Insights from Antoine Papiernik, Sofinnova Partners Chairman, on MedTech Venture Capital

Welcome to the podcast that puts a finger on the pulse of medicine and technology. On this show, you’ll hear from investors, industry executives, and healthcare providers on the science and business of medicine. I’m your host, Omar M. Khateeb, and this is the State of MedTech.

Hey everyone, welcome back to the show. I’m your host and head of state, Omar M. Khateeb, here at the State of MedTech. I’m joined by a good friend, somebody who I’ve been really looking forward to interviewing, and that’s Antoine Papiernik from Sofinnova Partners. Sofinnova is an extremely well-respected firm in the venture capital world, specifically focusing on the healthcare and medtech space. They’re located in Europe, and it’s a firm that I’ve always had a lot of admiration for in terms of their investment thesis, their brand, and more specifically, the kind of startups they invest in. One of them most recently who I had on the show was Moon Surgical, which has a wonderful story about how they’re changing the face of surgical robotics. So, I wanted to invite Antoine on, who’s their managing partner, to talk about what their vision is for medtech, the story behind it, and more importantly, how does one become a VC, because everyone wants to know that question.

Antoine, thank you so much for coming on the show, and you’re joining us from Paris, I believe, correct?

I’m indeed. Thank you, Omar. It’s a great pleasure to be here with you.

Absolutely, absolutely. Well, you know, before we talk shop, as they say, you know, I think the first question that my audience is always going to want to know is, like, what’s the story behind this person? So, what is your story? Where did you grow up, and what was your life like before you became an investor?

That’s a long time ago now, Omar, so it’s over a quarter of a century. But yeah, I was born in France. My parents were both physicians. My father was an obstetrician, a very famous one in France, and also with a research career, and my mom was a physician and a research scientist in fundamental research at the French Institute. That was the world in which I grew, but I was not really going for science or medicine. I went for business, business underground, and I started my career in consumer goods. I worked for Unilever, so it was called health and beauty, but it was mostly perfumes and creams, nothing to do with healthcare, to be honest. And then I went to the US for an MBA for a number of years. After my MBA, this was 30 years ago, if I may say that, it was a time where Eastern Europe was really a cool place to be, and I spent a few years in Prague, which is a beautiful city. I was working for this big financial group, and as I said, serendipity led me to learn that this group was setting up a venture capital arm. I told them, “This is for me,” and this is when I joined. That was ’95 when I became a life science investor, just learned the ropes on the job, had no credentials to be an investor, and just grew into this firm and joined Sofinnova in ’97, so 25 years ago.

Wow, fantastic. And you know, of all the places, like, what drew you to Sofinnova?

Sofinnova is a very old firm. It was set up in 1972, so by the time I became a venture investor, the old investor, the one that had been started, this business was already Sofinnova, and I met a gentleman called Daniel Lucanus, Duniek [SP], and I started co-investing. I was at a firm called CDC in France, and we started co-investing and being on boards together. And then one day, he said, “Hey, why don’t you join us?” And for me, that was the firm that I could join, so of course, I didn’t hesitate at the time.

Fantastic. You know, and along the way, I mean, the one thing that I know, at least, especially in business and healthcare, is this concept of mentorship. Who are some of the mentors that you had along the way, and what kind of things did they teach you?

Yeah, I had a number of mentors in my career. I would say, if you think about medtech, there’s one man in particular who was the first CEO that I backed. We’re talking about 1996, probably, and he’s still, to this day, a venture partner of our firm. His name is Gerard. I invested in this company, ultimately. This was a great success. We sold the company. It was called Symbiotec. Again, this was over a quarter of a century ago, but I learned a lot from him. That taught me a lot about how you treat an entrepreneur, how you’re being treated and how you treat someone that you’re investing in. The investor world, people have this idea that you put money into someone, and you’re the one in control, but in fact, it’s a partnership. Having an entrepreneur that you backed as a mentor, I think, tells you a lot about how you want to treat the entrepreneurs that come after him. Yeah, he taught me a lot, a great deal.

That’s, you know, I completely agree with that, and I think there’s definitely this misconception, I think, with investors, which is like when you put money into something, that person works for you, but in fact, it’s the opposite. You work for them.


