Johan Kördel can trace his decision to co-found Sound Bioventures to a conversation back in 2018. After spending the better part of a decade as senior partner at a venture capital fund, leading investments and serving on many companies’ boards of directors, Kördel felt an increasing need to do something different.
He was telling a business associate about how he wanted more independence and direct influence on decisions and the funding processes. “I was having this conversation with my colleague,” Kördel recalls, “and they said, ‘Why don’t you start your own fund?’ And funny enough, I actually hadn’t thought about that before.”
From that moment on, Kördel pondered what would make such a fund stand out from all the rest. He considered his years of experience with investments in biotech and what Scandinavia needed to foster innovation in the sector. Kördel also contemplated the philosophy underlying how a firm should operate, favoring one built on treating people fairly and with understanding. It seemed a natural way to conduct business, but one not often found in a lot of industries.
Starting one’s own VC fund is a major career change, but those are nothing new to Kördel. Before working in life science investments, he was in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry for 20 years. The first decade of that part of Kördel’s career was mostly at the Swedish pharmaceutical giant Pharmacia, where he was a research scientist before moving up to managing projects and the portfolio for metabolic diseases. Then, after leaving Pharmacia, he co-founded three biotech companies, including one (Biovitrum) where he led the business development and research divisions.
Before all that, of course, Kördel started out in academia. While doing post-doc research on drug-protein interactions at Harvard Medical School, he discovered the kind of work that truly interested him was being done within the private pharmaceutical sector.
“To be frank, I was also interested in moving out of the academic world,” Kördel says, “because the academic world is cutthroat when it comes to getting funding. And it’s all about the individual making the scientific discoveries and contributions, not about the teams.”
Kördel found that the pharmaceutical industry was much more geared towards teamwork and collaboration.
Collaborative teamwork is part of the essence of Sound Bioventures. One that bridges the gulfs between different international locations.
The use of “sound” in the name is a callback to when the firm initially started out based on either side of the Öresund strait, the stretch of water between Sweden and Denmark. The name (which is written as “Øresund” in Danish) literally means “the Sound” in English. It seemed fitting to reference the geographic feature that early cooperative efforts had to cross.
And even though the scope and ambitions of Sound Bioventure became trans-Atlantic with all its founders on board, the name felt an even better fit. What is the Atlantic ocean but another body of water to collaborate across, like “the Sound” just bigger?
Kördel himself works from southern Sweden, in Malmö, with other team members working in Stockholm and Copenhagen (where Breum is based), and Mukhopadhyay in the Washington D.C. area.
Like many companies operating post-COVID, Sound Bioventures had to adapt to the new paradigm of remote work, especially for a team spread around the world.
“We grew up during the pandemic,” says Kördel, who explains how the firm creates structure with standing times for virtual meetings and maintaining regular communication channels. They also make sure to gather together in person for three days of meeting to discuss, debate, and decide. “We’ll do that three to four times every year,” says Kördel.
Making a difference in people’s lives
There are certain criteria for companies that Sound Bioventures decides to invest in, although some aspects are more specific than others.
“In terms of the therapeutic areas, we are agnostic,” says Kördel. Though he does admit that the firm is more inclined to companies with specialty therapeutic treatments in or close to the clinical stage of development. “The risk has been reduced and you’re closer to when you know if something works, but it’s also when more money is needed.”
Kördel also says there’s a close eye given to the existing leadership. “We look for companies where there is at least the nucleus of an experienced management team,” he explains. Recruitment takes a lot of effort after investing, so it’s best if there’s someone already in place to build the company around.
Yet, according to Kördel, the most critical aspect is how the therapy will make a difference in people’s lives.
“The unmet medical need should be immediately understandable and met by whatever we’re backing,” he says.