Longevity investment is growing and we’re seeing a mixture of funds and investment platforms. We chat with the founder of R42 Group.
R42 Group actively invents and finances deep science ventures from the pre-seed inventing stage through to growth stage. We caught-up with Managing Director and Founder, Dr. Ronjon Nag:
Longevity.Technology: We understand that you’re looking at Longevity as a dedicated investment category – what are the main differences you see to regular healthcare investing?
Dr. Ronjon Nag: We look at Longevity in the widest sense. In addition to biotech there could be investments in areas such as lifelong learning, fintech for the aged, and work opportunity platforms for the aging workforce. Cutting across these themes, we like to see a computational element and the application of artificial intelligence and data-mining within these companies.
Longevity.Technology: We’ve spoken with a number of new funds that are Longevity-focused, they’re speaking with institutions as they raise their funds, but we’re picking-up that institutions don’t see Longevity as an investment class at this time – would you agree, or do you have an alternative opinion?
Dr. Ronjon Nag: I tend to agree that this is a new space that will develop as a pure play over the next few years – both in terms of understanding the landscape and having enough quality targets to invest in. The R42 Fund looks at artificial intelligence, Longevity, and healthcare and covers all those segments to have enough vehicles to invest in.
Longevity.Technology: What types of investors have you sourced your investment fund from?
Dr. Ronjon Nag: The R42 fund is an extension of my family office, which has been active in making private investments over the last decade. My own asset base was created out of entrepreneurial activities in the mobile and AI space. The companies I co-founded and advised have sold to Motorola, BlackBerry and Apple. Outside investors have been limited to my network in AI, mobile and finance industries.
Longevity.Technology: You’ve helped over 50 companies secure funding – what are you looking for in new start-ups?
Dr. Ronjon Nag: Firstly, we typically like to invest very early, at the seed or pre-stage stage, often being among the first to write checks for new startups; so early stage is one dimension. We like to help shape the company at the earliest stages.
Secondly, we like to invest in difficult technologies, which usually means they are unique and have very little competition. As such patents, although helpful, are not what we particularly look for – we would rather we see the potential for a business-technology ‘moat’ combination irrespective of any patent position.
Thirdly, the product, technology and team must have strong science and/or computational components. An ideal team would be recent doctoral graduates combined with seasoned industrialists who get along with each other.
Longevity.Technology: We cover Longevity in a wide context – i.e. beyond rejuvenation technologies, what areas do you categorise as Longevity?
Dr. Ronjon Nag: Yes, we have the same view; there will be many societal impacts and there will be many different products other than biotech. These could be robots (helpers or companions), self-driving vehicles, workplace marketplaces, or telecommunications enhancers to allow for at home-work interactivity. For example when developing products for the disabled the products then will be used by a wider audience. Previously texting as a communication method allowed mobile phone makers to enable communication with deaf people, yet it turned out that this functionality was liked and widely used by everybody.
Longevity.Technology: Are there any Longevity companies that you’ve invested in that would be of interest to our readers?
Dr. Ronjon Nag: There is a macro trend of increasing computation capability, both in terms of computer processing speed and increased availability of medical data.
Healx.io is trying to speed up the production of drugs by x20, and also reduce the cost of drug discovery by a factor of 20. This would completely disrupt the pharma landscape and could be the Google of drug discovery – in a similar way that Google upended the software and mobile hegemonies of Microsoft, Motorola and Nokia in 10 years. The initial targets are diseases, but one would expect that hundreds of treatments could be created at a fraction of a cost of traditional methodologies.
Another one is Exonate which has a treatment for macular degeneration – the normal treatment requires an injection into the eye which is not very pleasant for the patient or the doctor. Exonate is working on an eye drop and has a strategic arrangement with Janssen.
GTCardio is making algorithms for measuring blood pressure continuously from a smartwatch. Riding on the macro trend of personalized data obtained through wearables – allowing for personalized medical care and to prevent disease.
Longevity.Technology: When you lead, what type of investors do you partner with?
Dr. Ronjon Nag: Other investors who interest us are self-selective – they must be comfortable with deep science investments – which often means the market hasn’t expressed a need yet, and so that market needs to be developed carefully.
Longevity.Technology: Is there a deal-size that you’re looking for when you lead?
Dr. Ronjon Nag: We invest $25k to $250k, usually at less than $5m pre-money, and then follow-on with more as the company progresses.