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BioTech leader asks New Zealand to dig deeper for Impact

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20 January 2021

University of Auckland alumna Ipshita Mandal-Johnson is the CEO of the Global Bio Fund, an impact fund with a world-leading approach to growing diverse entrepreneurs (especially women-led companies) addressing global challenges. She says that New Zealand is full of talent and innovation that the world is crying out for but needs to aim higher to share its gifts at scale globally and be impact driven.

Global Bio Fund (GBF) is building the world’s first seed accelerator fund focused on the best diverse entrepreneurial teams addressing global challenges in healthcare, food security and climate change. It operates to serve a number of functions – building research and learning experiences through an open network of thought leaders and entrepreneurs, sharing knowledge through consulting and advisory services to raise capital or scale businesses, and directly investing through two vehicles: the Global Bio Xcellerator (GBX) and the Global Bio Fund (GBF). Ipshita says that GBF is driven by real challenges and values. “We need to build ideas, companies and ventures in the bio/ life sciences sector that are impact-focused. Value creation is evolving beyond current short-term shareholder returns and purely financial capitalistic models to a triple bottom line approach with people, planet and then profit.”

The projects that GBF supports address audacious global challenges that require innovation, diversity and a passion for social and environmental justice – attributes that New Zealanders hold in abundance. However, Ipshita says the New Zealanders are held back by a limited approach to entrepreneurship. “Kiwi innovation is ingenious and creative, however it has lacked a growth mindset with limited access to markets and financial capital to scale up. Firstly, we are a small country so we need to strategise specific innovation areas of excellence and build up these Cores of Excellence as world-leading hotspots. Secondly, most kiwi start-ups are constrained to the New Zealand and Australian markets and need to be thinking of global markets from the outset to ensure they bring in like-minded experts, customers and investors.” Ipshita also suggests that there is an area where New Zealand could particularly thrive. “Meeting local development needs and meeting environmental and social goals through innovative business models of social entrepreneurship and impact investing is the new global trend, and New Zealand needs to catch up if not be leading this space.”

Ipshita herself is a great example of how proverbial mighty trees start from small seeds. She was a self-described “nerdy kid” who enjoyed digging up the garden to look for microbes and building periscopes to use in hide-and-seek missions. Though she was always interested in science, her interest in entrepreneurship was first planted at Mt Roskill Grammar School (Young Enterprise NZ) and the seed grew through involvement with Chiasma and the University of Auckland Business School’s Velocity (then, Spark) entrepreneurship programme, which she participated in alongside her formal Biotechnology studies. As her knowledge and confidence grew, her networking and entrepreneurially-minded approach to life have opened up opportunities.

Ipshita hopped from the University of Auckland to Cambridge to Harvard. At Cambridge she presented her research work to 6 Nobel prize winners in biology and chemistry at the CEICS Nobel Campus. It’s a moment in her biography which makes one wonder about the amount of confidence required for a presentation like that. Ipshita says that she gets her drive from putting purpose at the heart of her approach to life and leadership. “I’ve found that making leadership to be less about myself and more about personal values of impact, service to others, knowledge and wellbeing has brought the untapped energy or passion behind every project to solve the problem at stake.” It’s an approach that has worked. As a result of her team’s presentation to the Nobel prize winners, the team won the Cambridge University Entrepreneurs Award and the technology has been further developed by corporates Astrazeneca and Cytiva.

Ipshita’s ongoing list of achievements are staggering. At McKinsey New York she led one of the Top 5 Pharma M&A deals as Chief of Staff for a deal valued at $60B USD. She was one the first few employees at synthetic biology/chemistry start-up Nanna Therapeutics that was eventually bought by Astellas, a Japanese pharma giant, for an overall deal value of close to $90M USD to boost the development of drugs for age-related conditions and cancer. She also co-founded the highly impactful Global Biotech Revolution / GapSummit in 2012 – the world’s first inter-generational platform for the bio-economy. The summits have brought together approximately 600 Leaders of Tomorrow from 72 countries to debate with over 300 Leaders of Today from industry, academia and government. In addition, the summits have generated over 120 venture teams and 18 have started companies, supported by more than 70 organisations including the WHO, UN, Nature, BBC, BIO, Facebook and Johnson and Johnson. Her passion to drive the summit highlights her belief in the power of community.

Ipshita is currently based in Boston. As well as leading the Global Bio Fund, Ipshita conducts research and teaching at Harvard School of Public Health. She is currently preparing to move back to New Zealand in the middle of 2021 where she plans to invest in early stage start-ups via GBF and contribute to New Zealand’s knowledge economy. Going forward, she says she wants to continue to lobby for Bio Innovation, which she sees as having a unique role to play in solving challenges in healthcare, food security and climate change. “I want to keep serving at the intersection of bio, innovation and impact, addressing the planet, people, and then profit through my portfolio of work, especially through the Global Bio Fund.”

Ipshita’s top 3 tips for new founders

Team: “Build a founding team of diverse backgrounds and don’t get caught up on share structures and positions too early – focus on building the idea/venture. Some of my best venture experiences have been with co-founders who share a vision, know how to have a good time together, and aren’t afraid to challenge each other.”

Market: “Take the time to build a market strategy for a platform technology/solution and test it as soon as possible with customers (B2B or B2C) to develop a phased growth plan and find like-minded early team members and investors. Many scientists and engineers try to perfect their product. I learnt that it was never too early to start talking to multiple stakeholders and get them involved in the development as early as possible.”

Social capital: “The power of networking- across disciplines, industries and generational gaps. Also taking the time to deepen relationships and problem-solve around the next steps of venture growth with them. The openness and kindness of kiwis to have a coffee and connect you with anyone and everyone still strikes me as one of its best attributes of New Zealand.”

