager, you created a portfolio where 100% of your companies are pre-revenue, but what we're saying is, “no, that's not the case.” Yeah, 50% are, but the rest of them are companies that are accelerating some technology applications to make medicine more efficient. I can give you examples of those, but the other part, the ones that do look like biotech, we only invest in companies that don't have binary outcomes. So, in a traditional biotech, you invest, the drug works, it makes it through the FDA and you make a lot of money, or it fails and you lose money in that company, it goes under. For us, we’re investing in technology towards the discovery or development of a particular drug so even if the drug didn't make it, or the asset didn't make it through the FDA, there's still value on the table because of the technology or how to make the drug, or how to discover the drug. And that's the key difference: we think that platforms have inherent value that we can help exploit. 

VN: That's really interesting. It sort of sounds like what you're seeing is, other firms that are investing in biotech aren't focusing enough on the technology part of it.

VB: That's right. So, we're very attracted to people who work in computational biology or de novo protein design. As I give you examples of each of these things, it'll come to life a bit more, because it is important to see the differentiators. So, let's talk about one in the East Bay, and it fits the tech angle a little bit more, that's a company called Eko, one of the fastest growing digital cardiology companies in the world. It addresses a simple need: when you've gone to see a doctor or a nurse anywhere in the country, you've probably been greeted by someone with a stethoscope, right? It hasn’t changed for the last 200 years. Someone manually listens to your heart and lungs to tell you if something is wrong with you. What Connor and Jason at Eko did is they took the simple humble stethoscope and digitized it; you can now send your heart and lung sounds and EKG signals to the cloud and just like what Shazam does with music, we do with heart and lung sounds. We're able to diagnose clinical grade cardiopulmonary conditions, whether it's murmurs and AFib that we can then characterize, all the way to chronic asthma to COPD to pneumonia, we can do that all through the simple humble stethoscope. So, if you take a look at how TechBio is changing it, we have the largest database of human sounds and EKG data in the world and we're actually applying that to understand what is yours versus what is an abnormal heart sound and we're making clinical grade algorithms to go as software as a medical device through the FDA to be able to get those approvals to make a whole category exist. So that's what TechBio is on the software side: this company does have recurring revenue. It started off when we invested with maybe a couple thousand doctors using it and now 280,000 doctors and healthcare providers use it across the world. 

VN: We definitely know Eko. We’ve covered a bunch of times and we had them on our podcast. 

VB: Hopefully, you enjoyed them as they described their vision. So, that's the software side of things. On the bio side, take the world of the oncology space: a lot of the biotech firms were investing in immuno oncology companies, they were investing in really cool protein engineering companies, where they would take proteins we know, modify them to try and make it better to fight cancers. There's a path there to make a lot of money and there's a path there to have a lot of impact and a lot of the firms doing that are really incredible friends who have the art of drug development down and they're really great at doing it, but we're not interested in that space. What we invested in was Outpace where these two scientists out of Seattle started to work on de novo protein design. What does that mean? When everyone else was trying to figure out how to design and make these changes to the proteins we already know, they said “Why not design all new proteins that have never existed to have functions that we want the proteins to have. And let's use these novel proteins to fight cancer in a way that has plagued the entire cell and gene therapy, which is most of the therapies that people were trying to bring, if they were safe, they weren't effective, or efficacious. And if they were efficacious, they were highly toxic.” That's what this group was able to work on. So, when you think about why this is a TechBio platform, in a way we can work with any cell and gene therapy and be like their Intel Inside and be the modifications they would need to be successful in their own mission. So, there's inherent value there but we also have our own program, so we can take our own drug to market as well. So, we can create value from our own product but also, just in case that doesn't work, we also have all these other customers and partners that are using our technology to advance. So, it's not a binary outcome and that is what is beautiful about the TechBio strategy. 

VN: Talking about Eko, that's, you wouldn't really think of that as like a biotech company; I would think digital health more. So, it sounds like you're doing both, basically.

VB: That's right, the TechBio angle for us is technology or technology tools as applied to anything in medicine. And so, sure, 50% of that is digital health like AI/ML applied into solving medicine. And the other part looks more like the Outpaces of the world. So, yeah, digital health will fall into a category within our TechBio world.

VN: So, in the digital health category, what are some of the verticals that you find to be really interesting right now?

