Bill Cherman and I, cofounders of Repair Biotechnologies, were recently interviewed on the topic of the Longevity Investor Network, an initiative organized by the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation volunteers. The Network is a group of angel investors and venture capitalists of varying backgrounds, all of whom are interested in the rapidly growing longevity industry. Some want to speed the advent of therapies capable of turning back aging, some are long-time fellow travelers from our broader advocacy community, some are newly arrived, just starting to learn about the science and the potential scale of this market. It is a real mix of views and motivations.
Every month a few aging-focused startup companies are presented to the network, and the gatherings are a chance to make connections and put names to faces. To an outsider it might sometimes seem that all of the behind the scenes communication in the venture community just happens automatically, with no need for effort. Nothing could be further from the truth; communication is hard, and building professional networks is an essential part of growing any industry. This is a very helpful initiative for a period in which we are striving to connect promising lines of research to commercial development groups and venture capital.
Why, generally, do you invest in longevity companies?
Reason: It is an effective means of advancing the state of rejuvenation biotechnologies that are at a certain stage of maturity. It is at least ten times easier to raise investment funding than it is to raise philanthropic funding, but there is very little difference in the use such money is put to when comparing late-stage lab work with early-stage startup work.
Venture capital and its angel community cousin like to present themselves as bold and risk-taking, but there is nonetheless an awful lot of herd behavior taking place. Investors follow for preference. A great deal can be accomplished in terms of steering money to sensible destinations by stepping out in front of the crowd and presenting a solid rationale for investment choices, by being the first to put some money down and explaining in detail why you choose to do that. It works at the level of small angel investments, and it works at the level of Jim Mellon's Juvenescence venture.
Bill: There are mission and financial motivations. Mission-wise, no industry can have a more positive impact on humanity than the longevity industry; after all, life is man's fundamental value, and all others require it. Biotech startup investing has historically delivered distinctive results to investors; if longevity startups succeed in extending healthspan, even larger financial outcomes will follow, I believe. I particularly like early-stage preclinical companies, which are often valued in the 7-, low-8-digit range and can IPO and reach unicorn status in as early as 2-3 years.
Why do you see value in having a network of investors who share and collaborate on deals?
Reason: Rare is the deal in which a network of investors was not in some way involved in bringing it about. The present ad hoc assembly of happenstance meetings, persuasion, and passage of information is an essential part of setting up companies, even if the investment is ultimately made by just a few of those participants. Formalizing the networks helps greatly in lowering the barriers to entry for entrepreneurs (there are never enough entrepreneurs) and to finding good investment opportunities on the part of investors. AngelList, I think, has proven this quite comprehensively. The same applies at any level of investment.
Ultimately, however, this is a little different from your run-of-the-mill investment where, at the end of the day, the point is to obtain more of those funny little tokens called money. Here, the goal is more life and the medical control of aging, and, at some point, the funny little tokens become a little less important than getting the job done. That dynamic is still shaking itself out, but I think we need communities whose members recognize that doing no more than aiming at increments of net worth to enable an ever-more luxurious tomb marker at some increasingly near point in the future is obsolete thinking when it comes to life science investment.
Bill: I would note there is value to investors and entrepreneurs. Investors get a more curated deal flow and a more thorough due diligence process, while entrepreneurs, many of whom lack business experience (to their benefit, many times), get access to several people who they can bounce ideas with and who can give them some guidance on fundraising, communicating with stakeholders, etc.
What do you hope the Longevity Investor Network can grow into?
Reason: A much bigger group of investors who largely understand that the point of this exercise is to generate a world in which aging can be controlled and that funding and profit are just means to an end. In a world in which money can truly buy additional health in late life, buy time spent vigorously alive, then money is somewhat less the central focus that it is today. The point becomes living, and, in this, we all win together or we all lose together. Senolytics show the way: high-tech development at the core, and a surrounding halo of cheap, highly beneficial treatments, something that will benefit the entire world as a result of early investments in the field.
Bill: Ideally, a one-stop shop for longevity startups to quickly raise money from smart and helpful investors, so they don't have to burn months of energy with fundraising and can go back to the science as soon as possible.