So, you know, I think that’s a great lesson to learn, and in terms of Sofinnova and your investment thesis, what is your vision for MedTech, and what kind of startups are you looking to invest in?

Yeah, so Sofinnova, we’re a firm, actually, you may not know, but we’re an independent firm. We have been for decades now. We’re not owned by a larger financial or industrial group. We’re an independent GP, and we decided a few years ago to become a multi-strategy firm, so not just venture capital, but also clean tech and growth funds. We’ve been at it now for some years. In MedTech, we’re investing in companies across Europe, the US, and even Asia. We have three specific funds that we’ve been putting together over the past few years, a medical device fund, a diagnostic fund, and a digital health fund. Those three funds, they’re pretty sizable funds. We closed on the first round of these funds last year, $540 million, that we’ve invested in seed, series A, some even series B. We’re diversified in terms of geographies. We’re diversified in terms of stages. We have a big team that has been working, for me, for over 10 years in the MedTech space. You know, it’s a pretty exciting space at the moment, so we’ve been very active, and we will continue to be very active.

That’s fantastic. And, you know, I think one thing that a lot of people are curious about, especially startups in the MedTech space, is how does one become a VC? What’s the path to becoming a venture capitalist?

Yeah, so there are many paths. You know, there’s no right path. There’s no recipe, per se. The venture capital world is populated with people with very diverse backgrounds. Some are physicians, some are not. Some are PhDs, some are not. You know, anybody with any kind of business or medical background, I think, can be a venture investor. I think the key to becoming a VC is really to have passion for innovation, passion for investing, and a good deal of persistence. ‘Cause you don’t get into venture by just signing up like you would for a job at a big consulting firm. You really have to work at it. You have to talk to people. You have to meet entrepreneurs. You have to attend conferences. You have to really show yourself available, and, you know, you will meet the right people on the way.

In terms of, you know, this fascination with MedTech, healthcare, and investments, I mean, in general, like, how do you stay up to date with the latest trends and advancements in the industry?

Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think you know the answer as well as I do. There are many ways to stay up to date. I mean, there are the classics, like attending trade conferences, for instance, like the MedTech conferences, J.P. Morgan, or, very soon, my friend, your event. Everybody should attend that one. But there are some more efficient ways, I think, to keep up with things. Getting a lot of news from many newsletters that you can subscribe to, whether it’s MedTech or Digital Health, you know, they provide a lot of content. You can read books. That’s how you learned. I remember reading books when I was getting into the field, like, 20 years ago. Now, you can listen to podcasts like this one, or watch YouTube channels, read articles. There are many ways. It’s a constant job to be up to date with things you have to keep on learning.

Absolutely. I think continuous learning is crucial. And speaking of resources, what are some books, websites, or other resources that have had a great impact on your career or your thinking?

Yeah, so there are many books that I could recommend, but I would say, in particular in MedTech, there’s a book that comes to mind. It’s called “The Patient Will See You Now” by Eric Topol.

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Antoine Papiernik serves as the Chairman and Managing Partner at Sofinnova Partners, where he has been an initial investor and active board member in a number of public companies, including Actelion, ProQR, Shockwave Medical, NovusPharma (sold to CTI), Movetis (sold to Shire), and Pixium Vision.

He has also invested in and is a board member of private companies including Reflexion Medical, Tissium, Pi-Cardia, SafeHeal, and more.
Antoine has an MBA from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, and has twice been named as one of the world’s top venture capital investors on the Forbes Midas List.

In This Episode
(7:19) Antoine’s background
(09:47) Antoine’s medtech mentors
(14:06) Difficult lessons learned
(17:28) How Sofinnova maintains a competitive edge
(22:18) Major themes Antoine is seeing in medtech this year
(28:01) The silver lining of COVID-19 for healthcare investors
(30:30) Changes in the limited partner community
(34:24) How Sofinnova looks at healthcare investments
(38:08) Technologies and markets that have caught Antoine’s interest
(39:53) Promising emerging markets
(45:24) A book that’s impacted Antoine’s life
(46:17) Antoine’s message for investors

Antoine Papiernik


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