San Diego’s life science venture capital scene

Jan 15, 2020 - Nancy Hong

If you’ve launched a medical tech company or just want to figure out how to improve the world through biotech, venture capital probably isn’t far from your mind. Here, we hear from a local life science venture capitalist about the state of life science venture capital in San Diego, resources for startups, and advice on choosing a VC:

San Diego’s life science venture capital (VC) scene is coming into its own, just like the mix of local medical technology and bio-pharmaceutical companies we support.

While many VC firms struggle to sustain success, well-established VC firms often have a distributed model where their investment team is placed to cover a few markets. My current firm RiverVest is one such case. Since 2000, our headquarters have been in St. Louis, MO, home of some great medical schools like Wash U and SLU. We have two partners, Niall O’Donnell and myself, living here in SD and a fantastic portfolio of past and current investments with some operations in San Diego (Excaliard, Lumena, Amplyx, Reneo, Mirum, and a company still in stealth mode). We fund these companies with strong financing syndicates of VCs from across the nation and the world.

By attracting capital from both inside and outside San Diego, our local biotech community has matured and isn’t limited solely by the amount of regional money. We certainly enjoy interacting with our local community and often serve as a warm intro to firms based elsewhere.

In San Diego, we are joined by a number of life science VCs who are lucky enough to live in the region while the mothership may be elsewhere (a great but perhaps not exhaustive list):

  • Alexandria Ventures
  • BioInnovation
  • Correlation
  • Domain
  • Foresite
  • Frazier
  • Lyzz
  • NEA
  • RiverVest
  • Sofinnova
  • Versant

San Diego has a strong reputation for both cutting-edge science and clinical trial expertise, and different VCs will fit with either investment strategy. Take a look at our websites and portfolios to better understand the stages of focus and areas of expertise. One clue is to look for recent successful exits: chances are not bad that the VC has a mandate to reinvest in that general space in a similarly shaped deal. For instance, we had a portfolio company IPO last year and would definitely love to meet the next Allakos (who is developing an antibody drug against a novel target by running focused clinical trials to address serious immune system diseases).

And get to know us when not fundraising: our work is so much about people and relationships, and those of us in San Diego have an open and friendly attitude about developing those over time. You never know where a conversation might lead, especially in an awesome place like San Diego.


About Nancy Hong:

Like many venture capitalists, my path to this career was quite indirect. I moved to San Diego from the Bay Area as a biology postdoc scientist before spinning out into the genomics startup Phenomix. This NewCo was funded by VC firms outside San Diego with board members mostly based in the Bay Area. But after learning about the importance of both the science and the business from the fantastic team there, including rockstar CEO Laura Shawver, now at Synthorx, I moved to homegrown VC shop Forward Ventures. One of Forward’s founders is Ivor Royston, a key player in building the SD biotech scene. After Forward, I did a stint at the La Jolla Novartis research site and some independent consulting but eventually returned to VC, first to a corporate fund and then back to a firm deploying capital from family offices, endowments, and institutional investors. Learn more on the RiverVest website, and connect via LinkedIn or Twitter.

One thought on “San Diego’s life science venture capital scene

  1. I am a physician still practicing but interested in employment with a VC startup or similar business. Quickly, my pedigree is Cornell undergraduate chemistry major, University Washington School of Medicine, Internship and fellowship at University of Michigan, and two fellowships at Wake Forest University. Please feel free to contact me if I may be of help or interest. Thank you.

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