LongeVC: Our approach and lessons learned from years of longevity investing

When we founded LongeVC in 2021, our vision was that the future belongs to biotech founders. We believed this sincerely. The companies we were to invest in were on the bleeding edge of health technology. They were making discoveries that could reinvent how we experience ageing, how fast we could diagnose and successfully treat devastating diseases, and how a care regimen could be oriented around longevity – preventatively. They were building a better future for all of us, and we raised our first fund (fund I) to support them.

We still believe in this future. The companies we’ve backed in our two years of operation are making great strides to achieve it, and we are well on our way to an ageless future.

But as we look to the next years and beyond, we feel it is essential to address the significant challenges facing the longevity sector. Our aim in doing so is to ensure all investors, researchers, and founders in longevity and biotech are better prepared to scale.

Elements of Success in the Longevity Sector

In the early days of our first fund (Fund I), we made a few decisions that, we thought, would help us from an operational perspective. These have served us well and are structures we recommend investors and potential founders consider adopting too.

  • Adopt a “hard” definition of longevity.

Wary of trying to do “too much”. we consciously decided to adop a “hard definition” of longevity, focusing on age-related diseases. While holistic thesis of “let’s make people biologically younger” works well in some sectors, keeping this definition means we can focus, anticipate timelines, and better evaluate exits.

  • Admire the vision, evaluate the hard variables.

A vision is what drives the company forward, but it should be reinforced by several down-to-earth components, like:

  1. Soundness of the technology
  2. The expertise/balance of the team
  3. A clear therapeutic focus and path to market
  4. The regulatory landscape
  5. Financials, like adequate cost structure and protected IP.

We prioritized startups that could show evidence of dedicated, research-backed efforts to achieve a goal. This is different from selecting startups that have chosen an impactful goal. We looked beyond mission and vision and asked: Who have you brought onto your team? What research have you done on your route to market, and have you identified its challenges? How will you serve the most people possible? And based on what data are you that your product can work? Related to this line of questioning, however, we did make a rule: We would not discount technologies or approaches for being controversial, if provably positive in their impact. This is why LongeVC was one of the first VCs back Freedom Biosciences, a company deploying ketamine treatments for mental health conditions. It is very recently that we’ve seen the perception of these treatments change dramatically, despite the European Medical Agency approving versions of the drug for antidepressant use as early as 2019[1].

  • The most important process for investors to develop is rigorous due diligence.

Once we had proof of tangible impact, we created a diligent selection process. The decision to invest in companies making breakthroughs in areas like ovarian cancer detection or advanced at-home blood tests was grounded in rigorous due diligence. Each potential investment underwent a comprehensive evaluation process. This included assessing the scientific validity of the startups' proposals with several outside experts.

  • The most important area to invest in: several of them.

Some of the most promising advancements in longevity and biotechnology are still in the laboratory. With a long time to market comes a higher risk that the science or technology will fail at later stages. For this reason, we decided to invest in a wide range of companies across biotech and longevity instead of doubling down on a specific promising area (like personalised medicine). That’s why our portfolio has several categories of companies, ranging from AI skin analytics to pathogen detection in infants (Melio). We strongly believe that this holistic approach will have a higher chance of success – not just for our LPs but for the founders and researchers we back as well.

  • The most important resource to give your portfolio: a network.

Given the early stage of most of our companies, we knew it was important to foster strong partnerships for our portfolio companies. By connecting them with industry stalwarts, researchers, and potential market allies, we helped ensure that these startups didn't operate in silos but were part of a robust ecosystem of support.

Challenges of the Longevity Sector

In our discussions with LPs, with founders, and with other VCs seeking to get into longevity, we are direct about the challenges of this sector. As we look to the next three years, we are concentrated on addressing issues such as:

  • Delayed regulatory understanding and resulting restrictions.

The regulatory landscape that longevity-based startups navigate is difficult. They are creating treatments, diagnostic tools, and approaches that have several potential applications. Yet, due to existing regulatory stipulations, they have to narrow their focus into very specific and sometimes limiting operational avenues. This is due to two main reasons: There are not working sandboxes for longevity companies to explore the most efficient angles, and the existing regulatory frameworks force companies to be disease-specific which won’t always prove maximum efficacy.

  • Research expertise not matched with business acumen.

This challenge is not unique to biotech investing. New founders are experts in their domain and have not yet (usually) had the experience of being a business owner or CEO. We see this as especially true in longevity. The success of a potential company is due to the founder’s strong academic and research backgrounds, but they still require support in running the company, managing investors, or deciding how to commercialize their inventions effectively. This means longevity startups need business development support from day one. R&D-only teams cannot scale, which is why we advise our portfolio companies to add this expertise immediately. If you are a founder, ask for this help from your investors, hire this team quickly, and (if time), integrate business courses into your academic timeline.

  • Over-valuation, downrounds, and founder dilution.

We spoke earlier about buzzwords and their ability to camouflage success. We’re seeing the results of this now, as companies that were incredibly overvalued presently raise downrounds. This is not ideal for many reasons (including perceptions of the success of the sector overall), but we are most concerned to see the rates of founder share dilution. A poorly incentivized founder is a challenged founder – and in companies where the success of the product depends largely on their body of knowledge, this creates risk.

As the market conditions improve, we need to be careful about valuations going forward. Given the nascent stage of the sector, establishing clear valuation benchmarks is difficult – and traditional valuation metrics fall short. We always return to the question of tangible impact, including whether (and how robust) the road to market is.

An ageless future is possible

We are looking forward to the opening of our second fund for many reasons, but primarily because it gives us even more resources to help the longevity sector surmount these challenges. We have found success in the structures we shared above, and we are certain we’ll find even more. In our next chapter, we will continue to share these learnings here. Because a robust, well-funded and well-prepared biotech and longevity sector serves us all – and the ageless future it creates is worth investing in.

For more information, please contact us here.