Thomas Tan knows the founder’s journey inside and out. The scientist-turned-entrepreneur has lived it, as well as logged countless hours as a lab researcher and a management consultant. That wealth of experience is a major part of what informs Tan’s approach to his role as Principal at Sound Bioventures.
Early on, Tan saw two paths before him: he could devote his life to medicine either by treating individual patients or by developing new drug therapies. When a professor pointed out that a medical scientist might save millions of people, Tan knew that was the path for him. And after being granted a patent while a graduate student interning at Novo Nordisk, he knew he’d made the right choice. Still, by the time Tan completed his doctorate work at Oxford and a postdoc at Cambridge, something nagged at him.
“I’d had great fun doing basic research but had become a bit disappointed at how much good science was not really being translated into any medicine,” he recalls. “It was just sitting in lab books.”
So Tan founded a company that provided labs with software for automating their data recording processes. It created more complete data sets that could be used for medical advancements without creating tedious work for researchers.
Though Tan wound down his company after a few years, the experience left him with a renewed sense of purpose. From there, he continued into consultancy work, like advising pharmaceutical companies on which drug pricing would render the greatest benefit to patients. He had a real knack for maximizing a project’s impact. But Tan realized that maximizing his own impact meant going into venture capital.
It had the same gratifying support work but with another element that project-based consulting didn’t always offer. “Not only do you advise and support the companies,” Tan explains, “you’re also really following up after the investments, or sitting on the board and continuing to provide guidance to the management team.”
Tan knew that Sound Bioventures had an excellent founding team that shared his values and ambitions. One factor in his eventual decision to join the firm was their strategy of focusing just on therapeutics, despite the team’s broad experience in other life science areas.
“It’s not because we don’t know about medical devices or diagnostics — many of us have worked with that before,” he says. “But we know that we are even better with therapeutics, and that’s why our focus is fairly disciplined and narrow.”
Tan’s role as Principal involves a range of duties, from seeking out the right opportunities and maintaining the firm’s relationships with co-investors to guiding fellow team members through due diligence work. His entrepreneurial background is especially helpful in his relationships with the CEOs and founders of companies in the firm’s portfolio.
“I’ve been in the same shoes and understand the immense pressure they’re under,” he says. For Tan, empathy is an essential ingredient in mentoring a company’s leadership team. “My experience as a founder gives that awareness of when it’s time to just support, when it’s time to take a step back, and when it’s time to give a friendly push.”
According to Tan, drug development is a fundamentally noble pursuit, a business with the audacious goal of improving and even saving patients’ lives. Such an aim leaves little room for antagonism among co-investors or between VC firms and founders. “Biotech is a very complex area that really requires that we all lift this task together,” he explains. “We’re all pursuing the same goal.”
That collaboration is something he appreciates about the life-science ecosystem as a whole. Each partner works to support the development of new therapeutics, and the financial returns are often aligned with the strength and innovation of the science.
“Everyone that lifts together will also be financially rewarded,” says Tan.
Learn more about how Sound Bioventures works by meeting other team members!