In the Spring of 2018, one of our LPs based in Salt Lake City introduced me to a founder named Dan Wee from the vibrant bioscience community there. I enjoyed getting to know Dan and the business he was building, but we weren’t the right investor fit for that company. Over a year later, Dan reached back out to tell me about another compelling founder in town who had just left Recursion Pharma to pursue an ambitious vision. He strongly recommended I take a meeting with Viswa Colluru and I’m very glad I did.
It’s not everyday the CEO of a high-growth company takes time out to write a blog post celebrating one of his executives for leaving. But that’s exactly what Chris Gibson, founder & CEO of Recursion, did when Viswa left the company. It was a noteworthy example of strong culture and mutual respect that foreshadowed what I’ve come to learn about how Viswa conducts himself.
Coming to terms with the deliberate audacity of our mission was both inspiring and infectious, and its pursuit gave me the courage to not just dream big, but to try to make my dreams a reality.
From Viswa's goodbye letter to fellow employees
From our first conversation in August 2019, I knew Viswa was a founder we’d be excited to work with. He has a rare combination of deep scientific background, highly relevant startup experience, a clearly defined commercial vision and the strong personal ambition to realize it. Despite being a first-time founder, he was incredibly thoughtful about how to build a market-defining company the right way. He’d clearly learned a great deal from his time at Recursion, but beyond that he had done his own homework in thinking through platform design, hiring, fundraising, and key milestones. And his unwavering belief in his long-term “North Star” didn't prevent him from being receptive to new information and coaching on how best to achieve it.
So, what exactly is he building? The premise for Enveda is based on two simple realizations:
Nature presents a vast and largely untapped reservoir of valuable chemical compounds that can benefit humanity, and
There is no efficient, repeatable system for identifying and isolating those compounds at scale
By building a platform combining graph-based machine learning with modern plant metabolomics, his vision is to systematically discover and commercialize these high-value compounds from nature across multiple fields of use.
The earliest examples of plant-derived drugs date back to the 1800s when Morphine was first marketed by Merck and Bayer began selling Aspirin. These natural compounds and many others had already been used by human beings for centuries by then - we simply didn’t have the technology to identify, isolate and synthesize them for wide scale medical use. Over the years the list of plant-derived medicines has expanded to include Quinine, Digoxin, Taxol, Artemisinin, Psilocybin, Cannabidiol, and many more. The clinical and market success of these drugs has varied widely as we learned more about their efficacy and side effects. But we have barely scratched the surface of this opportunity. Estimates suggest 90+% of our planet’s biodiversity remains unexplored space. Enveda will merge the benefits of new computational approaches and plant metabolic knowledge into a modern drug discovery company that can both harness and respect that biodiversity. As with any startup, there are many credible reasons why this may not work. But without skepticism, there would be no opportunity to build something important. The company will reveal more about its specific approach in the months and years ahead.
We’ve been proud to support Viswa since leading his pre-seed round in 2019. Every founder’s journey starts with a steep uphill climb that you can’t survive without attracting other talented people to your cause. Viswa recruited Pieter Dorrestein as a scientific co-founder, one of the world’s foremost experts in applying mass spectrometry in metabolomics. After that blog post he wrote when Viswa left, Chris Gibson of Recursion became an Angel and Advisor to the company. After referring Viswa to us, Dan Wee ended up joining the company as Chief of Staff. And now, we’re excited to welcome True Ventures and their expertise to the table as the lead investor for the Seed round. There’s a long way to go, but we believe in Viswa and we’re privileged to join him and his team on this climb.