Founder-CEO Interview Series

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Sascha-Oliver Bucher

Mr. Bucher is Co-Founder and Partner at Forty51 ventures, a Biotech VC fund in Europe focused on venture formation. Previously, he was Partner and Managing Director Investments at Roivant and Head of Europe. Before that he worked for Roche in numerous Business and Corporate Development functions including as Deputy Head of Global M&A. He was involved in 100+ transactions and negotiated and closed over 50 international deals with an accumulated total deal value of more than 10 billion USD. Prior to Roche, Sascha was a banker at UBS. He holds an MBA in Finance and Economics from the University of Basel and is both a Harvard Business School GMP alumnus and a Certified European Financial Analyst and Asset Manager (CEFA).

Founder-CEO Interview Series

with Sascha-Oliver Bucher

Tell us about yourself. Was becoming a biotech investor something that you always envisioned? 

The desire to become an investor, or more precisely a company builder, which is what Forty51 is all about, grew inside me over time. 

I started my career at what you could call the “end of the biotech value chain”: when biotechs and pharma companies get acquired. I was a banker and quickly moved into M&A – buying assets and companies to feed the pipeline and portfolio of Big Pharma, namely the Roche/Genentech Group. 

I was privileged to see the entire process from start to finish, incl. hundreds of company assessments and diligences, from the perspective of a partner, licensee, investor, and acquirer. This allowed me to develop an eye for opportunities and sharpen my senses to spot patterns of success and failure.

Over time, I wanted to be given the chance to put my learnings to work – optimize venture building, starting companies from the very beginning. This is not possible at large organizations. Yet given the complexity of biotech and pharma you can do this only in a strong partnership.

This is where the story of Forty51 begins: when working at Roivant, I met Sara first, and then Tamás. We connected immediately and started fundraising in the midst of the Corona epidemic.

How is Forty51 Ventures different?

My two partners Sara and Tamás have a stellar track record in, and beyond, their areas of expertise – Sara in early R&D and investing, and Tamás mostly as translational scientist, both at Big Pharma, small biotechs and Venture. We are highly complementary and yet we speak the “same language” in being able to challenge, build and grow opportunities together. Importantly we share the same values and business ethics. It was a meeting of the minds. 

Beyond the team, Forty51 Ventures is different on several fronts. 

While many VCs claim to be venture builders, for us this is the centerpiece of what we do: we are building our fourth portfolio company now – three out of the four will be new companies and in each case we are the first “investor capital in”. Opportunities are typically late pre-clinical.

We are instrumental in attracting fantastic talent to build both the C-suite team and the Board, and together we map out the developmental plan with several inflection points. In essence we put our companies on a fast track to be acquired by Pharma.

While we build companies locally – preferably in Switzerland, Germany, or France – we ensure exposure to the US from the start by onboarding VC investors, Chairman and/or C-Suite members in the US and ensuring that their development includes the US.

Back to the Forty51 team: we have learned from strong and successful teams, but also suffered shortcomings at poorly managed organizations. We live a “no ego” approach – a flat Partnership with no deal attribution, focusing on the best outcome for our portfolio companies.

Where did the inspiration to start the fund cOME from?

Having come from different parts of the industry, each of us made similar observations of a largely untapped opportunity in our backyard. Here in Basel we have the perfect location for early-stage biotechs, full of top-notch innovation, know-how and world-leading talent. At the same time, we saw (relatively) few success stories, investors, and true venture building activity.  

Also, we witnessed many times similar mistakes which founders and early biotechs often run into. We felt it is a unique chance to exploit this opportunity by putting our experience and learnings to work.

Basel seems to have been an operating base for you. How important is a company’s location in today’s world?

Switzerland, and Basel in particular, is the best and most innovative location in Europe in biotech (our name in fact does tribute to this part of the world). And besides the strong industry ecosystem and the available talent, the service- public – fiscal/tax, legal and regulatory – is very efficient and pro-business. 

To your second question: Many things can be done over Zoom nowadays and people get stuff done working remotely. 

So, do you need everybody to be in the office next door all week long? No. 

Is it helpful to be able to walk across the street and see the CEO and her team? Absolutely, yes, which is another way of saying that we believe human interaction is paramount and vicinity helps a great deal but is not always a must. 

How do you decide on which companies to invest in/build?

We take investment decisions jointly. We discuss together every opportunity we receive. We speak to the majority of opportunities at least once (Zoom or in person) with at least two of the three Forty51 partners present from the beginning.

We believe it is key to cover all different perspectives and disciplines in our assessment to not overlook diamonds in the rough. Often times the best investments are the ones that have not been obvious at the first sight.

What drives you? 

Having the freedom to do what I, we, think is right. Entrepreneurship gives you the freedom to drive decisions, which you cannot do at large organizations. 

This freedom, however, also comes with great responsibility towards LPs, investors, entrepreneurs, and their teams. This interplay and the strive for the optimal outcome to advance companies and medicines inspires me and keeps me going. 

How did moving out of Big Pharma change the way you think and operate?

I was lucky to learn the ropes at Roche during a transformational time for the company – it was one of the most acquisitive Pharmas and creative deal makers during those years; it raised to become the dominant Oncology company with an unparalleled Companion Diagnostics capabilities and much more.  

I was fortunate to have worked in very agile pockets of that large organization, and I was also able to collaborate with companies outside of the Roche “mothership”.

This equipped me with a lot of experience that was helpful when I transitioned out. So despite what people often say and experience, for me the move from Big Pharma (Roche/Genentech) to Biotech (Roivant) first and then to Forty51 was smoother, and even more exciting and fulfilling, than anticipated. 

What separates a successful company from the crowd?

In my opinion, there are certainly numerous elements and parameters that need to be in place to make a company successful. I would point out three characteristics of successful companies. Clearly excellence in what you do paired with relentless tenacity.

Despite being a very smart group of people companies often fail along the way and often unpredictable obstacles need to be dealt with. One needs to be able to learn from failure, which brings me to the third trait – humbleness. If you are convinced to be smarter than everyone else that is often recipe for failure.  

Is there a decision or project that you are particularly proud of over the years?

Yes. Having joined forces with Sara and Tamás to put Forty51 Ventures on the map with Institutionals and entrepreneurs as LPs in the most challenging of times was the best decision. 

It is still a long way, and we have lots to prove, but this has been what I am most proud of. 

Any final remark/advice to share?

I have tremendous respect and admiration for people that dare to dream, build a vision and pursue it against the odds and the perception of others – like many entrepreneurs and investors do in biotech and other sectors. 

I would hope to see more of this spirit in Europe for the benefit of society as a whole and patients in particular – maybe we can encourage a few! 

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