Enveda Biosciences: Behind the Scenes
What makes Enveda achieve so much, so quickly?
At Hummingbird, we invest in exceptional founders at the earliest stage of their journey. Our intention for this “Behind the Scenes” series is to put a spotlight on a few special people — the builders who work tirelessly alongside founders to turn dreams into reality. We hope that their stories can inspire yours and that, in their words, you find a realistic picture of what the startup journey is actually like.
Enveda just keeps shipping: state-of-the-art advancements in platform development (such as MS2Prop and GRAFF-MS), its rich pipeline, ongoing financings and industry heavyweights joining its mission.
What makes Enveda achieve so much, so quickly? Viswa Colluru, Founder and CEO, answers this succinctly across every board deck: “people create all value”. In this post, we wanted to shine a light on some of the exceptional talent behind the scenes that focus relentlessly on making Enveda the leader in unlocking the chemistry of the natural world.
Hannah Gordon, VP of Product
“Tie your dreams to reality, or get ready for an exhausting chase”
Hannah is the first scientist in her family. Curious and impatient, she found herself subjecting her teachers to a middle-school version of Socratic questioning. Her discoveries in science and her desire to communicate to her family refined the way she explained technical concepts in a way that everyone could understand.
Hannah obtained a PhD in Human Genetics and Molecular Biology from the University of Utah. Whilst getting acquainted with mitochondria during her graduate studies, Hannah became frustrated with the tiny sliver of biology she could study. In a search for a wider impact, she started volunteering for a cancer hospital and joined a translational programme with the focus of having a visible effect on patients. Hannah reminds herself (as a fortune cookie once told her) that one should “tie your dreams to reality, or get ready for an exhausting chase”. It’s no coincidence that she became known as the team amplifier at Recursion Pharmaceuticals and is now the point person that ensures that all groups at Enveda work together to deliver a valuable product. She takes her own and Enveda’s team's ideas, and creates the processes required to deliver; now.
She also frequently flies a plane as a means to explore the natural world. She reminds us that if you don’t want to hit air pockets that accelerate you towards the ground, don’t fly through Wyoming.
Joe Rokicki, Chief Technology Officer
“Always do what’s best for the company’s North Star”
Joe is a technological swiss knife. He started as an Electrical Engineering undergrad and then trained at the Integrated Science programme run by David Botstein, where engineering, computer science, biology and physics were taught at the same time and in relation to each other. Instead of carrying out fundamental research, Joe wanted to take what we already know and build things with it. It was during iGEM that Joe really fell in love with biology, by turning it to an engineering discipline.
Having a strong engineering and programming background, Joe enrolled in a pure biotech PhD programme in Enzymology, where he became the in-house programmer, where he could code the projects that no one else could.
Joe found a role at a next generation sequencing company called Omniome, which was a dream come true for him; a place where we could engineer and solder circuits, programme the robotics and carry out the molecular biology at the same time, without being siloed to one discipline. The CEO of Omniome and Joe then co-founded Plexium. He built the company from zero to one, but discovered that as a pure platform company, it is not in charge of its own destiny and has to comply with what pharma partners want.
What really excited Joe about Enveda is that even as a Seed stage company, it already had a robust preclinical pipeline and the spirit of the company was clearly to take the products the whole way — from discovery to launch. He runs the Research Accelerator at Enveda, which is focused on zero-to-one projects, where he can get to proof-of-concept for any technical solution that Enveda needs. He uses his diverse expertise to recognise gaps and translate them into the necessary language.
Sotirios Karathanasis, Chief Science Officer
Joe recounts one of Sotirios’ famous stories: “When he was at one of the pharma companies he got in trouble because he wasn't taking his PTO and that he was put on a mandatory vacation. And so for his PTO, he put on track pants and a stack of papers and snuck into someone else's office and worked from there”.
Sotirios embodies the definition of an industry heavy-weight and an entrepreneurial scientist. He was born in Greece, where he studied chemistry. Shortly after his undergraduate studies, he moved to the US not speaking English, yet graduated with a PhD by studying biology textbooks and a Greek to English dictionary.