VB: We invest in health insurance tech, AI in medicine, multi omics medicine, personalized medicine. And then we have synthetic biology and cell and gene therapy.

VN: You really run the gamut. 

VB: Yeah, the whole gamut. And in order to explain why now and why not biotech, there are seven things that are really important as to why the time to invest in TechBio is now. So, the first thing is the fact that sequencing costs have collapsed dramatically; in the 2000s it cost about $100 million to sequence the whole genome. Now, as of this year, it's about $200 to be able to do that and it's not just genetic code, but also proteins as well. We've been able to make massive strides and all this happened in the last 20 years. The second thing is the idea that we have digitized biology. 20 years ago, you would never have heard of 23andMe or Ancestry because they didn't exist but we have now taken our own DNA and we've digitized it. It's interesting to see that you're taking a part of your biology and digitizing it, so someone can share it. Same with your EMR data, someone is actually capturing it electronically, which also has happened in the last 10 years. The third thing is that data and advanced computing has changed a fair bit. What's fascinating here is 95% of the world's data will be generated in the next three years and, of that, 95% of that will be healthcare data, genomics, proteomics, medical omics; not supply chain, not finance, it's healthcare and it's great to think that we're driving applications within that to be able to apply it in this TechBio lens. And, more than that, when I was doing my PhD at Hopkins, I remember, when you were doing simulations and anything with computational biology, it would take hours to be able to run these simulations but now you can do them in a matter of a few seconds. And you can collaborate across different cities and continents. Even 15 years ago, we would have hard drives, we would take this data and we would have to bring it to someone physically to do it, now we can collaborate on the cloud, which allows TechBio to exist. 

The fifth thing is the fact that, even with many other things with the art of drug development, it still takes about $2 billion to get a drug to market. So, something is wrong in how we make these drugs. And the sixth trend is the fact that a lot of pharma companies are sitting on a lot of cash; in 1995, maybe about 70% of their R&D was in-house, now they get all of their R&D through buying private companies like the ones we invest in in TechBio, so that's another tailwind. And the last one is we just know more in biology; I can't believe that in the last decade, we know that our immune system can be engineered to fight cancer. We didn’t know that 20 years ago, robotic surgery wasn't a thing 20 years ago, but we're making massive advances using technology to improve health. And we're fortunate to be living in this just mega trend that is hitting healthcare and that is why TechBio, to us, makes sense to invest in as a category.

VN: It seems like things are advancing very, very quickly. Where do you see it going next?

VB: We try to do one of two things: we invest in companies that will improve your life with technology or, two, we want to try and solve and cure a disease that you may have. But we want to solve everyday conditions affecting everyday people across the world. So, we're not a fund that is obsessed with finding the seventeenth psoriasis company that we would like to flip and make money off of, or the twenty third immuno oncology company that we would like to invest in and try and see how we can flip this company. What we care about is, what do we know people are afflicted with? And what can we do to put our technology across to make these things just disappear or help us manage our lives better? So, we're not afraid of going into controversial VC worlds of, like, an HIV cure. It's hard to be able to go after that because people say, “Oh, you can just take a pill now and you can take your cocktail of medications once you have HIV and live a long life.” But people forget that these people have to live every day with the knowledge that they have HIV, so we want to put an end to it, so we invested in Excision to be able to do that. 

Your question was more, where are we more interested in the future? It is related to this: we are interested in all things that will afflict people, so all the way from things like Crohn's disease, lupus, women's health, fertility, mental health, addiction treatments, sleep, anything that plagues you and me every day, we're interested in solving it. We don't have, necessarily, absolute defined categories we have to investigate because sometimes companies don't exist that can actually help. As an example, we've been looking at the fertility space for five years now; for me, as an LGBT investor, fertility is like the only way I can actually conceive, and there are many people like me, but even in heterosexual couples who are waiting longer, fertility is another huge part. And so, we've been looking at the space for about five years but haven't found the perfect company to invest in, so we keep looking. So, just because we're interested in the category doesn't mean we will invest in it, but it means we will investigate it. It's the same with Autism Spectrum Disorders, we're looking at sleep, we're looking at addiction treatments, we're looking at a lot of synthetic biology companies. How can we think about making manufacturing more efficient? We're looking at computational biology companies to say, how can we better predict in silico how the body will react to a certain drug that we're developing.

VN: You said you haven't found the perfect company. What does that look like? Maybe you don't know it until you see it but from those companies that come and pitch to you, what do you want to see from them to make you want to invest in them? 

