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    Sofinnova News

    Sofinnova Industrial Biotech & Sofinnova Capital

    Sofinnova’s newest partners discuss their career paths

    Related Deal lead

    Anta Gkelou

    Related Deal lead

    Guillaume Baxter

    Guillaume Baxter and Anta Gkelou were recently promoted to Partner. Guillaume is with the Sofinnova Industrial Biotech Strategy, and Anta is with our Capital Strategy. We sat down with them to discuss their career paths, the VC industry, and what makes a good founder.

    1. What were your expectations when you first joined Sofinnova in 2017? Did things turn out the way you expected or differently?

    Anta Gkelou: At the time, I knew Sofinnova by reputation only, so I was expecting the exposure to cutting-edge technologies and discoveries across the sector, and the opportunity to work with groundbreaking scientists. And on this, my expectations were right.

    What I was not expecting, and found most surprising, was how impactful your work can be at any level in this team. I came from a scientific background and spent a couple of years in a big corporation, and I have never been part of a team where my everyday work was as impactful as it is at Sofinnova Partners. As soon as you arrive here you feel you have a role to play in the biotech landscape. No matter what your title is, you can drive opportunities forward — and your view counts regardless of your rank. That is quite impressive within the firm.

    The second thing that I loved right away was the variety of the work. Very soon after I arrived, my duties spanned from scouting to due diligence to working closely with portfolio companies.

    These varied responsibilities made the job incredibly stimulating, fostering the development of essential skills. The firm's lead-by-example approach, dedication and focus enable rapid learning.

    Guillaume Baxter: Yes, I agree with that — you do contribute to the important decisions right away. I worked with Sofinnova on a secondment for three years before becoming a full-time employee. So, when I decided to join the company in 2017, I knew the Industrial Biotech team and its culture. They were highly experienced individuals, passionate about supporting founders and fostering innovation. I’ve been able to quickly gain expertise and grow professionally within a culture that values a long-term perspective.

    2. What are the traits you want to see most in the entrepreneurs you are advising?

    Anta: Focus is the key for me. Let's start with science itself. There are billions of data points out there and novel discoveries daily.

    A lot of the companies we invest in are early-stage platform companies that can change their strategy and can follow trends or unfollow trends — Scientific trends or market trends. Successful entrepreneurs exhibit resilience and commitment to their vision. While flexibility is crucial, especially when milestones aren't met as expected, the focus should always be on advancing toward the ultimate objective: improving the standard of care for patients.

    The skills we value internally at Sofinnova are the ones we also strive to cultivate in our portfolio companies.

    Guillaume: Adaptability.

    It is important to learn to work with people who don't think or work the way you do.

    When you start your career and you are less experienced, usually you work more closely with people who think and work like you -- you take the path of least resistance.

    But it's not possible to remain stagnant in a growing firm like Sofinnova, and it's not possible vis à vis the entrepreneur.

    Of course, you have to be focused and stay in line with the vision. But at the end of the day, you do your due diligence, you work hard to check things, and then the hard work starts at the first board meeting when you realize things may not be exactly the way you expected.

    The same goes for Sofinnova internally. We have close to 100 people now, so of course you have to adapt.

    At some point you have to think about how much you are willing to change the way you work without compromising your integrity. So, adaptability, while remaining committed to your values and vision is the best attitude to have.

    3. How do you think the culture at Sofinnova compares to other VCs? What is your impression?

    Anta: Here at Sofinnova, you can reach out to anyone at any level for anything you need, whether it's a technical question or a question about your career trajectory.

    I have grown within the firm. Nobody can grow on their own, and Guillaume has also helped me in several respects. Others have also generously provided guidance and mentorship despite their demanding schedules.

    My impression is that it’s this strong culture of learning, mentoring and empowerment that makes Sofinnova different from other firms.

    Guillaume: Another great thing about Sofinnova is our top-notch corporate services team. We have a legal team, a financial team, IT, investor relations, communications — and their doors are always open. Having super talented people in these jobs is really something that differentiates Sofinnova from many other VC firms and enables us on the investments side to focus on what we do best.

    4. If you were going to advise a university student who wants to go into biotech VC, what are the hard skills you would advise them to develop?

    Anta: We make data driven decisions, so learn how to do that well. Cultivate a curiosity for scientific advancements, whether it's gaining insights from a new study on Parkinson's disease or exploring innovative technologies being developed worldwide. Maintain a broad, global curiosity that spans various disciplines and discoveries.

    Guillaume: My advice would be, don't start with VC as a first step in your career. Having operational experience is important.

    In VC you are working on the cutting-edge of everything: In terms of science, in terms of innovation, new trends in the market and so on.

    At some point you have to be able to make a leap of faith – that’s difficult to do fresh out of school. It helps to have first-hand experiences navigating through challenges and failures beforehand.

    5. Would you ever consider starting your own company?

    Anta: I don’t think I have the operational and executive skills required to be a Founder/CEO at this point.

    We support founders because they possess unique talents and qualities that set them apart, and there are skill sets that you can’t just acquire. You can’t be good at everything, right?

    I think there are people out there who are much more inclined towards running companies and building startups from 5 people to 100; it takes a different kind of skillset to do that.

    I am more than happy to back these people and work with them and hopefully be the one discovering them!

    Guillaume: I don't have a better answer. When I arrived at Sofinnova, it was "founders, founders, they come first!" Initially, you think that it's a little bit of a mantra, but after a few years you realize how much you learn working alongside them. And you also realize that you don't have the same skills.

    And the drive they have is completely different than the one I have. We are complimentary, and the magic should happen because we don't do things the same way, not in spite of it.


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