Dr. Ipshita Mandal-Johnson, CEO of the Global Bio Fund, has a resume guaranteed to make any executive recruiter’s heart skip a beat. Her global career took her from India to Singapore, New Zealand, the UK and the US. Her biotech bona fides are stellar, and she’s raised tens of millions of dollars for innovative initiatives. Beyond all else, she provides creative value through her role at the fund, working to scale women-led bio ventures.
Mandal-Johnson never thought of herself as a feminist during the early part of her career. She says she rarely, if ever, thought about women and their experiences in the biotech world. “I think for the most of my life, I was blind to the biases.” But biases there were.
In this interview with Ramani Varanasi, the Biopharma/Life Sciences expert for Lioness, Mandal-Johnson talks about the barriers that impact women scientists, women entrepreneurs and women leaders, and what prevents them from achieving their full impact. And she offers a path over those hurdles.
How it all started
Mandal-Johnson grew up in India and moved frequently. She credits her parents and her upbringing for her initial biotechnology passion. She started her career as a researcher and engineer, which took her to Cambridge University. There, Mandal-Johnson worked alongside Professor Nigel Slater, pro-vice-chancellor of enterprising technology. Together, they worked on creating sustainable and cost-effective biomolecule purification processes.
In 2012, Mandal-Johnson co-founded the Global Biotech Revolution, a community interest company guiding leaders of both today and tomorrow, addressing challenges in health, agriculture and climate change. The initiative supported 120 ventures, out of which 18 companies received funding.
Mandal-Johnson noticed biases and could see potential obstacles for other women from as far back as her earliest education. For example, in grade school in India, her teachers would say “School should not be a girl’s priority.” When she later joined McKinsey as a management consultant, she worked in technology, healthcare and public sector practices. The gender disparity in corporate leadership was all too clear.
“I would have never raised my hand and actively talked about women’s rights, but I noticed that we have developmental and systemic barriers towards nurturing women leaders. Some of it is firsthand experience. Some of it is watching other amazing women struggling to have their full impact. That guided me into building the Global Bio Fund. There was a need to focus on women lead bio ventures.”
Creating a global initiative
This was the main driving force behind the creation of her next venture, the Global Bio Fund (GBF). The GBF is a value capital fund with a gender smart lens, focused on industries such as health and wellbeing; food and agriculture; and energy and environment. The organization invests in and helps to scale the growth of impact-oriented, women-led bio ventures at early and growth stages. The fund especially focuses on companies based in the US, UK, Australasia and other high-growth emerging markets.
“Why just women?” muses Mandal-Johnson. “Why not other diverse communities?” Her answer is focus. She’s focused on the problems facing women entrepreneurs and how you design solutions specifically for them.
The importance of the Global Bio Fund
The Global Bio Fund’s mission is to invest in and help scale women-led bio ventures. Part of the challenge is getting mission-aligned limited partners and investors on board. Mandal-Johnson feels that traditional limited partners don’t like terms like “impact” and “value capital”. The words feel too philanthropic. With this in mind, Mandal-Johnson shows investors how investing in women-led ventures will help them financially and environmentally. And if this approach doesn’t work, there are – and will be – other, more suitable venture capitalists, LPs and entrepreneurs.
The GBF is focused on the United Nations’ fifth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), gender equality. Initiatives like GenderSmart and the 2x Collaborative have established gender lens metrics that GBF can use to grade gender equality within a company.
But the GBF looks at company success as well. Mandal-Johnson says, “When we do a measurement of success for a given company, we’re looking at their market traction and the development of the technology. We are looking at measuring gender principles at a quarterly level with them as well.”
The more gender equality there is within a company, the more likely it is that the company will be successful. Research shows that inclusive teams tend to make better business decisions. Less diverse teams are more likely to make poorer choices for their companies. McKinsey & Company analyzed more than 1,000 companies worldwide and proved that organizations with more diverse executive teams are more profitable and offer greater longer-term value.
Tips from a female CEO and an investor
Mandal-Johnson has strong opinions on how female CEOs should pick their investors. She wants women to be true to themselves and their company. She doesn’t believe in “fake it ‘til you make it” or in painting a perfect picture. Mandal-Johnson does believe that there will be someone who is the right fit for your business and your values. Coachability is important, but you can’t lose the purpose of your venture. You shouldn’t have to change your point of view to fit theirs.
As you look for investors, you need to ask yourself questions like: Do they have a big enough network? Are they bringing in enough capital? Can they create strong relationships? Are our investors doing all they can to make us as successful as possible?
And Mandal-Johnson believes in the concept of impact investing – investments that result in a positive outcome, both socially and environmentally. She wants to invest in things that have a beneficial result for the entire world.
Interested in learning more about Dr. Ipshita Mandal-Johnson and the Global Bio Fund? Watch the full video interview.
Ramani Varanasi is the Biopharma/Life Sciences expert for Lioness Magazine. She serves as an adviser to entrepreneurs and biopharma executives and is a co-founder, and the former president and CEO of X-Biotix Therapeutics, a company focused on the discovery and development of novel antibiotics to combat the ever-increasing global issue of multi-drug resistance caused by “Superbugs”. She is an accomplished business executive, with over 25 years of biopharmaceutical industry experience. Being attracted to mission-driven initiatives, Varanasi has operated with an entrepreneurial vision and passion for launching, building and being part of successful organizations by integrating research and business strategies focused on innovative medicines and solutions having a global impact.
This is part of a series of interviews from Ramani Varanasi, focusing on the VIPs in the Life Sciences and Biopharma world. Meet Liz Gazda, Laurie Halloran, Dr. Liang Schweizer, Sue Nemetz, Marian Nakada and Margaret “Missy” Fulton. Learn more about Varanasi from her interview with Bobbie Carlton, Lioness’ publisher and Editor-in-Chief.