Building a platform for the next generation of investors

Roel Bulthuis, Managing Partner and Head of Investments at Syncona Investment Management Limited, joined Syncona in 2023 from Inkef Capital, an Amsterdam-based venture capital firm focused on tech and life science investments. At Syncona, he is leveraging his extensive experience to help deliver value through the investment cycle and to help build and develop the Syncona investment team. Roel has an intrinsic passion for building teams, previously having had an instrumental role in creating Merck Group’s M-Ventures and building it into a leading corporate venture capital fund. Being a self-confessed ‘people geek’, here Roel discusses his vision for how to build the next generation of investors in life sciences and foster an environment which embraces innovation.

What's our business all about and how do we make things happen?

At Syncona, we're on a mission to sprinkle a little magic on groundbreaking science. We set up companies around unique science and individuals that can take products with the potential to be real game-changers for patients through the clinic. In other words, we bridge the gap between mind-blowing scientific discoveries and tangible, market-ready solutions. To do this our business uses innovation to transform science and creativity into commercially relevant products. Through strategic investments, meticulous research, and collaborative partnerships with visionary entrepreneurs, we aim to catalyse the development of pioneering technologies and therapies. We're not just pushing the boundaries of science; we're turning it into real-world magic that makes society sit up and take notice.

What kind of superheroes are we looking for to make this happen?

Turning scientific dreams into real-world wonders takes a squad with laser-sharp skills and a culture that's as supportive as a group hug. We're in a field where failure might be knocking at our door more often than success, but guess what? We love a good challenge! To navigate this, we need a team that's not just science-savvy but can also make killer decisions when things get a bit wild.

Our secret sauce? Beyond industry know-how, it's all about creating an environment where every team member feels supported – seen, recognised, and encouraged to level up their skills. We're not just building startups; we're creating a community where fun, confidence, expertise, and a dash of risk-taking are in the DNA.

While there’s a core piece of transformational science in all of the companies we invest in, it’s the teams that we help build that translate that science into a clinical and commercial reality. I am therefore laser-focused on getting the ultimate combination of complementary talents involved across our teams, and to create the best possible environment for these diverse teams to work in, with the end-goal of producing exceptional outcomes. I strongly believe that for any individual executive or non-executive to excel, they need to be surrounded by a balanced team that bring a diverse set of experiences, thoughts and perspectives. In order for this diverse team to be effective however, it comes back to culture, there needs to be a supportive environment of respectful challenge where different opinions are allowed to be voiced.

Despite this, we continue to see a strong inclination amongst investors, boards and even recruitment firms to define role specifications without the broader team context in combination and to have a highly prevalent ‘similar-to-me' bias in selection processes. The problem with this approach is that by hiring another ‘you’, you’ve just made yourself redundant!

Another part of what I aim to promote is networking with others in the VC space. Networking isn't just a buzzword; it's the secret ingredient to personal growth and the VC community's success. I fundamentally believe that we have significant insights and opportunities to share, and equally, we can learn valuable lessons from the interactions with like-minded investors. By fostering these connections, we're not just building a team; we're cultivating a network where knowledge flows and leads to insights that benefit us all in further developing the healthcare venture capital landscape.

It’s for all these reasons that we don’t hire individuals; we build teams.

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