VB: What is common about most people pitching us is that genuine sense of passion to want to change a particular field. I don't want to use the word “perfect” because it's not that they're not perfect, they’re awesome people, it's just not right for our portfolio. That qualification is important because these are phenomenal founders  that we just might not have the privilege of working with. But, that said, we're looking for a massive change, visions that are large; the challenge is some of the things we've been pitched are a small band aid. It’s, “we can help you find a fertility clinic that is right for you.” Okay, great, but what happens next? Why are you not doing that? We want things that are going to change the field, not something which is going to help you find your next fertility clinic; not that that's wrong, there's nothing wrong with it, we're happy that they exist. It’s just not right for us.

VN: That should be part of your solution, not the entire solution, is what it seems like you're saying. 

VB: Exactly. 

VN: So let's talk about your fund a little bit. What is the size of your fund that you're investing out of currently? How many investments do you make per year?

VB: We've deployed close to half a billion dollars over the past few years to this intersection of tech and bio and, in a typical year, we invest in about 15 companies.

VN: What does it come out to in check size?

VB: Average check sizes are between $1 million to $20 million. I know it's a huge range and it depends, because we do some pre seeds and seeds where $1 million dollars makes sense and then we lead some Series A's and B's, wherein we have to lead with a $17 to $20 million check. So, it just depends on the stage of the company.

VN: So, what's the majority of your investments? Is that the seed and pre-seed or is it more the Series A and B?

VB: We do very early, so we do pre-seed and seed and Series A, which account for about 70% of our companies, maybe even 80% of our competence. And then we do some Series Bs. 

VN: If you're investing that early, do your companies have revenue when you invest? Do you actually want to see traction at that point? Do you want to see ARR, do you want to see certain number of customers? 

VB: Not necessarily; Eko is the perfect example, when we invested they had about $250,000 of revenue, or maybe $500,000 of revenue. They did have revenue, but it was super early, and it was a seed round that we led. So, did they have real ARR at that point? Maybe not, but we saw promise that there was some ability that they brought. We could talk to a customer and ask them what the experience was and why they bought it. So, we don't necessarily have a traditional fixed thing of what a tech investor would have to see and, what is your LTV to CAC? 

That said, for companies that have digital health things that are pure software, maybe we have some of the similar metrics where we do want to see, how much cash are you burning to generate how much cash? So, that is important and we want to be able to see that, so LTV to CAC is an important metric for us as we look at that. We want to look at what the team looks like. Do they have a vision that is big enough? But when you ask about the revenue for the pre-seeds, some of them have just barely had any revenue, and then, with the A's, they're onto a pretty fast start in how much they're growing.

VN: So, it doesn't sound like you invest pre-product.

VB: We do invest pre-product as well and I know it gets a little confusing; we tend to, and this is a really important point about ARTIS, which will probably be different from most of the people you've spoken to, we tend to invest in areas that we can add tons of value through what we have called our Pioneer Network. We have the largest operating bench of executives in the venture community; so, in my past life, Jeff Kindler, the ex-CEO of Pfizer, and I created the largest network of retired CEOs in the world, with 1,500 former CEOs working for us. We recruited many of them to come back and work with us. They're not just names on a page, they're not just execs, they are the who's who in the world of pharma and bio and genetics who work with our fund in giving our companies this operational advantage. So, when you asked us if we should invest pre-revenue, yeah, if we think that we can give them that boost needed to generate the revenue, of course, we would invest in them. But, this is important: all our people are tied to some of our companies. Bahija Jallal was the senior most women at MedImmune AstraZeneca, she's now the CEO of Immunocore; Michael Yang was the president of immunology and oncology at J&J Janssen; Charlene Frizzera was the former head of CMS who worked for Bush and Obama; and Thomas Lönngren was the head of the European Medicines Agency. So, we look to see how we can get these people to help our companies have this edge as we operate? And we tap into that,

In addition to that, we also have a large bench: we have 29 PhDs and 18 medical doctors as part of our network, because we also have a Fellows program that helps. So, our edge is the fact that we have deep technical expertise to help with the intersection of tech and bio.

VN: Would you say that competitive advantage is your differentiation?What else do you think differentiates you? 

