Ask the Experts Interview Series

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Sascha Berger

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Dr. Sascha Berger is a Partner at TVM Capital, based in Munich, Germany. TVM Capital is one of the transatlantic Life Science Venture Capital pioneers, investing with teams in Europe and North America. Sascha joined TVM Capital in 2016, helped to raise the current $480M fund, and works closely with entrepreneurs and founders to advance promising pharmaceutical assets, medtech, diagnostic, and digital health technologies to the next value inflection points. Sascha is a passionate VC, a Boston Consulting Group alumnus, and has an academic background in chemistry and finance.

Ask the Experts Interview Series

With: Sascha Berger

Tell us more about your current role. 

I’m a general partner at TVM Capital based in Munich. I’ve been with the company now for five years but much longer in this industry. I used to be a working student at TVM and stayed in touch ever since. 

I’m very active in screening the life science landscape in Europe and North America and invest predominantly in pharmaceutical opportunities. We focus on new drugs, starting from a late preclinical stage to companies at fairly advanced stages with drugs in registrational trials. I enjoy speaking with the founders, scientists and diving into new science that will eventually help patients.

I enjoy being able to make a difference with the capital we provide for these innovative projects. Besides pharma, I also invest in commercial-stage medtech, diagnostics and digital health opportunities. 

It is a very intense job with a diverse set of of activities and tasks. There’s hardly a day like another and I think it’s a perfect setting for me to be active.

Is there a typical day and if yes, what does that look like?

I used to travel a lot Pre-Covid. Now, my typical day starts in the office and often ends after hours doing video calls with new companies and companies we have invested in.

I frequently meet with entrepreneurs and founders, listening to their pitches, scientific presentations and explanations of their business plans. We also have frequent internal discussions where we go through the TVM deal flow and discuss the opportunities. 

Those are basically the core elements of my day, including working with my colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic, diving deeper into certain opportunities, as well as speaking to investors from time to time.

What do you think makes you a good investor?

I have a portfolio which looks good. But, time will tell if they are indeed good investments. If we invest in a pre-clinical asset, which will eventually go into into clinical trials, it may take four or five years before we can really see if the hypothesis we believed in did work out. 

Besides the financial dimension, there is also a dimension of working trustfully with people. I want to be perceived as valuable advisor, helping to connect people so that they can move forward quickly or to get the the right contacts to to tackle certain challenges. 

That is something I’m very conscious about and I’m enjoying doing this part of the job as well and not just looking at the numbers. Financial success will follow a good investment approach.

When looking at making an investment, what excites you

Probably it’s a mixture of everything. How much is the influence of the science? How much is the influence of the founder? How much is luck, part of the equation? That is difficult in the end to differentiate, but it’s clear that it’s basically everything.  

If I look at good investments on our end, those factors above were part of that success.

First we see the data, which should be spectacular. Then we see the approach which should be really unique with the potential to substantially change the current standard of care. It doesn’t stop there, therefore it’s not just about the data. 

In general, in the early stages of drug development it‘s never a one-man show or a one woman show, it’s a team effort. It does not come down to only the person who came up with the idea. It will be good to have a team who can bring in the qualities and qualifications to advance the program, and that is something where we can help.

There is also the element of luck. One needs a bit of luck to be successful.

What are you currently excited about?

We are looking deeper into cell therapies these days. It’s amazing what you can achieve with these new technologies, but we also know the obstacles and challenges here.

I’m a curious person, a personal trait you need to have specifically in a venture capital environment as we are seeing new projects every day. I have to sort through a lot of ideas which might be interesting. Still, often it’s not panning out as a business case, thus we have to be very selective. There’s hardly a dull moment here.

What are some key differences you’ve seen working with Europeans versus North Americans? 

At TVM we have one international team with team members in both North America and Europe. This distance is something we’re experiencing and managing every day. It is no mystery that there are different cultures, different work styles and communication styles that you have to adapt to, but in the life science industry and particularly also in the venture capital industry, things are very westernized and very Americanized in a way. 

Due to this dominant and common culture there is a common set of of communication rules and behaviors that we are all familiar with. 

I find it much more challenging to deal successfully with founders and co-investors who are not from North America or Europe. Establishing trust, which is crucial for successful relationships, is done in a different way for example in Asia, than how it would be done in Europe or North America. 

So we’re keep our focus on our two home markets.

What drives you?

I’d say it’s an inner drive, which has been there from the early days. When I was young, I was very enthusiastic about sports. I excelled in vaulting – which is gymnastics on horses. That was fun and I was really active until the highest international levels – European and World Championships. That required a lot of dedication. Somehow this is innate and it just applied to different settings. These days unfortunately, it’s not much sports anymore. It’s my family and, clearly, my job.

What is your view on failure?

It’s necessary to fail. Still, it is hard to accept this truth when you have failed. But I think it’s a crucial element to learn early on that you have to live with certain failures.

Learning is to try not to do the same mistake again, so that you develop over time and get better at what you do.

Can you share a recent learning?

There’s something to learn every day. Sometimes it may be just as small as finding out that it would have been smarter to just call somebody instead of sending an email. Speaking on video or the phone prompts more conversation as people interpret written things in certain ways.

It is becoming more of a challenge these days where you are spending all your day in front of the computer with video calls and and typing emails in between. Talking helps to discover what’s really bothering somebody.

Any advice for people who would like to pivot their career into VC?

It’s a very selective industry. I had looked into VC already during my studies and eventually made the move into VC 10 years after being in different business roles. 

There are multiple ways to get into VC, but there isn’t a perfect way. The important part is that you’re really dedicated. It’s not as streamlined as banking, for example, where the CVs are relatively similar or they might have a certain pattern.

To become a VC you should have deep domain knowledge to be able to speak to to world-class scientists and to speak their language and understand what they are working at. 

Being great in research is a good start but obviously that’s not all of it. People skills and certain business skills are also required to invest successfully. I suggest to prepare yourself many years before you eventually enter the industry. However, everyone’s different and all our paths are diverse.

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