Tell us about your firm. What makes it different?
Blue Bear Ventures is a seed-stage investor in early deep tech startups founded by scientists and engineers solving the biggest challenges we are facing in our lifetimes: Health and Climate. These are also currently entrenched multi-trillion dollar industries currently undergoing technology industrialization. Grounded in our team’s roots from the University of California, we invest in teams led by scientist founders from top-tier research universities in the US, which have included UC Berkeley, Stanford, MIT and Harvard. We believe scientific discoveries from research institutions are the engines of innovation, and entrepreneurship is the fastest and most impactful path for bringing these innovations to market. As a team of technologists and engineers, we take an interdisciplinary approach to understanding technology’s impact and innovation. Thus, we have developed a unique focus on investing in startups built on substantial scientific advances and high-tech engineering innovation in the areas of applied biology and sustainable economies.
Where did your firm’s name come from?
Blue Bear is a homage to our firm’s roots from the University of California (blue is the university system’s color) and our current home state of California (bear is the state animal). Our team spun out of UC Berkeley, where 2 of our partners co-founded the CITRIS Foundry deep tech accelerator headquartered on the UC Berkeley campus and 1 of our partners is a startup director at the Haas School of Business. We continue to support the UC entrepreneurship ecosystem and maintain a unique relationship with UC Berkeley.
What defines your portfolio?
Our portfolio of 20 companies is composed of companies built by world-class scientists with the entrepreneurial spirit and drive for continued innovation to address the world’s most pressing challenges. As a team, we have been investing in deep tech entrepreneurs since 2013 and have crystalized an understanding of the DNA behind remarkable science-driven companies at the formation stage. We aim to demystify innovation backed by researchers, which has led us to invest in frontier technologies in our core thematic areas of applied biology and the sustainable economy. This has translated into getting a front-row seat to innovations in gene and cell therapy, AI drug discovery, synthetic biology, next-generation battery materials and smart cities.
How is the firm different today than when you first started?
BBV is a fairly young firm that was launched in 2017. We closed our first fund in 2018 and quickly grew our portfolio to 20 companies over the subsequent 2 years. The fund initially started with Patrick Scaglia, our Founding Managing Partner, who spent the previous 5 years building the CITRIS Foundry deep tech accelerator at UC Berkeley after 25+ years as a Silicon Valley technology executive. I soon joined as a Co-Managing Partner after connecting with Patrick through the UC Berkeley entrepreneurship ecosystem to bring his 20+ years of finance and medical device engineering experience. Alic Chen, who co-founded the accelerator with Patrick, joined the team around the same time to bring both his technical background (PhD in Mech. Engineering) and experience identifying and working with scientist founders. Irfan Vissandjee joined us in the fall of 2020 as our Venture Associate after an early career in investment banking. Our small but nimble team of 4 has absorbed a considerable amount of learning in this relatively short period of time. We have honed our skills from our prior experience running a university deep tech accelerator as well as investing, which has really improved our investment selection. Though we are still early in our life cycle, we feel validated by our fund performance to date as a top-quartile seed fund.
Why is your firm a part of NVCA?
As emerging fund managers, we felt it was important to join a community of other experienced and like-minded investors. The NVCA has been a pillar of the venture capital community, and we hope to both learn from and contribute to the incredible network. From our own experience during the formation of our fund, NVCA’s leadership in shaping policy and legislation, particularly with regards to the evolving CFIUS regulations, was critical to the industry. Additionally, resources provided by the NVCA such as their Model Legal Documents have been invaluable for both in practice and in setting standards across the industry.
Tell us about the current VC landscape in your geography/region.
As a firm based in Silicon Valley, we are still in one of the primary regions of global VC activity. The last decade has seen an explosion in growth of smaller seed-stage VC firms such as ourselves. Given the equivalent growth in startups both in the region and our sector of Deep Tech, however, this has seemingly led to a less competitive landscape for deals and increased syndication among our peer investors. Much of this is due to the higher capital requirements of deep tech startups compared to traditional software-driven startups as well as the collaborative nature of our investment sector.
We are a bit concerned by the shift and concentration of venture capital towards much later stage investing and mega-rounds, as this could lead to a growing gap in Series A & B capital available to companies. However, we are optimistic that opens up opportunities for us and our peer funds to contribute to bringing these promising companies to the next stage. With regards to the pandemic, our sector has remained very active and competitive. The pandemic seems to have reinforced our thesis and the fact that science does matter. It’s clear that applied health and sustainability will continue to have global exposure for years to come.
What’s ahead for your firm in 2021?
We’re supporting our portfolio companies’ growth, geographical expansion, and investing in more innovators of the future we want to live in.
Describe your firm’s culture in 5 words or less.
People, Facts, Science, Humility, Curiosity
Cassie Ann Hodges serves as Director of Communications at NVCA where she leads NVCA’s strategic communications, branding and content development, and media efforts to better support and empower the venture community, startups, and entrepreneurs. She also oversees the NVCA StratComm Peer Group network and programming.