VB: I'd like to think that we're all pretty nice people who you want to work with. It's important: we want to work with nice people, or we want to work with people who are kind, we want to work with people who espouse the same values that we have. What’s really worth noting is in our last fund over 60% of the money we deployed went to women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals. We're not a diversity fund, and I don't want to highlight that per se, we don’t advertise that, but what we do is we look for people who are the hidden gems who've been ignored, and we find them and give them a voice. That's the value we espouse. We want a Connor from Eko, who is just kind and great at wanting to create a culture that we feel energized to funnel.

VN: I was going to ask you what you look for in the founders that you invest in, and that's an interesting way to put it. You look for kindness in your founders. That's not really an answer that I've heard before from other VCs.

VB: We have the standard answer; I don't want to say we only invest in kind founders. We want them to be wicked smart, we want them to know what they know and know what they don't so they can surround themselves with people, including our Pioneer Network, so we can help them. We want them to want that help. We want them to have a vision that is grand to really want to change the world. We want this unbridled passion to want to change things for the way we live our lives. And then, add it to that, yes, we want kindness to be the cherry on the top because, without that, I don't think we can have a working relationship. 

VN: I've heard a lot of VCs compared to a marriage, the relationship between VCs and founders, because you're really going to be together for 10 years or something like that. And I don't think you want to marry somebody who wasn't kind.

VB: I agree. Maybe take this, and this is like the gay guy’s perspective, I've been with my partner 16 years and we're not married, but I still want kindness anyway. In friends and people we want to work with and the reporters you're talking to, you want kindness. In this world of chaos you just want people who you can somewhat trust. It's important and for far too long everyone has been self serving and it's nice to take a step back and see, can we work together and lift everyone up? Because, by lifting you up, it doesn't mean I'm taking someone else down. We can lift a lot of people up.

VN: Yeah, absolutely. I like that attitude. So, let's talk a bit about valuations. Digital Health, especially, in the last two and a half years, really, really exploded because of COVID. Digital health, telemedicine, virtual care, all that stuff saw valuations grow. Starting this year, basically, all of that kind of deflated and the companies that have gone public really started to go down. So, where do you see things now? And where do you see them going forward? 

VB: In early stage venture investing, we still are seeing pretty healthy valuations in companies. Has it gone down a tad? Maybe. Some companies just have not come up to raise yet, because they've been told by a lot of VCs and friends to wait, so I don't know if the correction has necessarily fully happened. We've always been thoughtful about valuation, so it's not something which we've seen dramatic changes. What I do worry about is later stage rounds; that's where we saw things go out of hand, companies with very little were valued very, very high. And, for them, if they've not hit certain milestones, they'll be in trouble to raise more money. 

I will say, and hopefully you hear this from all your healthcare VCs that you talk to, unlike tech and maybe consumer or anything else, as a healthcare VC, we want everyone, including our competitor VC funds, to be successful, because you're working on something that can have such an impact on someone's life. So, I don't know, to some extent, I'm saddened by some of these valuations, not because they deserve it or not, many times it was happening in last year's market, so they deserved that based on what last year's market was telling them. That said, what I worry about is that some phenomenal technologies and science may not see the light of day because they'll run out of cash.

VN: You don't seem to think that things were way out of hand before, at least not in the early stages. That's really interesting because a lot of the other investors that I've spoken to in healthcare, and otherwise, really did feel like they were out of hand. So, that's an interesting perspective that you don't really feel like they were

VB: There definitely were a lot of deals that were out of hand that funds did. But my peers and friends and the funds that I respect and enjoy were pretty careful as well and underwriting deals that had reasonable valuations.

VN: Basically, you didn't get involved in those wild, crazy valuations.

VB: And neither did a large part of my friends and networks of healthcare VCs. We're not special in saying we didn't, but most of us thought, “how crazy is it to invest in this company that has $1 million in revenues that’s asking for a $150 million valuation? What? No, we’re not going to do it.” It wasn't like, “I'm not going to do it,” we all said we're not going to do it but it got done because there's some fund we've never heard of that did it. 

VN: So, that puts you in a good probably a better position going forward than the fund that did invest in that company. Do you feel like you're more secure as a result of not doing that?

VB: Yes and no. The other thing about this business is you can never be too secure because you never know what the next downturn is. I would hate to say we're secure; it's a hard business and science is really, really hard and capital raising the ideas you have when there are many, many ideas is also really, really hard. So, we will always be in a situation where we hope that our peers and friends who have later stage funds will want to be excited by the ideas and themes that we have supported and we have the data to show it. Maybe it's a non answer, sorry, but I am worried about later stage fund funding that will come into our early stage companies. 

