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‘Gap years’ are for adults, too: Ex-Foundation exec Steve Kafka joins Third Rock after globetrotting break

After taking off the past 7 months to travel the world and spend time with family, former Foundation Medicine exec Steve Kafka is joining the startup foundry Third Rock Venture as their latest venture partner.

Kafka has spent the bulk of his career in finance and operations at various biopharma outfits, most recently serving as president and COO of Foundation. This will be Kafka’s first post in the VC world, but that’s not unusual for Third Rock partners. In fact, the VC firm makes a habit of bringing in guys like Kafka. Just last week, another venture partner — Jeff Tong — was telling me about Third Rock’s unusual appetite for industry execs that have more experience running companies than investing in them. That’s because the firm is a bit nontraditional in its model, operating like a “startup studio” — building out companies themselves rather than investing in existing ones.

It seems to be working for Third Rock. The venture firm has seen a number of recent exits, including from notable portfolio companies like Magenta Therapeutics (which just raised a $100 million IPO earlier this summer), Editas, Bluebird, and Kafka’s former employer Foundation Medicine.

After resigning from Foundation this February, Kafka announced he would spend his next phase of life globetrotting. His LinkedIn profile proclaims: “A ‘gap year’ isn’t just for the very young!”

Steve Kafka

Kafka tells me he and his family traveled to France, Switzerland, and then came back home to Boston to achieve his goal of “100% attendance at my daughter’s lacrosse games.”

When it came time to plug back in, Kafka said he couldn’t imagine a more exciting role than one at Third Rock, where he would be exposed to the liveliest part of early-stage entrepreneurship on a regular basis.

“For me, the early-stage company build is the best part,” Kafka said. “To be able to go do that again — and again and again — sounds so incredibly fun and impactful to me.”

We don’t know which startups he’ll be heading up for now, but Kafka said they plan to get him started on two to three different projects and see where things go.


Image: Steve Kafka. THIRD ROCK


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