Welcome to our Member Spotlight series where we give a profile overview of our many diverse members. For this deep dive, we spoke to Niall O’Donnell, Nancy Hong, and John McKearn, Managing Directors at RiverVest.
Tell us about your firm. What makes it different?
RiverVest is a venture capital firm with $1 billion AUM investing in early stage life science companies developing biopharmaceuticals and medical devices. This year marked our 20th in addressing significant unmet medical needs of patients and delivering consistently strong results to our investors.
Founded in St. Louis in 2000 at the intersection of an outstanding medical research university and an emerging innovation ecosystem, the firm invests nationally. With additional offices in San Diego and Cleveland, we leverage a unique innovation network and cultivate compelling investment opportunities wherever they are.
Our willingness to build teams to found and guide successful companies also differentiates RiverVest. We have co-founded 15 companies, and the operational experience of our partners allows us to play active roles and sometimes fill interim positions in these companies.
Where did your firm’s name come from?
The name “RiverVest” reflects our deep ties to our hometown, St. Louis. We like to think our approach to decision making is strong and steady, similar to the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers that converge just north of St. Louis.
What defines your portfolio?
We invest in products with clear paths to clinical approval, placing emphasis on demonstrating safety and efficacy in early clinical trials.
We are high-conviction investors, building a portfolio of broad strength rather than hoping for a few homeruns. We support our portfolio companies through their paths to an exit and are collaborative board members and partners with their management teams.
This approach has worked well. In addition to having multiple top-performing funds, we are proud that there are more than 25 commercial products currently treating patients from companies in which we have invested.
How is the firm different today than when you first started?
September 2020 marked the 20th anniversary of RiverVest and gave us a chance to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going.
In those 20 years, we have witnessed the venture-backed biotech industry mature, with important lessons learned, along with our talented entrepreneurs, and evermore external innovation being sought by the large acquirers. The technological innovations are astounding, finally reaping the rewards from many years of research.
Since 2000, we’ve closed seven funds, including a seed fund, and honed our investment strategy, growing our funds to keep on top of a busier life science sector. We will continue to carefully select and manage our portfolio to weather the challenges of human biology and clinical development, as well as changing economic and market conditions.
Why is your firm a part of NVCA?
The model documents, insights, webinars, and events have been valuable resources, and we are proud to be a part of an organization that plays such an important role advocating for the U.S. venture capital and start-up communities.
Tell us about the current VC landscape in your geography/region. What’s ahead for your firm in 2021?
Operating outside the Bay Area and Boston hubs has pros and cons, but during the pandemic we have seen an influx of transplants wanting more space and value for their dollars. While the lack of travel has made it challenging to nurture new relationships, strengthening existing ties nationally has never been more efficient via videoconferencing. We also note a very impressive drive to manage through logistical difficulties when the mission to find treatments and cures is so strong.
Similarly, at RiverVest, we are excited about the many opportunities to build momentum in fulfilling our mission. We have recently bolstered our team with the additions of a managing director, a chief financial officer, a senior associate, an analyst, and a marketing and communications specialist. This deeper bench will strengthen our engagement with our portfolio companies, the venture community, and our investors, as we continue seeking unique investment opportunities tackling serious unmet clinical needs.
Describe your firm’s culture in 5 words or less.
Collaborative. Dependable. Results-driven.
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.