VN: Has that actually affected in any way the way you invest? Does that change in any way the companies that you're going to put money into? Or is that not something you can really anticipate because, by the time they get to those later stages, it can be a completely different market than the way it is now? 

VB: That's right and at ARTIS always follow our own heart and mind in what we have to fund. A lot of things will happen, but we have to keep our eyes laser focused on the greater mission. We think that as long as we're solving everyday diseases that have an impact on how you live your life, liquidity will come and funding will come because you know what? Someone, somewhere needs a cure for HIV, someone somewhere needs a cure for endometriosis, someone somewhere needs a cure for type 1 diabetes, someone somewhere needs a cure for mesothelioma, someone somewhere needs a cure for congestive heart failure. And if that is the case, we're building those companies and so talk to us because we care about putting an end to some of these things. So, one part of it says  if we get the good data, even in the hardest market, and we're solving some of these problems, I hope that people will say this is worth funding because it is going to impact how you live your life.

VN: Well, that's true of healthcare in general. As you said, it's very different from other spaces. Another chat app, not to put anybody down, but something like that doesn't have the same impact on the world as a healthcare funded healthcare company.

VB: That's right, that is a huge differentiator. People always ask about other funds and their strategy and, actually, I genuinely like my other VC investors and other funds. They're awesome, they're such great people, and it's a privilege to be able to work with them. Sometimes we may compete on a deal but, at the same time, I respect them and I wish they would come in with me, because they're great people.

VN: That greater impact that healthcare can have and you can have as a healthcare fund, does that make it easier to get LPs to give you money to deploy? 

VB: Healthcare is intimidating to a lot of people and it's a little scary. The key part sometimes with LPs is they don't have someone to underwrite the healthcare investment, or underwrite a TechBio investment, so the answer is it depends. Some sophisticated LPs do have the ability to do it, some maybe are thinking about it. It's not as easy as underwriting just tech investments; everyone gets excited about a Facebook or a consumer app that will deliver your food because you can easily understand it.

VN: And healthcare is broader and bigger. Just saying, “I'm gonna cure HIV,” sounds great, but it sounds huge and it sounds risky. “That's great, but can you actually do it?” 

VB: My answer to that is, “I don't know if we will be successful. I'm happy we're trying.” But, I also say, “we're not about a biotech fund because here's the difference: we're TechBio and the technology involved to cut this virus for HIV, we can use it to cut a herpes virus, we can use it to cut a hepatitis B virus, we have multiple shots to goal.” So, sure, HIV is complicated, we may fail at doing that and I will be so sad if we are unable to do it, but it's not a zero sum game, we are still able to use the technology tools for other viruses and that is the difference with TechBio. And so, if you are an LP, if you are an individual family, if you are Steven writing about it, the differentiator is this gives you a chance to dabble in healthcare with knowing that there are risks. I'm not going to tell you there's no risk and that I've figured out how to cure HIV and it's a done deal, it is not, there’s so much more that will go wrong than what can go right, but I hope the idea that the tech can be helpful, if not for HIV, we will cure your next genital herpes outbreak, and that's still pretty great. 

VN: Talk to me about some of the companies you've invested in. You mentioned a couple at the top of the call, so if you want to do a deeper dive into those, or maybe you want to mention a couple of others, just tell me what it was about those companies that made you want to invest in them.

VB: It's related to some of the themes we've talked about before. One, we have to see that the founders are domain experts in what they want to solve and that's really important to us. The second is our ability to be able to help them and that we can actually jointly work with them in shaping that territory. The categories that we have invested in include mental health to heart disease, robotic surgery, health insurance and AI, and also the next generation of cancer detection with Freenome which is actually very close to my heart because my PhD was in cancer prevention. Freenome is a company that says, “why do you want to go get a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer when I can detect that with a simple blood test?” And so, we're running a multi-omics platform which is called liquid biopsy, so the blood draw gives you very similar sensitivity and specificity to colonoscopy. We can do that for many other cancers as well, colon cancer was one example, but that's an example of what we're doing, which can change the way we diagnose you for cancer screening. 