Sotirios moved to Harvard Medical School as a postdoc and finally associate professor where he focused on metabolism. During his academic career, he was one of the first scientists to link genetics to lipoprotein metabolism and heart disease.
When his cardiologist friend, whom he admired, moved to industry, he was lured into the same company that was eventually acquired by Pfizer. Here he worked on the development of Premarine for hot flashes and other drugs targeting nuclear receptors.
Eli Lilly then poached Sotirios to be the CSO for its metabolism division, which included its atherosclerosis and diabetes franchises, where under his watch they put the first GLP-1 agonist in the market. Sotirios then jumped to AstraZeneca where he ran a 250 person team in Gothenburg, Sweden.
What attracted Sotirios to leave his position and join Enveda? “The chemical diversity of nature is much smarter than what most companies use. It has had millions of years to devise compounds and optimize them so they have biological activity. And this has been clear for a while, but only Enveda is utilizing metabolomics and machine learning to solve the issue with natural product identification. The drugs that nature has developed like metformin, statins, aspirin have created whole franchises of drugs.”
Megan Schroeder, Platform Scientist
“Tell me what you want to build, and we’re going to sprint full speed at making it reality.”
Megan joined Enveda from her postdoc at the University of Colorado Boulder where she focused on using biomaterials to study cardiac fibrosis. She was introduced to Enveda through a network contact, and scheduled a 30 minute call with Hannah. Before they knew it, they’d been chatting for 2 hours. Hannah embodied a magical sparkle of science and of wanting to build and create something meaningful.
At Enveda, Megan is part of the High Throughput Screening (HTS) group, working with other brilliant scientists to design assays and coordinate the screening of plant extracts to identify potential drugs for different targets of interest. After years in academia (an ecosystem not known for speed), when she joined Enveda, she was surprised by the high sense of urgency resonating within the team to identify problems and quickly build solutions. This sense of urgency has helped them to scale quickly. When she first arrived, there was a single tissue culture hood, and a warehouse, startup feel. She was processing a single well plate in a week, and today, they are processing hundreds of plates per week. They are in a constant stage of growth, that she doesn’t see stopping, and she is addicted to this environment because she is very achievement motivated. Tell me what you want to build, and we’re going to sprint full speed at making it reality.
In line with Enveda’s vision to change the world, Megan’s personal mantra is to positively influence someone’s day with a smile. The world is hard. Life is hard. Why not decide to make it better?
August Allen, Chief Platform Officer
“My primary focus is distilling a complicated process into a simple and intuitive application to discover drugs from the natural world.”
August takes projects from one-to-one-hundred. He’s been scaling workflows in biotech since his undergrad where he did a short stint at J&J programming robots to help formulate the biologics to make them more stable. Unenthused with the bureaucracy of Big Pharma, August started searching for companies that were trying to have an outsized impact and stumbled across Recursion Pharmaceuticals. He had never been to Salt Lake City, where the company is based and knew no one that worked there, but was captivated with the scale of the mission. He packed his bags and joined the company as employee #21 in 2016. He was the first person to be hired to programme robots to automate the platform and built the initial infrastructure that enabled it to generate such large amounts of data. He then realized that the platform was generating tons of hits, but not always for tractable diseases. For instance, diseases suffered by very few people scattered across the world, rather than discovering targets with larger unmet clinical needs. He became enthralled by prioritization of programmes, and that's when he started working closely with Viswa and Hannah at Recursion.
When Enveda started building out its lab, it was a clear next step for August: to build the scaled out platform to industrialize mass spectrometry and natural product drug discovery. A year and a half into his role at the company, August and his team have built out several capabilities, the latest of which is a core component of the company’s platform: Enveda Search. This internally-focused platform allows drug discovery scientists and product managers to identify natural product compounds with specific characteristics (i.e. physicochemical features, molecular assay read-outs) within a matter of seconds. August and Joe work together to bring the company’s proof-of-concepts to a scaled out product, like Enveda Search, in a few months.
