Collaboration trumps competition: Building a strong longevity investment ecosystem together

LongeVC’s Sergey Jakimov explains that unlocking the potential of longer, healthier lives requires joint efforts from VCs, startups, investors and nonprofits.

In today’s rapidly advancing world, the pursuit of longer and healthier lives has become a shared objective. However, achieving this goal requires more than the efforts of a single individual or company – it demands the formation of a robust ecosystem, where collaboration among various stakeholders plays a pivotal role. From venture capitalists and startups to investors, universities and nonprofits, a united front against the common challenge of aging is essential.

Collaboration trumps competition: Building a strong longevity investment ecosystem together

Sergey Jakimov, the CEO of Swiss investment group LongeVC joins us to delve into the importance of collaboration over competition in building a longevity investment ecosystem, and to explain that by fostering an environment of shared knowledge, support and cooperation, we can unlock the immense potential of longevity advancements and pave the way for a healthier future. It’s time, he says, for a fundamental mindset shift.

Building a longevity investment ecosystem requires collaboration, not competition
by Sergey Jakimov

If it takes a village to raise a child, it will take an ecosystem to grow and sustain the longevity movement. No single individual or company will deliver longer, healthier lives. Instead, progress will stem from VCs, startups, investors, universities, nonprofits, and more. So we should present a united front against a shared challenge – aging. Doing so will require a healthy longevity ecosystem capable of addressing this on the disease and lifestyle levels. 

Enacting this is easier said than done. The technology space is competitive by nature. Startups typically measure success in their unique value proposition as opposed to their peers and the amount of funding rather than collaboration with others in the field. 

A very similar trend is present in the VC world. Funds compete for allocations in the most profitable deals, target the same groups of LPs, and work exclusively to demonstrate high returns and enable further fundraises. While both startups and VCs follow the general rulebook of any established high-tech industry, a slightly more creationist and, perhaps, selfless approach is required when trying to build an industry. Creating an integrated longevity ecosystem requires a fundamental mindset shift.

Luckily, the potential returns are immense. Whether you’re new to the longevity space or an industry OG, everyone can benefit from enhanced communication. No one has all the answers. While it may be a cliché, the phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats” applies here. By collectively supporting the industry, we are building its robust future. 

The root of longevity: Early-stage research

Longevity’s proportion of early-stage research sets the field apart. There is a reason why many nonprofits focus on funding even earlier than the Pre-Seed stage. Research groups are only beginning to unlock a complete understanding of aging. New ideas must receive support, leave the lab, and enter clinical practice through pre-clinical and clinical studies. Assuming relevant actors cover potential funding stages, emerging tech can get initial support from non-profits, connect with early-stage VCs, then later-stage VCs, and finally mainstream investors like Pfizer. The cycle begins anew. 

Having investors ranging from nonprofits to major pharmaceutical companies benefits longevity’s future. It provides the diverse support needed to weather the storm. This is essential, as it is not an easy time for the longevity industry. Longevity.Technology’s recent report showed Q1 2023 had one of the lowest deal numbers in longevity funding since 2013. 

While they still face economic challenges, nonprofits in essential sectors often demonstrate resilience. During 2008’s “Great Recession,” healthcare nonprofit assets grew by 27.6%. And as I shared in my response to the investing report, I am optimistic about longevity’s future. Meaningful causes and savvy businesses will bypass typical challenges. Health, particularly aging, is near and dear to people’s hearts. On the nonprofit side, individuals will likely keep supporting personally relevant organizations. It’s a similar tale for venture capital firms. They will make investments that align with their investment theses and due diligence needs. Diverse funding catalyzes sustainable growth. 

The power of success stories

Early collaborative success stories are the golden recipe for any emerging industry. Nothing sells a young industry better than a story of early believers who took risks and saw monetary and ideological success. Think about cybersecurity at the very dawn of the internet, or AI, before the world even knew the application of GANs in consumer products (or what GANs were in the first place). Think crypto before 2011. People took massive risks and received tremendous payouts. 

The early adopters and financiers propelled these heavily-invested fields. They saw the opportunity and teamed up to co-invest and support the early tech with sometimes minimal resources. In doing so, they created an opportunity for the tech to demonstrate its first profitable exits and gain social traction. Capital providers, future founders, and industry builders joined the conversation started by early supporters and created excitement around the future. Cooperative early ecosystem members play a critical role in building a promising image for emerging fields.

Failing gracefully – and filtering out the lemons

While nothing benefits an emerging industry more than inspiring success stories, nothing hurts it more than what I call “lemons.” These are solutions, approaches, technologies, and claims that assume a lack of information flow between founders and the public. Generally, proving a selected approach or technology does not work is as important as proving that something does work. We must fail clinical trials to launch successful ones later. I am a big supporter of being transparent about technologies’ shortcomings. Public results and analysis provide valuable examples for others to learn and grow from. 

Taking advantage of the relative lack of industry understanding is incredibly harmful. Unfortunately, some actors lean into this idea and promote claims that would easily be debunked in an open research setting. They attract funding or sales by offering something rooted in misinformation. In other words, exploiting the “black box” advantage is unfair when selling or developing products. 

To be illustrative, let me simply reference the very recent experiment with NMN purity by Professor Andrea Meier from the University of Singapore, recently presented during the first Sheba Longevity Center conference. Her group has purchased dozens of NMN supplement samples from all over the world and tested their purity in the certified lab, comparing the actual NMN content with the one claimed by the manufacturer. I will spare your time guessing how many manufacturers matched their claimed numbers – none. Some claiming 100% only achieved 20 to 30%. Examples like this are prime demonstrations of relying on “black box” marketing strategies. They harm the field and discredit founders doing legitimate work.

Cooperation over competition

You may have heard of the term “smart money” in the VC world. It refers to the benefits a VC offers besides its monetary investment. Smart money can include business advising, networking opportunities, B2B connections, and more. This term has been phased out, as offering these is now a given for VCs. Startups take the quality of these into account when selecting funders. TechCrunch calls it “value over valuation.”

The longevity industry should adopt a similar model. I’m not saying the longevity industry should be devoid of competition. On the contrary, some competition is always healthy for sectors, as it encourages differentiation and success. But longevity is no place for cutthroat battles or secrecy. Cooperation creates early success stories and defeats the potential lemons I mentioned earlier. 

A united approach to longevity

In my guest article last month, I explored the idea of longevity literacy. We must focus on public awareness and education to ensure longevity reaches the masses. This means translating dense scientific studies into approachable factoids and written content. It also requires a refreshed approach to community building. While the longevity industry throws fantastic conferences, they often assume a baseline understanding. Conference programming should have tracks and opportunities for “normal” people to participate. We mustn’t forget how novel antiaging terms sound to people outside the scientific world. 

It’s not only a question of public understanding. Many physicians don’t have a clear idea of what modern longevity science entails. Few resources exist for their education in emerging fields, especially if it’s not something they encounter in their day-to-day work. Conferences should offer education for these groups as well. We can create accessible resources to share the latest updates with physicians, regardless of their ability to attend an event. The Healthy Longevity Medicine Society is a high-potential solution. The organization convenes critical conversations about what longevity medicine should look like in practice, with education as a top priority. 

Beyond conferences, longevity actors should seriously consider what inter-industry collaboration can look like. Where can they add value to others seeking support? How can they uplift a founder beyond VC funding? The answers don’t have to be groundbreaking. Viewing collaboration as an opportunity, rather than a threat, is the first step.

Photograph: drobotdean/Freepik