Nicholas Bing
Nicholas Bing
Nicholas Bing
Nicholas Bing

social media

20 January 2021

University of Auckland alumna Ipshita Mandal-Johnson is the CEO of the Global Bio Fund, an impact fund with a world-leading approach to growing diverse entrepreneurs (especially women-led companies) addressing global challenges. She says that New Zealand is full of talent and innovation that the world is crying out for but needs to aim higher to share its gifts at scale globally and be impact driven.

Global Bio Fund (GBF) is building the world’s first seed accelerator fund focused on the best diverse entrepreneurial teams addressing global challenges in healthcare, food security and climate change. It operates to serve a number of functions – building research and learning experiences through an open network of thought leaders and entrepreneurs, sharing knowledge through consulting and advisory services to raise capital or scale businesses, and directly investing through two vehicles: the Global Bio Xcellerator (GBX) and the Global Bio Fund (GBF). Ipshita says that GBF is driven by real challenges and values. “We need to build ideas, companies and ventures in the bio/ life sciences sector that are impact-focused. Value creation is evolving beyond current short-term shareholder returns and purely financial capitalistic models to a triple bottom line approach with people, planet and then profit.”

The projects that GBF supports address audacious global challenges that require innovation, diversity and a passion for social and environmental justice – attributes that New Zealanders hold in abundance. However, Ipshita says the New Zealanders are held back by a limited approach to entrepreneurship. “Kiwi innovation is ingenious and creative, however it has lacked a growth mindset with limited access to markets and financial capital to scale up. Firstly, we are a small country so we need to strategise specific innovation areas of excellence and build up these Cores of Excellence as world-leading hotspots. Secondly, most kiwi start-ups are constrained to the New Zealand and Australian markets and need to be thinking of global markets from the outset to ensure they bring in like-minded experts, customers and investors.” Ipshita also suggests that there is an area where New Zealand could particularly thrive. “Meeting local development needs and meeting environmental and social goals through innovative business models of social entrepreneurship and impact investing is the new global trend, and New Zealand needs to catch up if not be leading this space.”

Ipshita herself is a great example of how proverbial mighty trees start from small seeds. She was a self-described “nerdy kid” who enjoyed digging up the garden to look for microbes and building periscopes to use in hide-and-seek missions. Though she was always interested in science, her interest in entrepreneurship was first planted at Mt Roskill Grammar School (Young Enterprise NZ) and the seed grew through involvement with Chiasma and the University of Auckland Business School’s Velocity (then, Spark) entrepreneurship programme, which she participated in alongside her formal Biotechnology studies. As her knowledge and confidence grew, her networking and entrepreneurially-minded approach to life have opened up opportunities.

Ipshita hopped from the University of Auckland to Cambridge to Harvard. At Cambridge she presented her research work to 6 Nobel prize winners in biology and chemistry at the CEICS Nobel Campus. It’s a moment in her biography which makes one wonder about the amount of confidence required for a presentation like that. Ipshita says that she gets her drive from putting purpose at the heart of her approach to life and leadership. “I’ve found that making leadership to be less about myself and more about personal values of impact, service to others, knowledge and wellbeing has brought the untapped energy or passion behind every project to solve the problem at stake.” It’s an approach that has worked. As a result of her team’s presentation to the Nobel prize winners, the team won the Cambridge University Entrepreneurs Award and the technology has been further developed by corporates Astrazeneca and Cytiva.

Ipshita’s ongoing list of achievements are staggering. At McKinsey New York she led one of the Top 5 Pharma M&A deals as Chief of Staff for a deal valued at $60B USD. She was one the first few employees at synthetic biology/chemistry start-up Nanna Therapeutics that was eventually bought by Astellas, a Japanese pharma giant, for an overall deal value of close to $90M USD to boost the development of drugs for age-related conditions and cancer. She also co-founded the highly impactful Global Biotech Revolution / GapSummit in 2012 – the world’s first inter-generational platform for the bio-economy. The summits have brought together approximately 600 Leaders of Tomorrow from 72 countries to debate with over 300 Leaders of Today from industry, academia and government. In addition, the summits have generated over 120 venture teams and 18 have started companies, supported by more than 70 organisations including the WHO, UN, Nature, BBC, BIO, Facebook and Johnson and Johnson. Her passion to drive the summit highlights her belief in the power of community.

Ipshita is currently based in Boston. As well as leading the Global Bio Fund, Ipshita conducts research and teaching at Harvard School of Public Health. She is currently preparing to move back to New Zealand in the middle of 2021 where she plans to invest in early stage start-ups via GBF and contribute to New Zealand’s knowledge economy. Going forward, she says she wants to continue to lobby for Bio Innovation, which she sees as having a unique role to play in solving challenges in healthcare, food security and climate change. “I want to keep serving at the intersection of bio, innovation and impact, addressing the planet, people, and then profit through my portfolio of work, especially through the Global Bio Fund.”

Ipshita’s top 3 tips for new founders

Team: “Build a founding team of diverse backgrounds and don’t get caught up on share structures and positions too early – focus on building the idea/venture. Some of my best venture experiences have been with co-founders who share a vision, know how to have a good time together, and aren’t afraid to challenge each other.”

Market: “Take the time to build a market strategy for a platform technology/solution and test it as soon as possible with customers (B2B or B2C) to develop a phased growth plan and find like-minded early team members and investors. Many scientists and engineers try to perfect their product. I learnt that it was never too early to start talking to multiple stakeholders and get them involved in the development as early as possible.”

Social capital: “The power of networking- across disciplines, industries and generational gaps. Also taking the time to deepen relationships and problem-solve around the next steps of venture growth with them. The openness and kindness of kiwis to have a coffee and connect you with anyone and everyone still strikes me as one of its best attributes of New Zealand.”


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