Continuity and diversity: Rafaèle Tordjman's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M
For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.
Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.
Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.
The close exceeded Jeito’s original goal of €500 million.
Having spent years at the top-tier French VC firm Sofinnova, Tordjman crafted her strategy to stand out from the crowd by having her portfolio companies’ backs every step of the way. Instead of having one fund for early-stage startups and another for growth, Jeito’s funds are designed to pour money and refill as needed, no matter what stage the company is at — even all the way to an IPO and beyond.
Tordjman is ready to invest as much as $100 million into a given company, although by nature of her strategy of building a diverse portfolio, she reckons some would exit earlier than others, allowing room for 12 to 15 bets in Fund I.
“We will invest big money in some of them, but not all of them,” she said.
Jeito is not picky about the therapeutic areas. So far, it has invested in five Europe-based companies with a global vision, including French-based SparingVision and InnoSkel, the former developing new gene therapies for the eye and the latter focusing on rare skeletal disorders; Dutch biotech Neogene Therapeutics, co-founded by Ton Schumacher on a quest to create cell therapies for solid tumors; UK-based Pulmocide, specializing in severe respiratory diseases; and Swiss French Alentis Therapeutics, striving for treatments in fibrosis and related cancers.
The emphasis on diversity is also manifested in the team, which is heavily dominated by women.
Tordjman, founder and chairwoman of the 11-year-old Women Innovating Together in Healthcare group, co-manages the fund out of the Paris office alongside J&J vet Sabine Dandiguian, while Rachel Mears, who led business strategy and operations at Forest Lab before it became Allergan, works in New York. Four out of the six operational investors are women, bringing expertise in reproductive health, G protein coupled receptors, transactions and alliance management, and so on.
Bringing their skill sets of experience together to work together on deals is crucial to making her strategy work.
“For the price of one, you get several of us,” Tordjman joked.
All of that gives Jeito plenty of fuel to blaze a path that, while well-trodden in the US, is still quite new in Europe. Along the way, she has encountered her share of skepticism, although she believed the Covid-19 pandemic may have opened investors’ minds.
“It meant at least (for) some investors, like French insurance companies, how much it’s important to take risk — some type of risk,” she said. “And particularly with our team that is control — I mean not controlling the risk, but mitigating the risks, because of our experience in pharma, biotech and others, across the value chain.”