Casper Breum says he can usually tell early on if a startup will be a good fit for investment. As a founding partner at Sound Bioventures, Breum is involved in reviewing the roughly six hundred investor pitches from biotech companies the firm evaluates each year. His predictive ability was honed throughout his career, which he likens to the famous 10,000 hours of practice some claim is needed to master a skill.
“Once you have done that, you have a good understanding of what a good investment opportunity looks like,” Breum explains. The way companies present their stories in a presentation or a pitch gives you a lot of information about the team. There are times you get surprised, but it’s not often.”
And it’s at Sound Bioventures that Breum gained the freedom to fully watch how his initial gut feelings play out.
“When I came out of school, I didn’t even know about venture capital,” says Casper Breum, Managing Partner, Sound Bioventures.
Breum was probably destined to be the co-founder of a venture capital firm focused on life sciences. He just needed to figure that out first. “When I came out of school, I didn’t even know about venture capital,” he recalls.
Breum studied to be an organic chemist in his home country of Denmark. After receiving his master’s degree, he began a 15-year-long career in the pharmaceutical industry, in which he held a variety of different roles, including in R&D, project management, sourcing, quality assurance, and business development. Breum eventually landed the position of CEO at a venture-backed diagnostics company before moving on to be a Senior Partner at Lundbeckfonden Ventures for over a decade.
“I’m sort of a pharmaceutical industry generalist,” Breum says, and then adds later: “I did an MBA along the way when I decided I didn’t want to wear a lab coat for the rest of my life.”
Aside from his MBA, Breum also gained an appreciation for venture capital over the course of his career. He’s now been in the VC field almost as long as he was in the pharmaceutical industry.
“If you’re interested in science and business, venture capital is the perfect place to be,” Breum gushes. “You look at the science, and you look at the finance, but you also deal with people and issues.”
Eventually, the natural progression of Breum’s career in VC reached a point of major potential change. He enjoyed the senior position he held, but he wanted to have a level of control that could only be attained by joining Sound Bioventures’ other co-founders and launching their own fund.
“I think it was the thought of having independence — true independence when it comes to the investment decisions and the timing of the decisions — that appealed to me,” Breum says.
As a founding partner, Breum’s role at Sound Bioventures requires him to wear many different hats. The latitude for making investment decisions that he and co-founders Johan Kördel and Bibhash Mukhopadhyay so highly coveted comes with the price of having to raise money for the fund and dealing with the day-to-day practicalities of running a firm. The Sound Bioventures team is spread throughout the world, and Breum maintains the Danish side of things in Copenhagen. The country is home to three other team members, the largest cluster of the firm’s employees.
Breum is introspective when it comes to those who work for Sound Bioventures. He and his partners know that to ensure the firm’s legacy, they need to provide the sort of independence that had attracted them to launch it, so there’s a next generation able to lead the firm.
“We want to make sure they are in a good environment and that there’s always a balance between giving people the right amount of freedom to do and to understand things their way, and at the same time share the experience that already exists in the firm,” Breum says.
And that kind of support isn’t just for those who work within the firm. Breum believes it should also be applied to the companies in which Sound Bioventures invests. Having been on both sides of the relationship — as a CEO and as an investor — he thinks investment professionals don’t realize how demanding they can be on the companies in their portfolios.
“It takes a lot of knowledge and it takes a lot of energy to run a company. And as VCs, we should respect that,” he says. “We have to make sure that the companies have the freedom to do what they believe is right, but obviously within the strategy and goals set by the board.”
Read more: Combining instinct & freedom to support startups