David Healey, VP of Data Science
“Claim a type of data and own it”
David Healey is a biochemist by training, but fell in love with machine learning and computation during his PhD. When the first deep learning model won the ImageNet competition, machine learning and neural networks captured his imagination, and he was hooked. Foregoing academia, he decided to go into industry for applied machine learning research, because that’s where the largest datasets were gathered.
David heard about Recursion Pharmaceuticals and was intrigued by their approach of combining machine learning with cellular imaging. He didn’t hesitate to join the team as one of their first data scientists.
After reconnecting with Viswa, David was enthralled by Enveda’s vision to expand metabolomics through plant chemistry. He dropped everything and joined Enveda. David was excited by the different approach to drug discovery. Whereas many other pharmaceutical companies were focused on getting priors to clinical trials in humans, Viswa suggested dealing with the priors by starting with a different set of chemistry. Namely, taking medicinal plants that are already used in people, and expanding metabolomics through pairing mass spectrometry and machine learning to expand small molecule drug discovery and identify the active compounds in plants.
At Enveda, David is the VP of Data Science, leading a group of twenty scientists across three teams. He has integrated machine learning into the metabolomic workflow, enabling features including chemical structure prediction from the mass spectrum and knowledge graphs for mapping small molecules to function. Going forward, David is excited to scale - there are more than 500,000 plant species on Earth, and we have barely scratched the surface. He is also eager to combine genomics, transcriptomics, and proteomics in plant powered drug discovery.
Renee Deming, Director BD/Portfolio Strategy
“Love what you do and who you do it with…success will follow””
Kicking off the first 10 years of her career in drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics (DMPK), Renee covered all aspects of the R&D pathway from the early idea phase to the clinic. With her prior successes pushing drugs through the pre-clinical process under her belt, Renee was ready for her next challenge at Enveda. She was excited that the early stage company had the foresight to recognize the value of ensuring the alignment of the entirety of its robust portfolio with a well defined corporate strategy. Renee was excited to bring her R&D and BD expertise to the Enveda BD team.
On a day-to-day basis, Renee is a jack of all trades. In a nutshell, she works with the R&D team to ensure that Enveda’s programs align with the overall corporate strategy and business objectives. Renee's current Enveda-related obsession is making sure there is cross-functional alignment across teams as they execute their programs. Outside of work, she is obsessed with her two little girls.
In all the busy-ness at Enveda, Renee keeps in mind to listen well, talk to others, ask questions, and practice boldness. There are no stupid questions, and 99% of the time, another person in the room will have the same question.
Dan Wee, Chief of Staff
“Lead by consent rather than consensus.”
Dan has worn many hats during his career, from Assistant Professor at the University of Utah, to Founder and CEO of T3S Technologies, a protein expression company. After he sold T3S, Dan embarked on a broad survey of companies in the AI space and realized that AI algorithms at the time were not geared towards predictive biology. Still reeling from the stress of operating T3S, Dan moved to Korea with his family, where he taught at a university as he contemplated his next move.
When he returned to the USA, he searched for biotech companies that integrated AI, and found Recursion Pharmaceuticals. There was an open Product Manager position (Viswa’s now vacant role), so he cold-messaged Viswa to chat more about the role. Viswa took this opportunity to pitch his Enveda idea to Dan.
Dan thought the idea was brilliant and after many conversations, decided to join Viswa in building Enveda as the Chief of Staff. Dan worked with Viswa to help him scale early and raise the seed round. Continuing his trend of wearing many hats, Dan’s duties included running payroll, hiring, developing the human resources platform, and setting down the foundations of Enveda. Today, he is the acting CFO, managing Enveda’s finances.
As he juggles his many roles, one mantra he lives by is ‘lead by consent rather than consensus’. This mantra feeds into operating at high speed. Time is a critical factor, and the aim is to reach value inflection in a faster time and execute quickly.
If you’d like to get in touch with Enveda, contact Viswa here.
If you’d like to get in touch with the bio team at Hummingbird, contact Pablo here.