Welcome to the NVCA Blog series, Building Better, where we celebrate the dynamic relationship between our VC members and their innovative portfolio companies around the nation. For today’s Building Better, we spoke with Molly Bonakdarpour, Partner at Drive Capital, and with Timothy Miller, CEO, President, and Co-Founder of Forge Biologics, a Drive Capital portfolio company. Learn about their partnership in the Q&A below!
Drive Capital: Molly Bonakdarpour
Give us some background on Drive Capital: How did the firm start, what is Drive’s mission and how does the firm strive to meet its goals?
The idea for Drive started during the transition to cloud computing where our founders saw first-hand that it was cheaper than ever to start a technology company. This reframed for them where companies should be built thus our thesis “build where you’re strongest”.
When Drive started in 2013, our focus was on the Midwest as a great place to “build where you’re strongest”. The Midwest has 150 of the Fortune 500 companies, the fourth largest GDP in the world, and incredible universities with access to talent. All these factors played a role in planting our roots in Columbus. We now have $1.2B under management across three venture funds and one expansion fund. As we iterate on this thesis, we are thinking about the advantage’s geography can give a company vs. deciding to build a company in one place or another.
What does Drive look for in a partner when choosing to invest in a portfolio company? What does Drive value? What does Drive value in the Forge team?
We look for market-defining companies in large markets. To be a market-defining company you need to have a unique insight on the industry you’re focused on, and a team that can deliver on that insight. We saw these qualities in Forge who identified the massive bottleneck in the gene therapy manufacturing space. More specifically, the opportunity for one company to manufacture from preclinical through commercial as well as incorporate the upside in developing its own pipeline of gene therapies. We’re so thrilled to work with Forge!
How does Drive support its portfolio companies? How does it help entrepreneurs grow and advance the VC industry?
There’s no one size fits all in how we support companies because they each have their own unique needs. We focus on getting to know the leaders and founders of our portfolio companies to better understand how we can support them. With that said, we have found two areas across all our companies where Drive can be helpful, and that is access to talent and access to customers. We’ve been with Forge since the beginning and it’s been incredible to see Tim, Erandi, and Jaysson take this company from an idea to 32 full-time employees, completing their Series A, and begin to implement their vision.
Forge Biologics: Timothy Miller, CEO, President, and Co-Founder
What is the mission of your company and how did you start? How has your partnership with Drive Capital helped you fulfill your mission?
Forge is a gene therapy development engine, enabling access to life changing discoveries by bringing them from concept to reality. We deliver on this mission by providing our own pipeline of therapies to patients in need as well as having full manufacturing capabilities for both our therapies as well as others.
Drive has been a helpful and committed investor from the beginning. Many of the founding ideas behind Forge came from Molly. She saw the profound need for manufacturing due to the lack of capacity and together we refined that idea into the hub and spoke model we now have with both our CDMO capabilities and pipeline of therapies.
What problem is your company trying to solve for?
Forge is trying to solve for the lack of gene therapy manufacturing, particularly AAV, so that new therapies can come to market and potentially help save or improve lives. In addition to just more gene therapy manufacturing capacity, there is a gap in expertise to run these facilities. Forge has not only the capacity, but some of the best talent in the gene therapy manufacturing space to make this a reality.
Where and how is your company looking to grow into the next 5 years?
We’re looking to triple our headcount this next year – more than 100 employees and bring in revenue in the middle of the 2021. We want to channel resources from the CDMO side to increase our manufacturing capacity, including pipeline growth, as the need for gene therapy production increases.
How has Drive Capital impacted your company’s future for the better?
Molly is a fantastic board member and Drive has been very supportive branching out into biotech. They have been open-minded, willing to learn and truly grow with us in this space. Having Drive here in Columbus has been critical to our early growth by helping bring together many members of our initial leadership team as well as the awareness that comes with having a pivotal early investor.