Another example, take the CNS space with Delix. I'm sure in the last two, three years, especially given that you live in the East Bay, you’ve heard of psychedelic companies. Talk about a long journey to get there” we've been looking at the psychedelic space for about five years but we didn't invest in it for a couple of reasons. Not because we don't believe in the science, the science is very strong, but we didn't do scalable medicine. We didn't think that a psychiatrist today has six hours of time to watch someone take psilocybin drugs, and wait for them to trip and say they’re okay, we don't have the bandwidth and time. And we just didn't think that payers and insurance, whether it's CMS or private payers, would pay for that. So, it’s not that we didn't believe in the clinical medicine, we thought that was great, but we waited until we found David Olson and Mark Rus who built Delix, where they were able to take the same synthetic versions of whether it’s MDMA, DMT, whatever else you want to pick, ketamine, psilocybin, but they're able to take them and make synthetic versions where we're able to knock out the hallucinogenic components from it. That's why it's called Delix, not “psychedelics.” They have similar efficacy as what you would see in a traditional psychedelic without the side effects, and without the hallucinogens. So, you can call it the first Sharia-compliant psychedelic company in the world where you can go to Walgreens and pick up a drug; they’re working on these connections being formed, which is very similar to what would happen when you take a traditional psychedelic. We're very excited because it actually changes the paradigm and we think this is scalable medicine because payers will pay for this. 

VN: Talk a little bit about yourself. What got you into the venture? Why is this what you wanted to do? And what have you learned since becoming a VC?

VB: I learn everyday and it's a privilege. It's almost like getting a PhD every day. I get to be surrounded by people who are just way smarter than me building really, really cool things that can actually make a difference in the way we live our lives and that, to me, is a privilege. 

As an academic, I always knew that I wanted to work on something that would impact life and I sit on the board of the Hopkins biomedical engineering department, I work a fair bit with Hopkins, and I loved what they were doing in innovation. But, to me, being in the lab at Hopkins was just me doing a very focused piece and I wanted to have an impact at scale. VC affords us to do that and part of it is I've always been curious to learn from people and this is a great job because you can learn, but the other part, which I'm really good at, and ARTIS is really, really good at, is the network. When Jeff and I created that GLG Institute, we wanted to tap into doing VC differently because here's the thing: we think the difference between a good and great company is not the tech, not the science, it's people. I would rather invest in the second best tech, not that I want to, I want to invest in the best tech, but if I invest in the second best tech with the right people we have a greater chance of doing well than investing in the best tech with the wrong people.

VN: If you invest in a really good team, they can improve the product. But if you invest in a bad team, they might have a great product, but they can't execute on it.

VB: That's right, that's exactly how I feel. I got into VC because Stuart Peterson, who founded ARTIS, is a dear, dear, dear, friend; he and I became friends first before I joined ARTIS. When I was running the CEO network with Jeff I was helping Stuart look at all healthcare deals; he led the first institutional round in Stemcentrx and he was looking for board members. He said, “Hey, can you be helpful?'' and we started talking, and we started looking at all healthcare deals together and Stuart and I agreed that he wanted to spend his next 20, 30, 40 years focused on health care and I was like, “I'm on for that mission. You have the perfect world of tech and software, I have the world of healthcare, and in order to tackle TechBio we need both Stuart and Vas and Jeff, to work on this together, without which we can't do TechBio. It can't be Stuart alone, it can't be Vas alone, it can't be Jeff alone, because you need the tech and bio.” I'm happy to say that Stuart and I are still absolutely close, we are completely aligned, which is rare, because I hear a lot of VC funds talk about, “Oh, my God, I don’t want to do this with my partner,” and that's probably why we don't over hire. We are small, and we continue to be small because culture matters and how we make decisions matter and we have a great team.

VN: When you go to work every day, what motivates you to be a VC? What's the part of the job that you really love the most?

VB: Learning and meeting really intelligent people every day from every corner of life, with the fact that we don't just wait for deals to come to us, we're proactive in finding those hidden voices. I talked about the people of color and women that we are talking to; it doesn't mean we also invest in them, but we can still help them, we can still shape it, and that's an important part. We may not actually invest in them, but we still get to make a difference to their lives by giving them advice and helping them. That's what motivates me to go to work every day because a lot of firms are so busy that they will not make time for people and we try to help where we can and be part of the community in which we live in and that motivates me to just do more. And the fact that, if we're successful, it will make a difference in how you live your life.

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