This month, CEO Today had the pleasure to connect with Roel Bulthuis – the Managing Director of M Ventures (previously MS Ventures). The company is the strategic venture capital fund of Merck, which Roel established in 2009. M Ventures’ objective is to invest in innovative technologies and products with the potential to significantly impact Merck‘s core business areas. Headquartered in Amsterdam, the company also has offices in the US and Israel and invests globally in ‘transformational ideas driven by great entrepreneurs’. With a total of over €400 million under management, M Ventures is particularly interested in early-stage investing and company creation, including the creation of spin-offs to leverage their science and technology base.
Here, Roel tells us more about it.
Tell us about M Ventures’ origins and philosophy?
Coming from a background as an Investment Banker, my working relationship with Merck began in 2006, when I was hired by one of the companies that they acquired – Serono. A few years later, in 2009, I founded the biopharma venture fund MS Venture, which is today known as M Ventures.
The first venture firm that we started, which is still our biggest fund to date, was purely pharmaceutical-oriented, as our goal was to create new business opportunities for our parent company. Since 2016, we’ve added three additional funds, whose objective is to invest in healthcare, life sciences, performance materials and new businesses, in alignment with Merck’s strategic interests.
At M Ventures, we tend to ether invest during companies’ formation stage, where we help Founders with their business plans and strategy on top of capital, or we participate in first-round Series A financing, together with like-minded investors.
In terms of our investment philosophy, I believe that we really differentiate ourselves among other investors. One thing that we emphasise on when considering an investment is the ability of a product or a service to balance out the science behind it with its commercial relevance. Traditionally, scientists tend to only think about proving their scientific hypotheses and once it has been proven – they automatically assume that their solution will be valuable and commercially relevant. Unfortunately, this is not the case and there are numerous elements that are not connected to the scientific discovery of a product, which need to be considered and tested in order to see whether the product has commercial future and is something worth investing in. At M Ventures, we pay very close attention to all of these processes related to commercial development.
Additionally, we are also advocates for investing in people development. It may sound trivial, but in the start-up world, replacing the original Founder is a very common occurrence. Although sometimes necessary, we find that concept rather strange. I believe that even though first-time Founders have a lot to learn in the beginning, it is important to invest in the development of those individuals. There’s definitely value in keeping Founders committed to the company’s mission, so keeping them in leadership roles and helping them develop to become C-level executives in our company is a priority of ours.
Where is M Ventures positioned as an investor?
The majority of investors in today’s world are corporate or financially-driven investors that have a specific field they operate within. I think that it’s rather fascinating that we are a company that has the ability to invest across a number of different sectors, such as health therapeutics, healthcare, life science technologies and performance materials. Currently, we are very well positioned to invest in what we see as the next generation technologies – a conversion of biology, digital sciences, data science and material science, into new types of solutions for patients. We don’t just see us as a company that would invest in developing traditional pharmaceuticals. Our goal and mission is to get to the point where we can develop integrated solutions for patients – everything from staying healthy to getting diagnosed with a disease, through to being treated and then monitoring the impact of your treatment or the ability to stay away from the disease over time.
In addition to pure drug discovery assets, we also invest in digital medicines. Recently, we’ve invested in a company that created a prescription video game which was clinically tested to treat patients suffering from ADHD, as well as in a company that makes a non-invasive patch which can help you track and analyse your bloodstream and glucose levels. In today’s digital era, the future of medicine will be a mixture of traditional medicine and the impact of digital solutions and therapies. I am proud and excited that MVentures has the opportunity to be in the centre of those advancements and I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds for medicine.
How are you keeping up with the rapid development of technology?
The exciting thing about Venture Capital firms is that we have the freedom to try, test and discover! Even though we’re owned by a big corporation, we are structured completely separately from their corporate environment.
Over the years, we’ve spent a lot of time with scientists and academics, as well as within the start-up community. Each of the companies that we’ve invested in has its own microcosm of innovations in their specific field, so our interaction with those management teams often provides us with an insight into what the next exciting thing is going to be in their field. We try to be a thought leader in our field, so we regularly attend conferences and we try to network as much as possible, as this is a great way of exchanging ideas and inspiration.
Additionally, I also learn a lot from our team members. I’d say that everyone who works for M Ventures is better educated and smarter than me – and I like it that way, as those people keep me up-to-date with trends and innovations in the world of science.