These key principles helped Jen Nwankwo raise $22M for her biopharma company

Stephen Nartey July 11, 2023
A 'Series A financing' led by Microsoft venture capital fund, M12, and Silicon Valley early-stage investment firm, Playground Global, won $22 million in funds to support Jen's work: Jen Nwankwo via LinkedIn

Jen Nwankwo was inspired to establish 1910 Genetics by an event that occurred over a century ago. In 1910, James Bryan Herrick authored a journal on the first case of sickle cell anemia in Western literature. The patient, Walter Clement Noel, a Grenada-born dental student, had what was described as pear-shaped red blood cells.

He died at the age of 32. However, this event had an immense impact on Jen, who grew up in Nigeria before moving to the United States of America. As a pharmacologist studying sickle cell for her doctoral studies, she grew an attachment because of the devastation of the disease in her home country.

Nigeria has the world’s highest cases of persons living with sickle cell disease. About 20 to 30 percent of Nigerian adults are carriers of the disease. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, many people continue to die from the complications of the disease.

Discovering this information while conducting her Ph.D. research, Jen took a deep interest in using technology to find solutions to some of these devastating diseases on people; which led to her discovery of a novel drug target for sickle cell disease.

She leveraged her target to make AI the basis of drug development that she formally incorporated in 2018. Additionally, a Series A financing, led by Microsoft venture capital fund, M12, and Silicon Valley early-stage investment firm, Playground Global, won $22 million in funds to support its work, according to genetic engineering and biotechnology news.

Based on her experience in establishing 1910 Genetics, Jen found some lessons that she believes are the reasons for the success of her business.

The first lesson which led to the formation of 1910 Genetics was the implementation of the concept of trial and error. In the pharmaceutical world, almost all drugs are developed on the basis of trial and error. If a discovery is made by the research and development team, it is heralded as groundbreaking, irrespective of the many failures encountered during the process.

In an attempt to make discovery less surprising, Jen picked the lessons and used them as the basis for setting up her organization. In the same vein, 1910 Genetics is using AI to draw insights into the years of data gathered in the production of drugs for the market. The team uses the same approach to determine the cause of a condition facing a patient, and develops a model to address the medical problem based on the findings.

The second principle Jen took away during her journey to entrepreneurship was to listen to what the market wants. What consumers desire may not align with a founder’s vision, however, it is essential to note that the market is always right. She cited how investors are interested in the technology developed by 1910 Genetics and its potential to help resolve the numerous medical conditions facing people.

Although a company may be focused on particular areas, entrepreneurs should be open to considering suggestions made by investors. In that case, what she prescribes for business executives and entrepreneurs is to welcome the journey down both paths while focusing on the vision behind the organization, according to emels venture.

The next principle is to accept guidance. She recalled when she pitched her business idea to some investors who did not fully understand her concept, however, they believed it could potentially disrupt the market.

Gabriel Hammond, the head of Emles Venture Partners, made an initial investment into the business even though he did not fully grasp the concept. Overall, Jen was able to win investors over due to the guidance of some key stakeholders, who helped her to make the decisions she made while dealing with investors.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: July 12, 2023


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